Every investor would love to stumble upon the perfect stock. But will you ever really find a stock that provides everything you could possibly want?

One thing's for sure: You'll never discover truly great investments unless you actively look for them. Let's discuss the ideal qualities of a perfect stock, then decide if Sohu.com (Nasdaq: SOHU) fits the bill.

The quest for perfection
Stocks that look great based on one factor may prove horrible elsewhere, making due diligence a crucial part of your investing research. The best stocks excel in many different areas, including these important factors:

  • Growth. Expanding businesses show healthy revenue growth. While past growth is no guarantee that revenue will keep rising, it's certainly a better sign than a stagnant top line.
  • Margins. Higher sales mean nothing if a company can't produce profits from them. Strong margins ensure that company can turn revenue into profit.
  • Balance sheet. At debt-laden companies, banks and bondholders compete with shareholders for management's attention. Companies with strong balance sheets don't have to worry about the distraction of debt.
  • Money-making opportunities. Return on equity helps measure how well a company is finding opportunities to turn its resources into profitable business endeavors.
  • Valuation. You can't afford to pay too much for even the best companies. By using normalized figures, you can see how a stock's simple earnings multiple fits into a longer-term context.
  • Dividends. For tangible proof of profits, a check to shareholders every three months can't be beat. Companies with solid dividends and strong commitments to increasing payouts treat shareholders well.

With those factors in mind, let's take a closer look at Sohu.com.

Factor What We Want to See Actual Pass or Fail?
Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 42.7% Pass
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 24.3% Pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 73.6% Pass
  Net Margin > 15% 24.8% Pass
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 0% Pass
  Current Ratio > 1.3 3.88 Pass
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 23.9% Pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 19.42 Pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 0% Fail
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% 0% Fail
       
  Total Score   8 out of 10

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. Total score = number of passes.

Sohu.com comes close to connecting with perfection with its score of eight points. But for paying no dividend, the Chinese Internet portal could be a perfect 10.

Sohu tends to get lost in the shadow of its larger rival, Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU). But with the massive size of the Chinese market, there's been plenty of room for both companies to succeed. While many see Baidu's leading search engine as the gauge of the health of Chinese online behavior, Sohu has a particular niche in Web-based gaming, having taken its Changyou.com (Nasdaq: CYOU) online gaming subsidiary public in 2009.

The question is where Sohu should go next for growth. Most recently, paid search has been its fastest growing segment, but the company has just 4% share of search-engine traffic even after Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) half-hearted exit from the emerging market. With gaming, the company has fared well against competitors Perfect World (Nasdaq: PWRD) and Shanda Games (Nasdaq: GAME), but NetEase.com (Nasdaq: NTES), with its World of Warcraft license within China, is a tough competitor to deal with.

The playing field in China changes so fast that even a strong showing isn't enough to ensure future success. Nevertheless, if Sohu.com manages to sustain its strengths while finding new ground to explore, it should stay close to perfection.

Keep searching
No stock is a sure thing, but some stocks are a lot closer to perfect than others. By looking for the perfect stock, you'll go a long way toward improving your investing prowess and learning how to separate out the best investments from the rest.

Add Sohu.com to My Watchlist, which can find all of our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.

Finding the perfect stock is only one piece of a successful investment strategy. Get the big picture by taking a look at our 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended Baidu, NetEase.com, Sohu.com, and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy.