Google launches public-relations offensive

The search engine's stock has slumped this year, while its rivals' shares have taken off.

By Jonathan Berr Mar 15, 2012 12:58PM
Image: Google © Bloomberg, Getty ImagesCongratulations to Google's (GOOG) public-relations department. It managed to persuade The Wall Street Journal to write an article on its plans to "fix the shortcomings of today's technology and maintain its dominant market share" -- without saying much new.

This is a transparent attempt to drum up interest in its shares, which are down about 4% this year, while rivals Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL) have both risen by double digits. Investors are still smarting over the search engine giant's disappointing fourth-quarter results.

The Journal story focused on Google's efforts in semantic search, which seeks to generate "smarter," more relevant search results by inferring from one query additional types of information that a user might want to know. The idea was pioneered by Ask Jeeves, among others, and has been explored by Google for years.

"Google's arguably been doing semantic search since 2003, when it began searching for synonyms of the words actually entered," Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan, a respected industry observer, wrote in a blog post. "As for 'spitting out' those 'facts and direct answers' that the WSJ story talks about, Google's been doing that for so long that it's hard for me to even know exactly when it all began."

Google needs to burnish its reputation as an innovator amid the growing attention Apple is receiving for its Siri digital assistant, which responds to voice commands of iPhone 4S users and now accounts for 25% of voice searches. Microsoft, which owns and publishes Top Stocks, an MSN Money site, has gained market share because of its prowess in semantic search, though the company has reported big losses from its Bing search engine.

Google is rolling out changes to its search offering over the next several months. They could have huge implications because, despite offerings such as Gmail and Google Earth, the company still gets the vast majority of its earnings from search advertisements.

Sullivan also noted that some people believe the search giant's results are not as good since the roll-out of Search Plus Your World, a feature that serves up personal results from sources such as Google +.


Maintaining Google's competitive edge will not be cheap. Research and development costs at the company topped $5.16 billion in 2011, up more than 37% from $3.76 billion a year earlier. Revenue rose more than 29% to $37.9 billion. Odds are that R&D expenses will continue to grow faster than revenue for some time. That's not good news for shareholders, and it may make it tougher for analysts to forecast Google's earnings, since the company doesn't provide guidance.

Wall Street has not lost faith in Google, however. Analysts have a one-year price target of $706.37, about 14% above the current $621.75. The company's stock is trading at a price-to-earnings multiple of 20.71, the lowest it's been in five years, according to Reuters. Google may be worth a gamble for adventurous investors.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the stocks listed here.
Mar 16, 2012 1:17AM
Google gives away Android software to invade your personal pivacy to make advertising revenue off of internet spam. They need more than a public realtions makeover. Switch to Bing and be smart.
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