Advertising Experts: Ignore Google’s Earnings, It’s Doing Just Fine

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After reporting disappointing third-quarter earnings, and giving investors a few extra hours to sell their shares to boot, Google saw its shares hammered before trading was halted. But while Motorola Mobility, which Google acquired for $12.5 billion in May, clearly is a big drag on the company, ad folks say its core business is just fine.

Bryan Wiener, CEO of the digital marketing agency 360i, a specialist in search advertising in particular, says Google’s core business still appears healthy. The only hitch, he says, is that mobile ad prices per click are still 30% to 50% lower than desktop clicks, but he says that gap is narrowing as mobile cost-per-click continues to rise.

The main issue is not so much that advertisers view mobile ads as less effective. There are actually two other issues.

First, there’s still less competition for mobile ad space. And since Google ads are sold by auction, less competition means lower prices.

Why is competition less? That brings up the second issue: It’s not yet clear precisely what impact mobile ads have. They don’t work exactly the same as desktop ads, where people customarily conduct a search, click on an ad, and then a certain percentage buy the product. That’s easy to track.

On their mobile phones, however, people are more often searching for a store, rather than looking to complete a transaction online. They may well end up buying in that store–some companies are starting to provide ways to track that connection, and marketers anecdotally know it’s happening–but separate databases for online and store activity still means it’s tough to close the measurement loop.

Wiener thinks that will get solved eventually. Even in the short term, mobile search ads that are still Google’s bread and butter are better positioned to show their value than mobile display ads, which may appear in hard-to-track apps and still aren’t standardized enough for marketers to spend big bucks to reach broad scale. That means Google for now is likely to fare better in consumers’ rush to mobile than, say, Facebook and Yahoo. “Everybody is still bullish on mobile search,” says Wiener. “But it’s still very early in the game.”

Looking ahead to the fourth quarter and beyond, says Wiener, “our clients are cautiously optimistic” about search ads in particular despite the uncertainty of the economy and the election. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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3 Reasons Google Missed Q3 Earnings Estimates

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Google’s shares plunged this morning by 9% after the search giant’s third-quarter earnings came in considerably lower than expected. The results were accidentally released hours earlier than expected, leading to a halt in the shares’ trading for a time.

Google earned a $9.03 per share profit before certain expenses, far below the $10.63 Wall Street consensus estimate, and down 20% from a year ago. GAAP profit was $6.53. Net revenues after paying partners for traffic were $11.53 billion, up 19% from a year ago. That also missed the Street’s estimate of $11.9 billion. Paid clicks, a key indicator, rose 33% from a year ago, and cost per click, another key measure but one whose meaning is murky, fell 15%.

So what happened? Here’s a quick assessment, which will be supplemented in a new post following the 1:30 p.m. Pacific earnings call:

* Costs jumped. They were up 71%, to $11.4 billion. It appears much of that increase came from Motorola Mobility, which Google acquired for $12.5 billion in May. After all, the acquisition added more than 20,000 employees. As Citi analyst Mark Mahaney said in a note to investors: “Bottom line divergence partly due to Amortization expenses, which came in at $317MM vs. our $197MM estimate. That contributed perhaps $0.40 of the EPS shortfall.” Update after the earnings call: But not just that. CFO Patrick Pichette specifically mentioned costs of selling the likely near-zero-margin Nexus 7 tablet Google released during the quarter–a single product line, so the company’s is clearly pushing it hard.

* Motorola losses were huge. The unit posted a $527 million loss on a GAAP operating basis. Mahaney again:  “Another major delta was Motorola, which generated $151MM Op Loss vs. our $28MM estimate.”

* Ad revenue didn’t set records. It was up 16% from a year ago. Although lower cost per click isn’t always an indicator of a problem, in this case, the fourth consecutive decline has investors wondering anew if it’s due to the lower prices mobile ads get or even competition from the likes of Facebook. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Congrats, Facebook, You’ve Hit 1 Billion Users. Now What?

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

So 1 billion people now visit Facebook at least once a month, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who celebrated with that weird new ad. That’s an amazing milestone for a company only eight years old, fully justifying the glut of press coverage this morning. But is it getting too big for its own good?

I’m not just talking about the usual stuff a company faces as it grows very large–antitrust concerns, privacy worries, hiring quality, and the like. Google, Microsoft, IBM, and many others have faced and still face these issues. But such challenges haven’t taken any of them down. And even as they start (or continue) to be concerns for Facebook, they likely won’t sink it either.

The biggest concern I have is whether Facebook could–as a direct result of getting what seems likely to be just about everyone online to use it eventually–lose what’s special about it. After all, is it enough simply to be the biggest social network? Does being the biggest, as Zuckerberg and many others inside and outside the company implicitly assume, automatically make it the best?

I’m not so sure. And that’s without even falling back on the old look-what-happened-to-MySpace argument. The fact is that Facebook doesn’t do a lot of the social activities people participate in online as well as others. Twitter is way better in many ways for disseminating news. LinkedIn still does professional networking far better. No one has made video sharing easier than YouTube (yes, it’s a social service too). Pinterest, Reddit, and others are seeing massive growth thanks to a pretty clear focus on doing one thing well.

And Facebook? As well as it facilitates connections with friends, its overriding appeal is not any particular features. (OK, except for sharing photos–but even there, it felt the need to spend a billion bucks to buy Instagram.) Facebook’s key advantage now is largely that all your friends are on Facebook too.

Of course, that’s a huge technical and business feat for Facebook–nothing to be minimized, as evidenced by the fact that no one else accomplished it. But is that enough to catapult it to the next level?

Maybe. But as its growth slows, I wonder if essentially becoming a social utility that Zuckerberg long said Facebook should be is distinctive enough a mission to maintain its momentum. One random item that gave me pause today came in passing on a BusinessInsider post on Facebook’s recent move to allow advertisers to “retarget” its users with ads:

The most valuable inventory for re-targeting until now has been Yahoo Mail, because:

  • It has huge scale.
  • It’s engaging enough that you’d only want to click on an ad to leave if you really wanted to leave.
  • The people who use it tend to leave it open as a tab in their browser all day.

In all three ways, Facebook.com is very similar to Yahoo Mail.

Yikes. Facebook is now like a boring email service? Now, it’s probably unfair to extrapolate this comparison in a particular realm of advertising to Facebook overall. But it reflects the reality that Facebook’s ubiquity is inexorably steering it toward becoming something like the new television. Another mass medium, even if it’s a uniquely interactive mass medium.

I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact there’s a lot right with it, for Facebook’s business. I just can’t shake a nagging feeling that achieving this ubiquity–as Zuckerberg put it today, to “connect the rest of the world”–isn’t enough of a raison d’etre.

So the question now is what Facebook will do with that ubiquity. Maybe simply facilitating those connections is enough. But at this milestone moment the company itself chose to highlight, it’s worth posing some existential questions to go along with that existential ad:

Why is Facebook here?

Is sheer ubiquity sufficient for Facebook to achieve Zuckerberg’s lofty goals?

As Facebook becomes a service for everyone, does it become special to no one?

Google To Steal Facebook’s Display Ad Lead in 2012–A Year Early

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After seeing Facebook vault into the lead in U.S. display-ad revenues last year, Google will take the top spot this year, according to a new forecast from market researcher eMarketer.

The search giant’s display revenues in 2012 will jump almost 39%, to $2.31 billion, while Facebook’s will rise 24% to $1.73 billion and Yahoo’s revenues barely budge to hit $1.39 billion. Overall, display ad revenues will rise almost 22% this year, to about $15 billion, thanks to Google’s and Facebook’s growth, the continuing explosion in ad inventory thanks in part to mobile advertising, and more spending on video ads, especially on YouTube.

But that number is down a bit from eMarketer’s previous forecast because of lower display ad prices on ad networks and continuing wariness by big brands to up their display spend significantly. Google and Facebook combined will account for nearly 30% of display ad revenues this year, rising to 37% in 2014.

What’s more, according to eMarketer, Google will lengthen its lead in the next couple of years in these banner, video, and social ads that are the mainstay of most commercial websites, reaching $4.4 billion in 2014 to Facebook’s $3.2 billion and a moribund Yahoo’s $1.5 billion. Microsoft and AOL also will continue to see relatively flat revenues.

What’s going on here? For one, Google’s display-ad engine has begun to rev, thanks to its YouTube video site, its mobile ads, and its DoubleClick ad-buying and ad exchange business. At the same time, Facebook has seen its growth slow recently, raising questions in the minds of investors about the effectiveness of its social ads and its relative lack of mobile ads. Earlier this year, eMarketer had forecast that Google wouldn’t capture the display lead until next year. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

What Are Those Twitter Founders Up To Now? Still Not So Obvious

Biz Stone and Evan Williams, co-founders of Tw...

Biz Stone and Evan Williams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

With Twitter apparently on a path to profits, or at least revenues, two of its cofounders are now on to other things.  Biz Stone’s and Evan Williams’ new company is Obvious, whose motto on its spare website is “We do various things.” A bit more specifically (but not much), Obvious’ goal is to “build systems that help people work together to make the world a better place.” Its first effort, called Medium, might be viewed as Twitter 2.0, seeking to figure out what to do with the firehose of information Twitter has helped create.

In a “fireside chat” with Hunter Walk, a Google director of product management working at YouTube, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco today, Stone and Williams fleshed out their vision, admitted they didn’t get everything right at Twitter, and offered advice on how to build Internet companies today:

Q: You don’t still work at Twitter, right?

Williams: I’m on the board, but we don’t work at Twitter.

Q: It’s not an incubator, not an investment fund, and you’re building Medium. So what is Obvious?

Stone: It’s an excuse for me and Ev to work together. Really cool, good stuff comes from an organic atmosphere of working on things. We do whatever it takes to help people and projects philosophically aligned with us succeed.

We have marketing capabilities, design and engineering prowess, and money, and we deploy them wherever it makes sense.

A: Now you are older and wiser and wealthier, and parents. How does that change how you run a company?

Williams: I tried to be a ski bum when I left Twitter, but it didn’t work. We’re driven to do interesting things in the world. We decided to let it evolve as the products evolve, figure it out organically as we go. That’s satisfying. It’s a hell of a lot more fun than skiing every day.

Q: The first product you’ve come out with is Medium.

Williams: We came out with a preview, not a real product yet, a few weeks ago. We have a team of engineers working on it every day.

Medium is essentially a publishing platform, along the lines of what we’ve done before, with Xanga and Blogger. We’ve been obsessed with the democratization of media on the Internet. We just thought there’s still more stuff to do.

Q: Only a select few can publish on Medium. Why?

Williams: We want to help high-quality content succeed and get attention. Not everybody can write. It’s not to limit who can publish. It just happens to be we launched in private beta. It’s hard to throw open the doors in closed beta. It’s definitely not the ethos of Medium to be closed in any way.

Stone: We learned a few things about opening up the doors….

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Cease Fire! Google Debuts YouTube App For Apple’s iPhone–With Ads

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

So much for that thermonuclear war.

When Apple removed its YouTube app from its App Store last month, a lot of folks assumed it was one more battleground in an escalating war between it and Google. That seemed like the wrong narrative at the time, and today, it appears there wasn’t much to the supposed skirmish after all. Google has just introduced its own YouTube app for Apple’s iOS devices, specifically the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It’s available in the App Store this morning.

That means that the YouTube app, the previous version of which was created by Apple, no longer will be a default app on the devices, so people will have to manually install it. But given how popular YouTube is, millions of people no doubt will. And the upside is that the app is faster, has features such as an easier guide to channels, and allows you to share videos more easily on Facebook, Google+, and elsewhere.

Most of all, you can now watch tens of thousands more videos, in particular music videos like Taylor Swift’s above. That’s because the new app, unlike the old one, can run ads. The inability to run ads on the old one was a reason many content providers didn’t let them be viewed on the app.

More to the point for Google, this means it can now earn some serious coin from mobile visitors. That’s crucial as mobile devices become the default way people are reaching content on the Web. Google says a quarter of YouTube views, more than a billion a day, are from mobile devices.

There’s no iPad app yet, which seems like a serious shortcoming. Google says it will have one in “coming months,” but obviously sooner would be better, especially with the iPad Mini due out by next month.

Of course, Google and Apple have plenty else to fight about, from patents to mobile operating systems. So don’t expect to see Larry and Tim hugging onstage or anything. But they won’t be fighting over this particular issue anymore.

Laggards No More, Big Companies Flock To Social Media

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Until recently, social media has been largely experimental for most large corporations. No more, according to a new study from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research.

The study of Fortune 500 companies showed that not only Facebook and Twitter but the venerable social medium of blogging all have substantial roles among the largest companies:

* 28% of companies this year had corporate blogs, a big rise from 23% in 2011 and in fact the largest rise in blog usage since 2008. The gap with smaller, “Inc. 500″ firms, 37% of which were using blogs last year, appears to be closing.

* 73% have at least somewhat active Twitter accounts on which tweets appear at least once a month, up 11% from a year ago.

* 66% of companies have a Facebook page, up 8% from last year.

* 62% have YouTube accounts this year, the first time the researchers tracked YouTube usage).

* Only 2% of large companies have Pinterest accounts so far.

Of course, none of these stats reveal how well these companies use social media–and I suspect many of them are still deep in learning mode.

Read the complete post, with a detailed infographic, at The New Persuaders.

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