Big G is ready for another of its quarterly close-ups.

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) reports its fourth-quarter numbers tomorrow afternoon, and there's a little more drama surrounding the search giant than usual.

As a way to stay ahead of the market, let's explore the various issues that may creep into the report and subsequent conference call -- and how they will move the stock come Friday morning.

1. Keep an eye on earnings, of course
Google doesn't issue guidance, yet the dot-com darling has a welcome way of regularly landing ahead of the pros. Investors were shocked three quarters ago when Google actually narrowly missed Wall Street expectations, but that's been a pretty rare event over the years.


EPS Estimate



Q4 2010 $8.10 $8.75 8%
Q1 2011 $8.10 $8.08 (0%)
Q2 2011 $7.85 $8.74 11%
Q3 2011 $8.74 $9.72 11%

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Last year's first-quarter miss may still be fresh in the minds of investors, but the subsequent back-to-back beats by 11% bode well for Google's chances of landing ahead of the $10.49 a share that the pros are projecting for the holiday quarter.

2. Some trends to watch beyond the bottom line
It's not just about earnings here. Is Google generating higher revenue per click? If so, advertisers willing to spend more per lead through paid search will also benefit Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT).

Microsoft also reports tomorrow afternoon, so it won't be news that investors can act on there. However, if Google and Bing are strong, Yahoo!'s deal to have Bing serve up its paid search will pay off nicely when Yahoo! reports next week.

Investors will also want to see how much Google is spending on new initiatives and payroll. Google marches to its own drummer here, but an earnings beat would be sweet if it happened despite investing heavily in ramping up its operations.

3. Chinese checkers
Google is hiring in China again, reportedly. Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) investors will want to see whether anything is revealed during the call.

The plan appears to be for Google to grow in areas where it doesn't have to play along with China's strict content-censoring regulations. If Google simply wants to beef up e-commerce initiatives and comparison shopping features, Baidu has nothing to worry about. Yes, Baidu vanquished Google fair and square a couple of years ago, but it doesn't want a rematch.

There will naturally be several other dramas that may play out during the call. Big G always seems to be locking horns with smaller companies and regulators lately, but that comes with the territory.

The best bet is calling for a decently positive quarter that's light on the drama, but Google's earnings reports are like a box of chocolates: Sometimes they can be a little nutty inside.

If you want to follow Big G developments as they happen, add Google to My Watchlist.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.