Technology

Google Shows Surfers the Money


Time was, users called up that pristine Google page for one reason: finding other Web sites. And Google was all too happy to oblige. Google collects revenue from companies whose ads appear alongside search results. Turnover is welcome. The more clicks to an advertised site -- away from Google -- the higher the sales.

But these days, competitors Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo (YHOO) are increasingly antsy to shake Google's dominance of the online search business. And Google may have added reason to have users stick around on their site.

GRAB BAG. Several recently launched Google services do just that. These include Google Earth, Google Reader, Google Talk, and the recently acquired Writely, a Web-based word processor. Most recently, on Mar. 21, the company introduced Google Finance, which will provide users with relevant news stories and blog pog posts all over the web, but also act as a source of financial and stock market data right on the Google site, hosted on Google servers (see BW Online, 3/22/06, "Google Finance, with Kinks").

Google says the tool is aimed at providing attractive services, no matter where the users surf, or how long they stay on the site. "The more valuable [the services] we offer, the more likely users are to return to Google," says spokeswoman Sonya Boralv.

Google also hopes for a technological edge over rivals, says Katie Jacobs Stanton, senior product manager overseeing Google Finance. "Users were requesting richer data...and a better financial search experience," she says. "The competition just hasn't innovated in a long time."

TOUGH COMPETITION. Innovation or no, the competition is formidable. Yahoo Finance logged about 12 million unique users in February and its average user spends 53 minutes on the site, according to Nielsen NetRatings. Microsoft's MSN Money lured almost 11 million unique users, with the average spending about 21 minutes there.

Analysts say Google Finance could bolster Google's position in search. "If you are one of the world's great search engines, you should be providing this kind of information, rather than just sending people out to other providers," says Danny Sullivan, editor of search-trade Web site Search Engine Watch. It could also mean more ad revenue, although Google hasn't announced plans to display ads on the financial pages ("Google Finance, with Kinks").

"Financial services companies have a very large liftetime value for the customer," says ThinkEquity analyst Stewart Barry. "They are willing to pay a lot more for a customer," and are spending and more of their ad budgets online, he says.

KINGS OF CONTENT. But another big potential benefit: It gives users added reason to stay on Google. Users spend on average about 53 minutes a month on Google sites, vs 3 hours and 10 minutes on Yahoo and 1 hour, 43 minutes on MSN. The more time a user spends on a family of pages, the more the Web portal can learn about his or her habits. Finance channels like Yahoo Finance and MSN Money are top-ranked traffic-drivers for each of those sites, and can provide very relevant information for targeting ads, like what kinds of companies the user is interested in.

What's more, the longer Net surfers spend on a rival site, the less likely they are to navigate back to Google to carry out searches. "Google right now stands on its being cool and simple and fast," says Joanne Bradford, Chief Media Revenue Officer at Microsoft. "But the search game is like politics -- there is a big swing vote. It will be easier to gain that search share by providing stickiness." If Microsoft has more attractive content, users are more likely to be at MSN when they want to do their searching, she says.

Not if Google has anything to say about it. "I've likened them to being a stealth portal" says Sullivan. "They have all of these new features [such as e-mail or blogging tool Blogger] that have very little do to with search. They are very much becoming a sticky place."


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