The strange and confusing search queries that topped the Google charts in 2021

(Image credit: Google)

As has become an annual tradition, Google has released a breakdown of the “hottest” search terms of 2021.

It will be a surprise to no one that the 2021 Year in Search report is dominated again by pandemic-related queries, on topics ranging from vaccines, boosters and lockdowns to new Covid-19 variants. The terms “sustainability” and “impact of climate change” were also searched more frequently than ever this year.

However, the report also highlights the sillier side of humanity. In the UK, for example, people still haven’t settled the debate over whether a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit, search data suggests. Bizarrely, “why were cornflakes invented?” was also among the most frequently googled questions in the UK this year.

On the other side of the pond, meanwhile, search volume for “mittens” skyrocketed after an image of a freezing-cold Bernie Sanders went viral in January. According to trending search data, Americans also struggled with the pronunciation of “Dogecoin”, “quinoa” and, strangely, “Michael Jackson”.

Google Year in Search 2021

Trending "or" searches in the UK for 2021 (Image credit: Google)

The Year in Search report doesn’t rank queries by raw search volume, Google explains, but rather highlights terms that “had a high spike in traffic over a sustained period” as compared to 2020. The idea is to provide a snapshot of the year, through the questions people asked, websites they visited, and the figures and events that most captured the attention.

During a year in which a pandemic continued to infringe upon liberties, fears around the consequences of climate change ratcheted upwards and political division manifested in violent protests, Google search data was bound to reflect the darker side of humanity.

However, the report also highlights signs of progress, with search related to Gay Pride events, body positivity and prominent women all spiking in 2021. It also hints at our industriousness and resilience in the face of difficulties, with search for “how to start a business” outranking “hot to get a job”.

“It's no surprise that 2021 has revealed some interesting insights into the zeitgeist of the nation. During a year of unpredictability, we have turned to sport, entertainment, gardening, recipes and travel to get us through some of the most frustrating and difficult times,” said Matt Cooke, Head of Google News Lab UK.

“We have seen searches for prominent women dominate the top of our lists, as well as huge rises in second-hand and sustainability queries over 2021. Year in Search always provides fascinating insight into what the nation is thinking, learning and discovering - about themselves and others."

Google: A Year in Search - Global Top 10

  • Australia vs India
  • India vs England
  • IPL
  • NBA
  • Euro 2021
  • Copa America
  • India vs New Zealand
  • T20 World Cup
  • Squid Game
  • DMX
Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.