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Google settles a score with ComScore

Search giant's shares go on a tear in after-hours trading as investors shrug off an earlier report on slowing click-through growth.

Chief Executive Eric Schmidt got straight to the point as he opened up Google's quarterly earnings conference call. Click growth, he said in a matter-of-fact tone, was much higher than speculated upon "by third parties." Hmm. Wondering who he might have been referring to?

Late Tuesday, ComScore put out a report suggesting that growth in paid-search clicks in the United States is slowing down. Then Google included this nugget in its earningsrelease Thursday afternoon:

•  Aggregate paid clicks, which include clicks related to ads served on Google sites and the sites of our AdSense partners, increased approximately 20 percent over the first quarter of 2007 and approximately 4 percent over the fourth quarter of 2007.

I'm tempted to make a sarcastic remark about the bipolar state of stock investors, but I'll save the snark for another day. (Maybe it's time to do a deep dive on ComScore and its discontents?) Following the earnings report, investors bid up the company's shares more than 75 points in after-hours trading.

This was a blast from the (not-so-distant) past when you could nearly guarantee Google's shares would soar following the release of its quarterly results. What with declining growth in click-through rates and concerns about the robustness of the search business, that hasn't been the case of late. Until today.

Is Google back to the go-go days? I'll be on the conference call, which starts momentarily, listening for clues. But in the meantime, have you noticed the pattern forming? For the most part--and yes, there are always exceptions--the tech bellwethers reporting in the last week or so are presenting a more upbeat picture of business than you'd expect during a recession, slowdown, or the general muddling-through that may best describe this stage of the economic cycle.