Mountain View, Calif. -- The total number of searches in the U.S. in December grew 55% from the year before, according to new figures released by Internet research firm Nielsen//NetRatings. The firm said that nearly 5.1 billion searches were performed across approximately 60 search engines during the month, up from just 3.3 billion searches in Dec. 2004. While the number of searches conducted online swelled, the number of people connecting to the Internet in the U.S. rose a mere 3% to 207 million. Mountain View-based Google was the biggest winner among search engines, garnering nearly half of all searches during the month, with both Sunnyvale-based Yahoo and MSN Search actually slipping in market share. All three, however, experienced double-digit growth in terms of total number of searches performed, compared with the year before.