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Google's Q1 earnings show continued ad growth

Both revenue and net income were up over 20 percent compared to last year, as Google's unique cash machine shows no signs of slowing down.

Google continues to demonstrate that an online advertising recovery is well under way, at least when it comes to search advertising.

For its fiscal first quarter, which ended March 31, Google on Thursday reported revenue of $6.77 billion, up 23 percent from the same period last year. Financial analysts evaluate Google's revenue performance by excluding traffic-acquisition costs paid to Google's partners, which totaled $1.71 billion. That puts net revenue at $5.06 billion, slightly ahead of analyst estimates of $4.95 billion for the quarter.

Net income was $1.96 billion, up 38 percent from last year's first-quarter net income of $1.42 billion. Excluding special one-time costs, that translates to $6.76 in earnings per share, as compared to analyst estimates of $6.60 in earnings per share.

"We are continuing to invest heavily in people, products and acquisitions," said Patrick Pichette, Google's chief financial officer, on a call for financial analysts following the release of the results. CEO Eric Schmidt was not present on the call, as Pichette said that Google had decided to use a new format for earnings calls that lets Schmidt get out of the chore. Pichette and Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president for product management, will run future earnings calls.

Google has been on a growth track for several quarters now following the downturn in 2009, pronouncing in October that it appeared to be back for good and living up to those expectations ever since. Financial performance was strong across all geographic segments and all categories, including search, display, and mobile ads, Pichette said.

Revenue from Google's partners--through the AdSense network--grew slightly faster than ads placed on Google's own network of sites, up 24 percent compared to 20 percent. Revenue from ads on Google-operated sites made up 66 percent of its total revenue, with partner sites accounting for 30 percent of total revenue.

Paid clicks were up 15 percent compared to the first quarter of 2009, and the cost-per-click was also up, 7 percent compared to the prior year. Both are important metrics for judging Google's performance: paid clicks represent the number of people clicking on search ads, while cost-per-click represents the amount that advertisers pay to Google for each click under the auction model it uses to set ad prices.

Google also followed through on its pledge to keep hiring: the company employed 20,621 people at the end of the first quarter, compared to 19,835 at the end of 2009.

On the sales side, Nikesh Arora, president of global sales operations and business development, said Google was investing in display advertising. On the engineering side, Jeff Huber, senior vice president of engineering (filling in for Rosenberg) said Google is hiring aggressively for its Android and Chrome projects as well as for the Google Apps business.

Other than that, few new details were shared about Google's business. Executives declined to comment on how many Nexus One phones Google sold during the quarter, only to say that they were "extremely happy" with the sales and that the Nexus One is profitable, but not in a material way.

Similar strategies were adopted for the hot-button questions such as Google's relationship with Apple, the growth of Facebook, the potential Federal Trade Commission review of its proposed acquisition of AdMob, and the long-term effects of its decision to move Chinese-language search operations to Hong Kong.