Facebook may have solved mobile, but Google is still struggling with it

Google’s mobile ad strategy is sounding a lot like Facebook’s these days. On its third quarter earnings call Thursday, the company fielded a lot of questions about its plan for making up lost ground in the mobile area. When asked whether Google login has been been adopted by enough mobile apps, Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette said, “Our focus [is] on helping developers generate app downloads.”

The whole ethos of “helping developers” is the same one preached by Facebook since it acquired mobile server company Parse and introduced its Audience Network. Courting developers, making it easier for them to build their apps, gives these big tech companies an “in” to the new mobile app ecosystem. When they’re the ones offering up the server space, login infrastructure, and ad networks for mobile developers to make money, the big tech companies get big advantages, like valuable user data or advertising revenue.

Google was also asked about how it’s dealing with the problem of tracking users from desktop to mobile, where cookies containing information on them disappears. That information is key for targeted advertising. New Chief Business Officer Omid Kordestani (although back in his old job) admitted Google was watching Facebook’s activity in this area closely.

Google missed the expected mark of its earnings this quarter by a small fraction. It also announced that Kordestani, a former Google sales VP, was back as its permanent Chief Business Officer.

Here are the numbers:

Non-GAAP earnings per share: Expected to be $6.53, was in fact $6.35

Increase of paid clicks: Expected to be 22 percent, was in fact 17 percent

Cost per click decrease: Expected to be down 4 percent, was in fact down 2 percent

Revenue: Expected to be $16.6 billion, was in fact $16.52 billion

The big picture is that Google is still doing well — its executives repeated the word “thrilled” like a mantra on the earnings call — but investors do have concerns about slowing growth. The money Google makes when a user clicks an advertisement, the cost per click (CPC), has been on the decline for awhile now because advertisers pay less for mobile clicks. Today’s earnings don’t reverse that trend, even though the CPC dropped less than expected.

It hasn’t impacted Google’s bottom line much because while the money Google makes per click has decreased, the number of clicks it accumulates has gone up. As a result, Google is still raking in the cash and growing. At the same time though, the consumer move to mobile raises the question whether Google will be able to adapt over the long term and keep growing its revenue while maintaining its profit margins.

On the earnings call, Kordestani and Pichette received a handful of questions about rising expense costs — which Google chalked up to the recruitment cycle of hiring university grads — and CPC fluctuation. “If we have movements from one quarter to the next, that’s just the result of experimentation,” Pichette said.