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What do 16,000 people ‘do’ at Google?

Think that besides search advertising, hiring is the thing Google does best?

On Thursday, the company reported gains of 50 percent or so in quarterly profit and revenue from a year ago, beating analyst expectations. It wasn’t a stellar quarter, but it was pretty darn good.

The notable thing was the hiring. The company added 2,130 workers to its roster, bringing the head count to 15,916. What do nearly 16,000 people do at a company that doesn’t make widgets (at least in the hardware manufacturing sense of the word)?

That’s an average of about 35 people showing up for their first day of work each business day during the past three months. Granted, that is in offices around the world, but still, that’s impressive. By comparison, Yahoo has 13,600 employees, after hiring 1,200 during the past quarter. (Actually, when you think about it, that’s even more crazy given the need for Yahoo to retrench right now.)

Those numbers may seem surprising given the fact that Google attributed last quarter’s 3-cent earnings miss to overspending on hiring, and promised to curb that impulse. However, during the conference call with analysts Thursday afternoon, Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said many of the people hired during the quarter had been given offers before the previous quarter had closed.

The fast pace of hiring at the search giant is the one concern Jordan Rohan, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, mentioned in an interview with CNET after the Google earnings call.

“Half the company has been hired in the last 12 months. That’s chaotic,” he says. “The new employees find it difficult to figure out how to get things done. It’s not a normal company.”

I can only guess that the new hires are working on the much-anticipated “Google phone,” which is probably going to be a Google operating system for mobile devices, and on the new copyright content filtering technology deployed at YouTube this week. They’re also probably tasked with taking over the advertising world with the company’s lucrative online automated ad platform.

“They have possibly the best core business in the history of the Internet,” Rohan says. “That is supporting them as they attempt to find an Act II. I don’t know if it will be media, display, mobile or what.”

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