Michael Jackson Leads Yahoo’s 2009 Searches

Michael Jackson’s death thrust the singer to the top of yahoo.com Internet searches in 2009, putting an end to Britney Spears’ four-year reign and helping bump the President Barack Obama from the top 10 list.

Although the year was dominated by recession, the most clicks still went to what distracts Web surfers. NASCAR, actress Megan Fox, reality star Kim Kardashian, and the film “Twilight” replaced four actresses on last year’s top list.

Until June, when Jackson died of a drug overdose, Obama’s inauguration garnered the most Web traffic, said Vera Chan, Web trend analyst at Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO).

“When the news of Michael Jackson’s death came out the traffic was overwhelming, and surpassed that,” she said.

The death had all the elements of intrigue and tragedy. It was sudden, shocking and eerily familiar, according to Chan.

“And then his case was ruled a homicide so it’s an ongoing crime investigation. His death is unresolved,” she added.

Breaking news increasingly drove searches this year. While Obama dropped from third in 2008 to 44th in 2009, the political focus shifted from the election campaign to specific policies. The phrase stimulus plan placed fourth and health care reform was sixth among Obama-related searches.

Among finance-related searches, the words coupons and unemployment topped a list that included cash for clunkers, student loans, foreclosures, and government jobs.

The economy “was definitely a distinction from the previous years, how much people are monitoring the financial situation,” Chan said.

The overall top 10 is “often just a snapshot of our distractions, our guilty pleasures, and breaking news,” she added.

Spears, the singer whose personal meltdown captured headlines for the last few years, dropped to fifth place in the overall list, just behind Fox, the sex symbol star of the film “Jennifer’s Body”, and just ahead of Japanese manga cartoon Naruto.

“Britney was No. 1 for four years in a row, and not all of those years were pleasant years for her,” said Chan. “For her well being, and for our well being, I think we’re happy that we don’t have to check up on her.”

“Twilight” came in second on the list, followed by WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), Fox and Spears. Naruto captured sixth place, with the reality show American Idol, Kardashian, NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) and the online role-playing fantasy game Runescape rounding out the top 10.

Yahoo accounted for 18 percent of U.S. online searches in October, compared to 65.4 percent market share for Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), according to analytics firm comScore. Yahoo’s search data is from the company’s dot-com sites only.

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