Twitter’s IPO reminds us how bad Google Finance really is

By Michael Carney , written on November 7, 2013

From The News Desk

Today’s Twitter IPO had the unintended consequence of reminding me that there are a few things Google isn’t great at. This is not an indictment of Google’s stock price, which at $1,012 per share is up nearly 43 percent on the year and barely off from its all-time, intraday high of $1,041.52 reached on October 31. The issue I’d like to discuss is that abomination that is Google Finance.

For the company that purports to organize the world’s information, Google continues to trail behind Yahoo Finance – I repeat, Google trails Yahoo, by a fairly large margin – in its ability to surface accurate, comprehensive, and easily accessible financial information. It’s not just that Google Finance has barely evolved since it was first launched in 2006, when its closest competitor, Yahoo Finance was already nearly a decade old and beloved by most retail investors. It’s that Google Finance is routinely inaccurate or slow to update with new information.

This morning, while covering the early moments of Twitter trading, one of my colleagues mentioned that the company had a $35 billion market cap according to one of the talking heads on some financial news TV program. This didn’t seem right, so I quickly popped over to Google Finance to confirm this fact. What I found was even more perplexing.

Google Finance Twitter

Google was quoting Twitter’s market cap as $14.16 billion – this despite listing the company as having a total of 544.07 million shares outstanding and those shares trading at a then $47.17 per share. Basic math dictates that the company would have a market cap at that moment in time of approximately $25.5 billion. So why the discrepancy? I have no idea.

You’ll also notice in the above screenshot that Google’s charting feature read “no data available.” At this time, both Yahoo Finance and were already displaying live trading data (sadly I did not take a screenshot of either). We noticed similar delays in data availability from Google Finance at the time of the Facebook IPO and other recent new issuances. My PandoDaily colleagues and I have also run into cases where Google displays incorrect shares outstanding figures.

Former Yahoo Finance General Manager Nathan Richardson discussed in a 2009 Forbes interview the lengths that Yahoo went to deliver accurate and timely information:

But the biggest game changer was building our own stock ticker plant. At the time, Yahoo! was taking its stock quotes from Reuters, but Reuters pulled all their news from Internet sites. We thought we could do it far better and faster, so we opened an office in India, which pulled together financial market data and ticker feeds. That information was used to create a stock ticker quote box. We got partner sites like Motley Fool and Quicken to carry this box and direct traffic back to our site by giving it to them for free. We built Yahoo! Finance with six engineers in India.

There’s a reason that Apple chose Yahoo to power the Stocks app when launching the first version of iOS  (then called iPhone OS) on the iPhone. And it’s not because Google was a competitor – remember the first Android device didn’t launch until 2008. Of course, there were financial considerations involved in Apple’s decision, but Steve Jobs and company turned to Google to power its early Maps app – despite reversing course amid spectacular consumer outrage several years later – indicating that working with Google was something it was at least willing to consider.

Beyond the shocking inaccuracies that often turn up in Google Finance, the product simply seems to be withering without much attention or innovation from the company. Just yesterday, Yahoo unveiled (but then delayed) an update to its Finance site – one which already handily bested Google’s – as well as to its dedicated iOS app. By comparison, Google has yet to release a dedicated finance app for iOS, and its Android one is pretty terrible. The new Yahoo Finance website features an article news feed that is uniquely tailored to each user, based on information extracted from searches and browsing history, and their personal stock portfolio.

In the same 2009 Forbes interview, Richardson added:

When I left Yahoo! Finance our users spent triple the amount of time at our site vs. our competitors. People want voice, breadth, aggregated search function and blog content from news sites. Give that to them and you get super sticky engagement.

A recent WSJ article on the product update reinforces Yahoo’s dominance in the finance category, and the fact that Google is barely even an also-ran:

Yahoo Finance is the most popular site for finance news, with 34 million visitors in the U.S. last September, according to data from comScore. Dow Jones, the owner of the Wall Street Journal, is second, with 22 million, followed by Forbes and MSN. The Yahoo site has grown visits 9% in the past year – faster than the average 7% growth for the business and finance category.

Given the underwhelming traffic that Google Finance commands, perhaps it’s no surprise that Google appears to be all but ignoring the product. 24/7 Wall St.’ s Douglas A. McIntyre even went so far as to predict in April of last year that Google would “dump” Google Finance all together amid an effort to cut back on non-strategic products.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. Yahoo has demonstrated that a real business can be built around the Finance category. Of course, Google has never been a publisher or a media company, like Yahoo or AOL – when either aren’t going through one of their many identity crises. But it is a company that is looking to gather as much information about consumers as possible and use that data to target ads. Attracting tens of millions of retail investors to a best-in-class portal and incentivizing a portion of them to upload investment portfolio information would give Google more data about these users’ personal finances than the company could gather from any other product in its portfolio. That it hasn’t recognized this fact, or hasn’t been able to take advantage of it is surprising.

If there is one thing you could say to describe the current Larry Page era at Google, its "focus on excellence." The company has shuttered many beloved products, while pouring tremendous resources into delivering best in class experiences with those that remain. The Android OS is better than it’s ever been, as are Google’s iOS apps. Google Glass has captured the attention of the entire developer community and promises to push the boundaries of wearable computing. Fiber, Wi-Fi balloons, self-driving cars, floating mystery barges, and many other products suggest that Google isn’t a company that mails it in. So why does it continue to do so with Google Finance?

It’s fine if Google chooses to shut down Google Finance and focus its resources elsewhere. Yahoo Finance is better anyway. But it’s a blemish on the company’s reputation to keep the product alive in its current state.

Most of the retail stock investment community made up their minds on Google Finance years ago. It seems that it’s only us technology company folks, brainwashed by the rest of our Google-centric digital lives that occasionally make the mistake of turning to Google to answer our stock market questions.

Count me as one less person who will make that mistake in the future. I’m sure Google won’t even notice.