Google Finally Crosses $50 Billion Annual Revenue Mark

Company begins to reverse CPC declines, mobile pricing stabilizing

Last year Google finally crossed the $50 billion mark, growing 32 percent from 2011 to close 2012 with $50.2 billion in annual revenue. Search and display advertising are likely the biggest drivers of the search giant’s revenue gains—Google’s total advertising business contributed 95 percent of its overall 2012 revenue—but mobile and video advertising appear to be making gains on those traditional segments.

Much has been made of Google’s cost-per-click declines over the last year, with those struggles attributed to an inability to monetize an increasingly mobile user base. The company kicked off 2012 with an 8 percent year-over-year dip in average CPCs, then saw a 16 percent drop in Q2, followed by a 15 percent decline in Q3. In the fourth quarter however, Google showed that it may on its way toward  reversing that declines, with average CPC dropping 6 percent year-over-year but improving on its Q3 numbers by 2 percent.

As in past periods, the number of paid clicks Google saw rose, jumping 24 percent year-over-year and 9 percent quarter-over-quarter. Given consumer trends, it's a good bet that growth is being driven by an increase in mobile usage (last week Adobe said that mobile accounted for 20 percent of all search impressions and spending it tracked in Q4 2012). 

So taking the CPC and paid click numbers together, it looks like Google has begun to better calibrate the value advertisers should attribute to mobile users, though Google execs didn’t detail the mobile ad business as much on Tuesday’s earnings call as during the previous one.

According to 360i evp Jared Belsky, Google is really starting to show its prowess in mobile retail ads, buoyed by a terrific holiday shopping season. "We see CPC acceleration in mobile for our leading verticals including travel, finance and especially retail," Belsky said.

During the company's third-quarter earnings call, chief revenue officer Patrick Pichette said the company's mobile business was on an $8 billion annual run rate, with ads making up the bulk of that. He didn't update that number on Tuesday. Adobe’s Sid Shah told Adweek last week that “the marketplace has mispriced the value of tablet and smartphone clicks.”

During Tuesday’s earnings call, Google CEO Larry Page was asked when he thinks mobile and desktop ad pricing will equalize. “I’m not going to make predictions about when they will be equal. I don’t think they will be equal…. One will always be bigger than the other, though I don’t know which way,” he said. 

While Google continues to build up its mobile business, its video business seems to be solid. YouTube users averaged more than 4 billion hours of video-watching per month in 2012, said Nikesh Arora, Google’s chief business officer, during the company’s earnings call. That’s not the only stat he dropped that bolsters the argument for the Digital Content NewFronts, and lots more Web video spending. Google’s top 100 global advertisers spent 50 percent more on YouTube in 2012 than in 2011, he said. He added that 70 percent of the in-stream ads shown on YouTube were TruView ads, which users can choose to skip without advertisers needing to pay for the impression, suggesting that a good chunk of users are actually watching those interstitials.

While ad revenues for Google-owned properties like YouTube seem to be growing exponentially, the share of ad revenue from Google-owned sites versus revenue from Google’s network sites has stayed the same—though the former still makes up the bulk of the company’s ad revenues. Advertising on Google’s owned sites totaled $31.2 billion in annual revenue, a 19 percent increase, compared with $12.5 billion in ad revenue from Google’s network sites, a 20 percent jump.

“Our top 25 advertisers are spending over $150 million per year” on Google’s ads business such as search, display and YouTube, said Arora. Google accounts for more than 41 percent of U.S. digital ad revenues, according to eMarketer, which estimated that Q4 U.S. digital ad spending ramped up 14.9 percent to $10.58 billion.

Google’s fourth quarter closely mirrored its annual performance. The company reaped $14.42 billion in Q4 revenue, a 36 percent increase from the previous year. $12.1 billion, or 94 percent, of the period’s revenue came from advertising, which gained 19 percent on its Q4 2011 numbers. Motorola made up 11 percent of Google’s quarterly revenue. As with Google’s annual numbers, revenue from advertising on Google-owned sites led the way, growing 18 percent to $8.6 billion. Google’s network sites contributed $3.4 billion, a 19 percent year-over-year increase.