Day 2: Search Stocks & Is Search Recession Proof?


Let’s do the stock thing again. As with yesterday, the chart above shows Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO), and Microsoft (MSFT) against the NASDAQ, over the past month. The key difference is that while the latter three stabilized, Google kept dropping. That leads some to wonder if search is going to be in trouble. A closer look on that, below.

This time, I used Yahoo to chart the figures — and with Yahoo, I can link to the chart so that anyone can play more.

So, Google kept going. How bad was the damage? Let’s look over the past year:

GOOG Past Year

Ouch. But not so bad from another perspective:


I bought back the other two players for that. You can see Google’s lost nearly all of its gains. But it is still in positive territory compared to Yahoo and better than Microsoft…for the moment, at least.

I’m working on a longer post about the search crash that some are getting behind or suggesting will come. Here are some recent related articles on this topic, not all necessarily negative:

One that caught my eye today was from Silicon Valley Insider, Oh, My Aching Google…Down 10%!:

Google’s down almost $60 on the day, or more than 10%. So here’s our question:

How are all you folks who assured everyone that Google and search are recession proof feeling? Are you backing up the truck? Or are you beginning to think we might have a point?

This got me kind of riled, because of my pet peeve — the assumption that Google can be a bellweather for search. The problem is, Google sells ads well beyond search. As I commented to the post above:

"How are all you folks who assured everyone that Google and search are recession proof feeling? Are you backing up the truck? Or are you beginning to think we might have a point?"

I’m beginning to think that you miss the point.

Henry, please do a post telling me what percentage of Google’s income is generated from search — ads that are tied to an actual search behavior. Be sure that you subtract any revenue for display ads, contextual ads, audio ads, video ads — you get the point, right?

You can’t do that. Google doesn’t give you those figures. Instead, you’ll have to rely on what advertising spend figures you can find. And those advertisers often consider "search" to be contextual, when it is not.

So when you prematurely declare search is going to be hit based on Google’s stock price, at least define search.

Is search recession proof? I don’t know. But considering it thrived and survived during the last dotcom crash — a time when we also had a general depression of the economy — yeah, I think it’s going to get through OK.

Is Google recession proof? That’s a different question. And it first is better asked, is Google bubble proof? Because its current value may have nothing to do with search and everything to do with what investors — many of whom are idiots with no knowledge of fundamentals — believe Google will grow up into (something well beyond search).

I don’t think Google is bubble proof — and if there’s a recession that hits the stock market, I have no doubt people will pull back on their Google gamble. But until we see a pullback on actual search spend — which won’t happen overnight — you might break the two apart. And if you do see a pullback on online ad spend, with a chunk called "search," I hope you’ll do a real dissection of those figures to try and see if you can really find search within them.

My prediction has long been this. If Google’s non-search activities get into trouble and search stays strong, suddenly you’ll see them break out search figures to show a strong underlying fundamental. That’s exactly what Yahoo did when display started tanking. We’ll see.

Like I said, it’s a pet peeve, one I raised with Eric Schmidt when interviewing him on stage about two years ago:

Danny: Somewhat related: my understanding is that I still can’t go to Google’s financials and know how much money is going into content ads versus search – and I care about the search. I mean, to me search is a different intention and contextual. And so when people say, "we’re going to measure the health of the search market," I want to know how the health of the search market is from a leader like Google. But I’ve always felt like when those figures are mixed together, it pollutes the data. For all I know, your contextual network is suddenly tanking, a whole bubble is about to burst out there, but search will be healthy. But the whole search industry might go down with it.

Eric: None of that is going to happen.

Danny: None of that is happening. And I was going to say, alternatively, everything has been doing great.

Eric: Since we’re on the record, since we’re on the record and it’s a public company, I want to make sure that what you just said [that the contextual network is "suddenly tanking"] is not true.

Danny: Right. But that’s the opposite to what could be happening. But contextual might be doing wonderfully, and search might be [tanking] …

Eric: They’re both doing well. Again, we have a whole bunch of people who are trying to reverse-engineer the economics of Google. And we have historically not wanted to give out the detailed information that you’re describing. These are clickthrough rates, CPCs, RPMs, and so forth. There are a number of reasons [not to split these out]. One of course is competitive. But there’s a more fundamental reason, which is that anybody who looks at how Google actually runs the ad network makes simplifying assumptions that are not in fact true. And it’s important that we, Google, not give out information that can be misused or is essentially false. So we’ve chosen, to the frustration of many, to not reveal the underlying economics of the ad box. Partly because it’s changing so quickly. And all of the estimates that you see are based on smart people making estimates without our assistance. We think for numerous reasons that’s the right decision. It’s how we run the business.

So what’s the health of search and how will it stand up? That MediaPost article I listed higher up suggests search is about to hit its first recessions, but I’ve written in the past and again in my Silicon Valley Insider comment, this is the second time around. Search thrived in during the dotcom crash, and I suspect it will come through OK.

That leads me to a nice post from SquareOak: Recession & the Economic State of the Search Marketing Industry: An Interview With An Economist. From a talk with economist Lauren Capp, some thoughtful words:

I would expect that search marketing would fit general advertising trends, at least to some extent. It’s expected that advertising will trail the economy in a recession: advertising budgets are usually committed in advance, companies don’t want to cut back on advertising and decrease their sales unless it’s clear that consumer spending is going to be less responsive to advertising, and they’re not likely to make big moves on their advertising budgets until they feel the effects of decreased revenues. Search marketing isn’t exactly like other advertising, however. Search marketing seems a little more essential than a huge Superbowl ad, for one. Also, search marketing — just because of the nature of the internet — can be more international than other advertising, so it might be less affected by a US recession. But it is certainly not immune — and when consumers stop buying as many goods online and companies don’t have the money to spend on campaigns anymore, search marketers are sure to feel that.

There’s more to read at the post. Check it out.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Google: Business Issues | SEM Industry: General | Stats: Spend Projections


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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