If Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) fans were hoping to put a lackluster 2014 in the rearview mirror by kicking off the new year with a bang, they've unfortunately been sorely disappointed. To be sure, a few weeks here, a few weeks there hardly tells the whole Google story. But for the once-high-flying leader of innovation that seemed to hold the tech world in the palm of its hands not long ago, it's time to kick things in gear.
Google CEO Larry Page can do just that -- and jump-start the company's ho-hum stock price -- if he's able to deliver during the Q4 earnings announcement scheduled for Jan 29. Investors are likely to see a nice jump in revenues compared to the year-ago quarter because that's become the norm. But as its flat share price indicates, there's more to the Google equation than revenues. In fact, there are three things in particular that, if delivered on, should be the impetus Google needs to make 2015 a banner year. Let's take a look.
How's mobile coming along?
In what has been a disturbing trend for years now, Google's cost-per-click (CPC) rates have continued to decline. The sheer volume of Google's search traffic has "hidden" the ongoing drop in CPC fees, but with each successive quarter investors and industry pundits alike are paying closer attention to this key metric, as they should.
Last quarter was more of the same: CPC rates on Google sites dropped 4% compared to Q3 of 2013, and were down 1% from the prior quarter. What makes CPC declines so concerning is search ads -- desktop and mobile -- generate nearly two-thirds of Google's revenues. The culprit? Marketers aren't willing to pay the same rates for mobile click ads as they are for desktop, and with more online users connecting via their smartphones and tablets, it's time for Google to stem the tide.
Directly linking its ad partners with downloadable mobile apps and implementing more comprehensive tools to assist advertisers in measuring mobile ad results should help slow the CPC rate slide. At least, let's hope Page has some good news on the CPC front, because it's becoming more of a focus with each successive quarter.
Time to kick-start YouTube
Though Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) pales in comparison to Google in sheer size, it's quickly established itself as the search king's primary online advertising competitor. And the fight for marketing dollars will heat up this year as Facebook is expected to take the wraps off its long-awaited video ad solution. During the testing phase of video spots, Facebook was able to charge its advertisers a whopping $1 million a day for just the privilege of being video guinea pigs.
Internet users love their videos, as evidenced by Facebook's recent revelation that its 1.35 billion monthly average users (MAUs) are viewing over 1 billion videos daily. Of course, many of those videos have been first uploaded to Google's wildly popular YouTube property. And that's where Page will hopefully share some good tidings on Jan. 29.
There's no denying YouTube's popularity: In advertisers' prime demographic of 18-to-34-year-olds, YouTube's more popular than any cable network around. YouTube enjoys over 1 billion monthly active users and clocks more than 6 billion hours of video watched each month on YouTube. Problem is, YouTube isn't generating revenues like Facebook does.
A year ago, sales estimates suggested YouTube was adding about $3.7 billion in revenues from its million-plus advertisers. But most of YouTube's advertisers are of the small-business variety, which helps to explain why such a huge property generates relatively little in revenues. It's time for that to change, and Page would light a fire under investors if he's able to show YouTube is becoming more than an afterthought.
Share and share alike
If you follow Google, you've likely heard this before -- I know I've suggested it on more than one occasion -- it's time Page gives a little something back to shareholders. As of last quarter, Google's cash and equivalents jumped over $5.5 billion compared to 2013's Q3, and now sit at $62.16 billion. And with free cash flow increasing year over year to last quarter's $3.58 billion, it's safe to say Page could throw shareholders a dividend without missing a beat.
If Page announces Google's stemmed the CPC rate slide, demonstrated to investors his intention of ramping up YouTube until it becomes a video ad-revenue-generating machine, and declares even a modest dividend to appease shareholders, Google could once again be off and running.