You may have recently received a notice from Google that your Google+ Page or Profile qualified for a custom URL and the great people of Google had already reserved one for you. Congratulations! Welcome to the awesome sauce club! After the flood of endorphins subside and the crowds roar becomes a low hymn, settle down and let’s look at the marketing strategy behind this move; from your perspective and Google’s.
Vanity URL versus Custom URL
Yes, there is a difference. The custom URL that Google may have reserved and offered you is just a customized redirect/rewrite for your ID on the Google+ platform. Vanity URLs are those that are specific to a brand and offer a verified endorsement. For example, ChocolateSEO now has a custom URL but the old ID is still attached and often displayed for our page on Plus. With a vanity URL, like Mashable, you will find they have a verified symbol next to their name. This is only possible with vanity URLs. Local +Pages receive a symbol too, but this is associated with the address, not the Google+ URL. Hovering on the shield for a vanity URL denotes the brand name has been verified. On Local +Pages, it displays “Verified Business.”
Google Custom URLs and the Fine Print
Looking at the email you may have received offers no insight into the “terms and conditions” or “stipulations” of your new found fortune.
However, with a little digging you can find out more about this new custom URL option. We first stumbled across the new guidelines for custom URLs, https://support.google.com/plus/answer/2676340. On this page, we find out that there are really only three stipulations (four if you count having an account in good standing):
- Ten or more followers
- Account must be at least 30 days old
- Must have a profile/page picture
That’s it! If you meet those requirements, but didn’t get the email above, you can setup a custom URL yourself. From the dashboard, select edit this page. In the administration, click the ‘Links’ option. You will find your customization option here. From the email above, you will see that they reserved Chocolateseo. We capitalize the ‘SEO’ in the name. You can edit this if you’ve accepted the customized URL but you cannot change it completely once it is accepted. You can also setup custom URLs for your profiles on Google+ as well.
Free Now, Pay Later?
Further investigation uncovers that this custom URL option is currently free, but may be a paid one at some point in the near or distant future. Jon Henshaw of Sitening/Raven Tools shared this information and a link related to the terms and conditions of Google+ custom URLs: http://www.google.com/+/policy/tos-custom-url.html. On the page it says,
Custom URLs are free for now, but we may start charging a fee for them. However, we will tell you before we start charging and give you the choice to stop participating first.
What does that mean? That means if you do what the email tells you to: add the custom URL to your site, your business cards, your link building and outreach programs, etc., you could be setting yourself up for a hostage situation. At any point, Google could want to leverage this market and charge any amount for the custom URLs you’ve setup. If that day comes a year from now, how many URLs will you have pointed to the custom URL? What if you choose not to pay whatever they charge? That means a competitor or naysayer could purchase your now valuable Google+ URL and destroy your world. Contemplate this as you start to implement the custom URLs in your marketing. It is a great opportunity and one we recommend leveraging, but be prepared to pay for the privileged of using the custom URL.
Our recommendation: create a customized Google+ URL, but continue to use your original URL. The custom Google+ Page URL can then be used as the anchor text. This way, should the day come that Google wants to charge $100 dollars per year, or month, or day for the URL you won’t be ‘forced’ to purchase the URL. (But you probably will nonetheless–lest a competitor control your brand on Google+)
My emotions are mixed at the moment. I am happy to have the opportunity to use a simple, custom URL, but I am apprehensive to invest much into this opportunity. I’ll admit, I fear the scenario in which companies are forced to purchase custom URLs to avoid being attacked or misrepresented (which is possible within the bounds of the guidelines as they are).