Andrew Leckey

Google's search engine continues to innovate and, at the same time Google continues to invest in new businesses as it battles strong competitors.

Its powerful brand name and top-notch technical staff help keep it ahead of the curve.

Having loads of cash doesn't hurt either.

Shares of Google (GOOG) are up 94 percent this year following last year's 56 percent decline. Clicks on its site rose 14 percent in the third quarter and CEO Eric Schmidt said "the worst of the recession is clearly behind us."

Google has been increasing advertising revenue from online searches through broader use of video and images, such as showing movie trailers in response to inquiries about a movie's title.

It is permitting publishers to limit the number of restricted articles that readers can see free of charge through its Google search engine, opening the door for publishers to charge for articles in the future. Meanwhile, new services to let readers buy electronic versions of books to read on cell phones, laptops and other devices have been launched.

In regard to Google's open-source software offerings, Chrome OS software introduced for the holidays in low-priced portable computers makes it possible to quickly start a computer in less than seven seconds. As with its Android OS smartphone software, the company believes offering it free will ultimately benefit its search advertising.

Google acquired mobile advertising firm AdMob for $750 million and has entered the long-distance phone business with Google Voice, which includes the ability to make free long-distance calls anywhere in the U.S.

Consensus analyst rating on Google shares is between "strong buy" and "buy," according to Thomson Reuters, consisting of 16 "strong buys," 19 "buys" and three "holds."

Americans used Google for 65.6 percent of "core" searches in November, compared to 17.5 percent for Yahoo and 10.3 percent for Microsoft, according to research firm comScore Inc. Ask Network and AOL ranked far behind.

Microsoft's Bing online search has posted significant growth since its summer launch. As far as social media is concerned, both Google and Microsoft are now including information from such sites on their search pages. To give users more control over personal data, Google unveiled its new dashboard linked to 20 products, including Gmail, YouTube and photo-sharing Picasa.

Earnings are expected to rise 16 percent next year versus 11 percent forecast for the Internet information providers industry. The five-year annualized growth rate is projected to be 21 percent compared to 12 percent predicted for its peers.







Investing - Google Remains Powerful Brand