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Google Quarterbacks This Game

This column was originally published on RealMoney on Dec. 1 at 3:31 p.m. EST. It's being republished as a bonus for readers.

More than a year ago, when Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) rolled out its new Internet search engine to much fanfare and selling of Google (GOOG - Get Report) stock, I penned a column called Google Targets Microsoft With Desktop Search.

That was $80 billion of Google valuation and trillions of user searches ago.

With Google at a $120 billion market cap and generating billions of earnings now, there's no doubt that Softee (and every other company on the planet) now has Google fully in its sights. But I still believe investors should "flip it" when it comes to that analysis.

Google still has everyone, including Microsoft, on their heels, and Google's on the offensive rather than the defensive. As Bill Gates put it recently, "Whether it's Google or Apple or free software, we've got some fantastic competitors and it keeps us on our toes."

He calls it toes; I call it heels.

As I've outlined throughout 2005, Google is positioning itself to be a source-agnostic gatekeeper to all of the content on the planet, from white pages in Ruidoso, N.M., to "Andy Griffith" reruns to Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. And although the company continues to exploit many new and/or currently unthought-of revenue streams, Google's going to continue to experience secular growth in Internet advertisement , as will MSN, Yahoo! (YHOO - Get Report), and any other Internet company that reaches a critical mass of users. (That's not to say those who haven't reached critical mass won't enjoy secular growth, but it'll be harder to model.)

That is probably the key point to remember when trying to assess the competitive threats in industries like Internet search and advertising.

It's all about secular growth within cyclical markets. Sure, competition will heat up and Microsoft might cut prices for advertising on its networks and search results. But Internet advertising accounts for less than 10% of all advertising sales now. That percentage will be going to 20% in the next few years and will eventually hit 50% and more in the decades to come.
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