Google Inc., in its biggest surge in hiring yet, plans to add more than 6,000 new workers in 2011.
The record-setting move, which would swell Google's payroll to more than 30,000 by the beginning of next year, reflects the company's bullish outlook as it expands beyond its core search business and faces off against Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. in fast-growing new areas such as mobile and social networking.
Facebook, the world's most popular social networking site with more than half a billion users, surpassed Google as the most visited website in the U.S. in 2010, according to Internet tracker Experian Hitwise.
Analysts were not surprised that Google planned on pumping up its ranks in 2011. Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., is also trying to keep employees, not just recruit them, as Facebook and others try to lure away top engineers. Last fall, Google announced a 10% raise for all its employees.
Hiring will be spread across several areas. Many of the jobs will be at Google headquarters (about a third of the company's workers are in the Bay Area). Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said at a conference in Europe on Tuesday that Google planned to hire more than 1,000 workers in Europe.
This kind of hiring usually makes investors queasy. Google has been ramping up its spending in recent quarters. Google added 4,565 workers in 2010, a 23% jump and the largest since its hiring binge in 2007, when it added 6,100 workers.
"If this results in some killer products down the line, that's great. There are some big opportunities they are chasing after," said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis.
But analysts, including Gillis, remain concerned about the burst of spending. "That's the reason why I have one of the lowest price targets on the streets," he said.
Google shares rose $8.83 to $619.91 in regular trading Tuesday.
Analysts are speculating that Google co-founder Larry Page, who is taking over the company's reins from Schmidt in April, will pay less attention to Wall Street's financial expectations as he tries to jumpstart innovation. Page, frustrated by the company's lumbering bureaucracy, wants to recapture Google's entrepreneurial roots and speed up the pace of innovation.
Google is also highlighting what it says is often overlooked by observers: a start-up culture within the company, including the Android team working on the software inside mobile devices.
"Obviously, we're optimistic about the future," Alan Eustace, a Google senior vice president, told the Mercury News on Tuesday. "The growth that we're seeing across a lot of different areas is really based on seeds we planted a long time ago. ... and the exciting part is those seeds are actually developing now; those seeds are coming into fruition."