Google's fourth quarter results on Thursday are expected to be impressive, but analysts aren't betting on any real upside revisions to their 2011 growth targets. Mobile, Google Instant and search rates are expected to be hot topics.
The search giant's fourth quarter results are expected to be in line with expectations. Google is expected to report earnings of $8.09 a share on revenue of $6.05 billion. Wall Street is looking for revenue growth of about 22 percent in the fourth quarter compared to a year ago and 10 percent from the third quarter.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said that Google's fourth quarter has tracked well with paid clicks in finance, travel, automotive and retail showing strength. However, Google will continue to invest in its business.
Overall though, Barclays analyst Douglas Anmuth said that Google's search business was strong, monetization improved and mobile is a good avenue for future growth.
Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordan Rohan said:
Our checks indicate that solid paid search increases and ad display trends were bolstered in-part by increased usage and success of Google's remarketing (retargeting) application. While retargeting has been popularized by companies such as FetchBack, Google rolled out the initiative in earnest this summer and the usage gained momentum in 4Q.
Here are the key mileposts to consider for Google's fourth quarter:
Expenses: Whatever Google reports, analysts will closely watch the search giant's expenses. Anmuth writes:
Strong top-line results may be tempered by Google’s ramp in investments, capex, continued headcount additions, and 4Q bonuses, bonus accruals, & 2011 salary increases—which we estimate could cost ~$400 million this year.
Another key thing to ponder: What did Google's purchase of 111 8th Avenue in New York City cost?
Cost per click rates: Analyst say that cost per click (CPC) pricing and volume was strong in the fourth quarter. However, return on investment for advertisers declined as they focused on volume.
What's the Google Instant hit? The fourth quarter is the first full 90 days with Google Instant leading the search results. Google said the revenue impact would be minimal and may lead to higher paid click rates. We'll find out.
Non-search revenue. Google will also talk a big game about mobile ads as well as display. The company could also reveal YouTube's gross revenue rate. Some analysts expect YouTube revenue to pass the $1 billion mark. Another thing to watch: What's the market share of DoubleClick's Ad Exchange. Oppenheimer analyst Jason Helfstein said in a research note that non-search revenue could deliver revenue of $3 billion in 2013.