The situation is well reported now. This past Friday, Mocality, an online Kenyan business directory, issued weighty allegations that Google scraped their database of businesses and attempted to sell their competing "Getting Kenyan Businesses Online" program to those companies they found while also claiming to be Mocality partners. Mocality founder, Stefan Magdalinski , alleged this poaching of customers and false claims of partnership in a blog post on Friday that immediately received attention across the web.
By Saturday, Google discovered the allegations were accurate, issued a statement from Nelson Mattos (Google VP for Product Engineering, Europe and Emerging Markets), and are investigating the matter. This is an unfortunate development but it appears that the unethical activity was not carried out by Google employees but rather by 3rd party vendors. The situation is troubling nonetheless and more details will surely be forthcoming.
Hitting the International Markets
For my purposes, though, I want to concentrate on the "Get Your Business Online" program and how Google has been rolling it out internationally. The campaign started with the "Getting British Businesses Online" program in the UK, then continued with equivalents for Ireland and Canada. The programs offer to build a free minimal-page website for businesses, also seminars, trainings, and tools to maximize their online presence, and typically extend AdWords credit. The website remains free for a year at which time an annual fee kicks in. The initiative is an attempt by Google to get the many small businesses in both established and emerging markets without an online presence up and running online while positioning them as future customers for various products they offer. Both parties win.
The international SEO implications are clear. There will be many more businesses online that can benefit from engaging in SEO practices and will be looking for an SEO company to partner with in order to optimize and grow their web presence. With each campaign, there will be more online businesses in each market in need of online marketing efforts, specific to their language and culture. In realistic terms, the majority of these businesses are small and will be catering to a local and at most regional audience. Thus, the SEO that will be of most benefit for these companies is the localization of keywords and the maximization of geo-targeting tools and principles. Increases in the amount of business going online are bound to happen in the coming years, these and similar programs only accelerate it.
Domestically, Google appears to be offering the program state-by-state with Vermont and Texas being the first two to receive state-specific campaigns that have regional and national partners. The programs offer the same aforementioned benefits as their international counterparts.