Consumers not the cause of Google's slide

Google logoGoogle’s stock price is dropping, and people are freaking out. Yesterday’s stock price drop was in response to a recent report from Comscore indicating that January 2008 showed only flat growth year-over-year versus a 25% increase in Q4. This apparently is the result of lower click-through rates on paid search ads, and people are worried that this means that Google is exposed to a slowdown if there is a recession in the U.S.

The near-panic is somewhat understandable considering that the overall U.S. economy isn’t doing all that great, the tech folks are scared of another bubble, Microsoft is talking about taking over Google, Apple’s stock is dipping, and everyone is looking for someone – anyone – to believe in. Google has been the obvious choice for a long time, and no one wants the tech darling to falter.

But the thing that I take issue with is the notion that this decrease in clicks is a result of consumers clicking less because of a coming recession. These numbers from Hitwise show that there has been no decrease in overall search traffic to shopping sites – meaning that consumers are still clicking.

And if consumers are still clicking on search links, why would they suddenly not be clicking on paid search ads? Could this be because consumers suddenly have become more discerning about what is a “paid” result vs. what is a “organic” result? No way.

My question for Google would be about how much of this decline comes from the dip in clicks on AdSense partner sites. My bet is that the clickthrough rates have dipped significantly on partner pages. Why? Primarily because of the click fraud prevention that Google has been implementing, as well as the “accidental clicking” measures that Google took back in November.

Google click change

Remember, this was the second change that Google made to its ads; the company first changed the paid results on its main search pages in April, a move that many advertisers said led to a decline in the number of clicks, but not in the amount of revenue that they were earning.

And this might just be the bottom line. If there is no growth in the number of clicks, but revenue is growing, Google may have figured out a way to increase ROI for advertisers. Like this Businessweek article says, we’ll have to wait for earnings in April to find out for sure.

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