Internet ad spending took the last year off and took four of Google's ( GOOG) top sales executives with it. Investors will be looking at Google's second-quarter earnings report after the bell today for signs that maybe online advertising, at least, has come back to work. Google, the leader in search with 64% of the market, has an uncomfortably tight relationship with the rise and fall of keyword queries and placement of ads near search results. Rivals Yahoo! ( YHOO) and Microsoft ( MSFT) have held firm in the downturn and introduced flashy new services to loosen Google's hold on the search market. Yahoo! rolled out a research tool called Search Pad that lets users keep notes and links in reference files. And Microsoft prettied up its Live search product with the vivid photo-centric Bing search site. For its part, Google has had little luck finding other avenues of trade outside search, though it did make a valiant effort this month with two new offerings. Last week, Google opened to the public its Voice service, which allows people to sign up for a new phone number and make calls on the Internet as they do with outfits such as eBay's ( EBAY) Skype and Vonage ( VG). And last week, Google announced its Chrome computer operating system plans, which are aimed directly at Microsoft's Windows franchise. The Web browser-based software, which will be available in one year, is intended to run so-called netbook or mini-notebook devices initially.
Similar to Android, the Chrome system will attempt to capitalize on areas where Microsoft has fallen down, specifically in smartphones and mobile devices. But both Google Voice and Chrome are free, meaning there's not direct sales opportunity attached to the effort. The broader idea is that Google will help get more people on the Internet and more traffic will presumably equate to more searches. Yet right now, Google is in a slump with at least five reasons to think the stock isn't necessarily going up. Analysts are looking for Google to report a relatively solid second-quarter performance. Earnings are expected to be $5.08 a share on sales, excluding so-called traffic acquisition costs or TAC, of $4.06 billion, according to First Call. Google traditionally doesn't offer any financial forecasts, but Wall Street will be listening hard for the distant hoofbeats of ad spending returning.