If 2020 was the year when people turned to Google to ask “why” as the world endured a pandemic, extreme weather events and a global reckoning on race, then 2021 appears to have been the year that people looked up ways to turn their “Whys” into proactive “How tos” as they moved toward healing. These include:
“How to be eligible for stimulus?”
“How to learn about stocks?”
“How to become a travel agent/Amazon seller/DoorDash driver?”
These were all among the most-searched “How to” questions of the past year, with “How to heal?” reaching an all-time high, according to Google’s annual “Year in Search” report released early Wednesday. The Alphabet-owned GOOGL, +0.62% search engine’s deep dive into the topics and questions that folks across almost 70 countries Googled over the past year serves as an insightful index of 2021’s top news stories and shared obsessions — such as the meteoric rise of meme stocks and cryptocurrency largely driven by first-time investors, or the morbid fascination with Netflix’s NFLX, +0.40% “Squid Game.”
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The year’s top stories according to Google searches also included the Mega Millions lottery, after a $1 billion jackpot — won by someone in Michigan — became the third-largest lottery prize in U.S. history in January. The Georgia Senate race, the impact of Hurricane Ida, the tumultuous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict all ranked among the top news stories in the U.S. for the year, and many landed on the global most-searched news stories list, as well.
These were the top 10 news stories searched on Google in the U.S. in 2021:
These were the top 10 overall Google searches in the U.S. in 2021:
Note that both “AMC stock” AMC, +4.22% and “GME stock” GME, -2.34% landed in the top 10 most-searched news stories of the past year in the U.S. and across the globe, along with “Dogecoin” DOGEUSD, -0.25% and “Ethereum price.” ETHUSD, +0.43% The top two “Where to buy” searches were “Where to buy Dogecoin?” and “Where to buy Shiba coin?” And “Where to buy NFT?” was also up there, as non-fungible tokens became a hot commodity — as well as a “Saturday Night Live” parody. “How to pronounce Dogecoin?” even topped the “How to pronounce” queries.
No wonder a recent Rover.com survey found that pet owners are actually naming their dogs “Doge” and their cats “Bitcoin.” BTCUSD, -0.26% It seems everyone wanted to get their paws on crypto in some way.
Those eager to learn more about the sometimes volatile world of meme stocks can check out MarketWatch’s MemeMoney column and weekly MemeMarkets videos on YouTube. Or stay up-to-speed with cryptocurrency market news here — we’ve got you covered.
In fact, many financial topics that MarketWatch has covered throughout the past year popped up again and again on Google’s most-searched lists for 2021. This should come as little surprise, however, as the world has continued to endure the human and financial toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left people with a lot of questions about the best ways to make, protect and invest their money.
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COVID-19 stimulus checks appear on both the global and U.S. top news story searches for the year, for example, after newly-elected President Joe Biden signed off on $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans making $75,000 or less under the American Rescue Plan in March. This followed the $1,200 and $600 direct payments doled out under former President Donald Trump. While some people were able to squirrel the stimulus money away in their savings, many households still reported using the checks on essential items.
Dispatches from a Pandemic: 3 Americans tell MarketWatch how they’ll spend their stimulus checks
Those stimmies have had far-reaching effects: Economists have said the stimulus payments from both presidents likely played a role in driving the current spike in inflation as the checks gave consumers more money to spend.
Speaking of spending, the top “where to buy” searches for the year included Dogecoin, Shiba coin, the SafeMoon crypto token, Sony’s SONY, +0.95% PlayStation 5, Microsoft’s MSFT, +0.01% Xbox Series X and N95 face masks. In fact, the demand for gaming consoles like the PS5 has been so high that retailers like Walmart WMT, -1.01%, Amazon AMZN, -0.00% and Best Buy BBY, +0.23% have put restocks behind subscriber paywalls.
Read more: Want a PS5? Walmart, Amazon and Best Buy want you to subscribe first
Which leads us to shortages: pandemic-related supply chain issues and a surge in demand for many products led to shortages throughout the year. The top five most-Googled “shortage” queries included gas, chlorine, ketchup, food and chips.
Google also listed the most-searched questions about student loans, which included queries about when and if President Biden will forgive student loan debt.
And some students have indeed been relieved of their debt this year. The Department of Education has discharged more than $1.5 billion in debt from borrowers who were scammed by their schools and $5.8 billion in loans for borrowers with severe disabilities. The revamped Public Service Loan Forgiveness program could also give some 550,000 teachers, nurses and social workers access to promised student-debt relief.
Follow MarketWatch’s new Extra Credit column, a weekly look at the news through the lens of debt, to stay informed about student debt. Looking for debt relief yourself? Read this step-by-step guide to taking advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
People across the globe also searched for “COVID” and “COVID vaccine” as the pandemic entered its second year. And the two most popular “near me” searches in the U.S. were “COVID vaccine near me” and “COVID testing near me,” with “COVID booster near me” popping up on the list as the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended booster shots later in the year — largely due to the rise of COVID variants of concern, such as delta and omicron.
The daily Coronavirus Update keeps tabs on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, as well as the latest news on vaccines, boosters and vaccine mandates. And if you’re concerned about going out or visiting your family for the holidays, here are three ways to protect against the omicron variant.
In another sign of healing, Google notes that interest in “COVID vaccines” officially surpassed interest in “COVID testing” this year, even as searches for movies, bars, brunches, buffets, bowling, aquariums and massage places “near me” surged as cities reopened.
On a lighter note, the year’s most-searched memes included “Bernie Sanders mittens” after a photo of the Vermont senator sitting alone with his mittens during Biden’s inauguration went viral. The Netflix hit “Squid Game” — which temporarily became the streaming platform’s most-watched show of all time, and is estimated to be worth nearly $900 million for Netflix — also dominated memes and Halloween costumes. And an enormous container ship that became stuck in the Suez Canal in March was also immortalized as one of the year’s most popular memes.
People also searched for more ways to help others, with “How to help Afghan refugees” topping the “how to help” list, along with “How to help India COVID,” “How to foster kids,” “How to help orphans” and “How to help a family member with depression” among the most-searched ways to help.
Check out Google’s complete “Year in Search 2021” report here.
‘I would eventually learn that Dad was right.’
Nicole Lyn Pesce is a social media reporter at MarketWatch and is based in New York.