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Taxes, Job Searches Drive Web Traffic

A quick glimpse online activity last month shows money and jobs are top concerns, but Web visitors are also searching for fun getaways and seeking to expand social circles.

January's top-gaining Web site category was tax help and preparation, according to comScore's (NASDAQ: SCOR) monthly analysis of U.S. consumer activity.

"January has once again seen seasonal gains in the tax, career and travel categories, reflecting the typical American's tendency to plan for the new year," Jack Flanagan, executive vice president of comScore Media Metrix, said in a statement.

Facebook broke into the top 10 Web site rankings for the first time ever, proving social media remains robust, noted Flanagan.

The traffic boost to social networks is driven, in part, by smartphone makers looking to ease network use for users on the move. Just last week, Facebook was reportedly talking with smartphone maker Nokia about integrating site access into the handset maker's mobile device operating system.

Meanwhile, MySpace announced this week it will be the first social network with applications supported on all smartphone platforms. It is also developing applications for Nokia's high-end N97 device and Palm's new WebOS, which powers the Pre, its newest smartphone.

Taxes, Travel & Health

The tax category experienced the top traffic last month, with a 176 percent gain from December, as 24.7 million unique visitors hit sites like TaxACT, H&R Block, IRS.gov and Intuit.com. The four were the top category properties for January.

Next up were travel sites, with 13.0 million unique visitors, up from 8.9 million uniques in December.

Job search traffic spiked 42 percent from December to 26.7 million in January, which comScore said reflected lost jobs due to the ongoing recession.

Leading the job search charge was CareerBuilder.com with 12.2 million, an increase of 34 percent. Monster.com had 9.5 million visitors, a 42 percent jump, and Yahoo HotJobs grabbed 7.7 million visitors, reflecting a 38 percent increase.

Government site traffic grew 11 percent in January, to nearly 90 million visitors, which comScore attributed to the new Obama administration taking office, increased interest in unemployment benefits and online searches tied to the salmonella scare in peanut butter products.

Visitors to WhiteHouse.gov tallied 3.7 million, a 197 percent increase since December. The FDA.gov site saw 277 percent spike to 3.8 million visitors during the salmonella episode.

But not all Web visitors were worried about taxes, job loss and sickness. Several travel categories saw strong traffic gains as well.

Ground travel and cruise-related sites jumped 46 percent to 13 million unique visitors led by VacationsToGo.com with 3.6 million. The hotel and resorts sector saw a 12 percent traffic growth with 30 million visitors, with Disney Travel out in front with 4.8 million.

Who's Where in the Top 50

Leading the top 50 Web site list were Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) sites, with 151 million visitors total. Right behind were Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) sites with 146.1 million total and Microsoft sites taking third with 125.6 million total. AOL followed with 108.4 million, Fox Interactive Media grabbed 90.5 million, Ask Network had 74.7 million visitors, eBay had 72.1 million and Amazon sites accounted for 64.7 million. Wikimedia Foundation sites landed in ninth place with 62.7 million.

Facebook advanced from eleventh place on the list in December to capture the tenth position with 57.2 million visitors -- the first time in its history to break into the Top 50 list. Competitor MySpace was not among the top 50 for January.

When it came to ad network traffic for January, the top five were AOL's Platform-A with 191.8 million visitors, Yahoo Network with 164.7 million visitors, ValueClick Networks with 160.2, Google Ad Network with 158.5 and Traffic Marketplace with 146.9 million. MySpace was in 30th place with 75.6 million and Facebook was in 44th place with 57.2 million.