The Look Ahead: Google Narrows Its Acquisition Focus

A weekly look at a story that is defining the news.

Google’s shopping spree hit a new milestone this week. By buying up visual search engine, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) made its 25th acquisition since CEO Eric Schmidt’s declaration nearly a year ago that the company was looking to make a purchase a month. But while Google’s early purchases were spread across many businesses — from mobile to video compression — commenters are noting that now appears to be changing.

All of Google’s purchases since July, including its buy today of social search startup Angstro, have been concentrated on two categories — search and social — where the company feels threatened by Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Facebook. In a report this week, Caris & Co.’s Sandeep Aggarwal called attention to the trend, saying that Google’s purchases were becoming “more defensive,” citing its purchase, its buy of social search engine Aardvark, travel search technology provider ITA Software, and social game company Slide.

Aggarwal’s chart:


Another chart making its way around the web (“the mega timeline of Google acquisitions”) describes the trend in a different way, showing that much of Google’s recent acquisition activity is centered around bothcutting into the revenues of competitors as well as building up its own sales (rather than just the latter).

AdAge has its own analysis in a piece today, noting that the many recent social buys are setting up Google for the launch of the new social networking effort it has under way, which, internally, it is calling GoogleMe; it is expected to compete with Facebook.

So what’s next? Google hasn’t given any sign that it’s about to stop buying companies — and it certainly doesn’t have to, considering that it’s adding about $2 billion in cash each quarter, about the same amount that it’s spent buying up companies over the last year.

On the search front, we’ve speculated in the past about specific verticals — like shopping, travel, health, local, and entertainment — that Google could double-down on to counter Bing.

Social is trickier, since Google hasn’t said much about what GoogleMe will actually be. (Asked by the WSJ whether the service will be like Facebook, Schmidt helpfully said “the world doesn’t need a copy of the same thing”). But all signs suggest that it will revolve around gaming, so expect more action there.