The Odd Case Of Google Finance

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Google (GOOG) Finance launched to a fair amount of fanfare in March 2006. The market assumed that Google’s lead in search could fuel a large audience for the new product. At the time, Jupiter Research made the point that financial advertising was one of the top four categories that would dominate web marketing by the end of the decade.

When the site launched, CIO quoted a senior Google manager as saying "development of such a website has been one of the top requests from Google users."

GOOG still describes a number of features which the company says make Google Finance special. Among them are ease of searching by company name or ticker, interactive charts, news powered by Google News with its 4,500 sources, and liberal use of blog content.

All of that is true. But, the audience for Google Finance has stayed fairly small and its parent does not seem to want to change that.

The financial sections of the large web companies, AOL, Yahoo! (YHOO), and MSN all contribute about 7% to 9% of the total US monthly unique visitors generated by these portals. For example, AOL Finance had 11.7 million unique visitors in July, according to comScore. The Time Warner online network had 123.7 million unique visitors for the month. But, in July, Google Finance had 689,000 unique visitors to 123.9 million for all of Google.

That monthly number puts Google Finance in an audience league with SmartMoney and FastCompany.com. In July, TheStreet.com (TSCM) generated almost three times the unique visitors that Google Finance did.

No one outside Google can answer the question of why Google Finance’s traffic is modest. One would have to assume that if the search company really wanted to push the marketing button the audience for the product could certainly be five or six million unique visitors per month.

Google may simply think that it is not worth the effort. For a company with a revenue run rate of almost $16 billion, having a finance section that brings in $300 or $400 million may not be attractive. Google is not in the display advertising business and that is the source of most of the advertising revenue at the portal financial sites. Even with targeted AdSense text ads it is not likely Google Finance will be a significant contributor to it parent’s overall revenue.

Google Finance will probably remain what it is–one of the many services that Google offers to people who come to its sites. Like Maps or Photos, it makes Google broad and deep. It does not seem to make a financial contribution to the search company, but it is part of the "one stop shopping" experience that the internet behemoth has developed.

Douglas A. McIntyre can be reached at douglasamcintyre@247wallst.com. He does not own securities in companies that he writes about.