Custom URLs for Google+ – What it Means for SEO

Recent reports suggest that engagement on Google+ lags that of other social networks and in an attempt to turn the tide, Google has introduced custom URLs. On August 13th, Google product manager, Saurabh Sharma originally announced the first step towards custom URLs on Google+. Eleven days later,  Sharma announced the rollout of custom Google+ URLs to thousands of more verified (and well-known) brands and individuals.

A few interesting notes regarding Google+ custom URLs:

  • Unlike other social media networks that allow you to choose your own URL, Google offers you a pre-approved custom URL.  If you’re not happy with the recommended URL, you have the option to request a different one that abides by the Google+ policies. This is Google’s commendable attempt to diminish name squatting.
  • Google+ URLs are not case sensitive – any spelling will do. http://google.com/+Chrome, http://google.com/+chrome, and http://google.com/+cHrOme all return this URL: https://plus.google.com/+chrome/posts
  • For now, custom URLs are free. But updates to the Policies & Principles states Google may start charging a fee for them in the future.

The rollout of Google+ vanity URLs has been long awaited by SEO practitioners and internet marketers of all types. Other social networks have had them for quite some time and although we know the importance of Google+ on search, it’s impossible to share a URL that includes 15 random numbers.  Custom URLs are easy to remember and share, and more sharing means more interaction in our Google+ circles.  This additional sharing increases the social signals for our website, which in turn helps to increase organic search rankings for non-branded terms.

Google’s Search Plus Your World results are now the default results for millions of searches, and these personalized searches are directly influenced by interaction on Google+. As a result, Google+ is the most impactful social platform on organic search. Covario has seen organic secure personalized search coming from Google (sometimes called “Term Not Provided” in analytics) spike as high as 20% for some of our clients. By increasing interaction on Google+, a brand can have a direct, positive influence on these search results.

To date, most but not all, of the profiles & pages that have custom URLs are verified accounts with a large following and are active on a daily basis. In contrast, there are some well known organizations with only a few followers that were given a custom URL. For example, the City of Boulder has a custom URL but is in less than 200 circles.

So if you are part of the expanded custom URL roll out – congratulations! For those not yet invited to the custom URL party, don’t fret. Google promises to keep expanding the program. In the meantime, here are a few steps you can do to improve your chances of being invited to the next roll out:

Expand your circles
– One of the most often heard complaints about Google+ is the lack of activity from members, therefore making it difficult to expand your reach. A few ways to increase your Google+ reach are:

  1. FindPeopleonPlus: A searchable index of Google+ users. Find people & brands by keyword. Filter results by gender, education, occupation, and other identifiers.
  2. Google+ Ripples – Available for any public post and will help to identify active people on Google+.
  3. #CircleSunday – Much like FollowBack on Twitter, use or search for #CircleSunday to expand your circles.
  4. Share using trending topics – these are listed on the right side of your Google+ home page.

Stay active on Google+ – For Google, this seems to mean at least one share every 72 hours.

Verify your Google+ page – To date, this has been a requirement for custom URLs on Google+. The process for getting verified on Google+ is:

  1. The page must be authorized by your commercial entity, organization, brand, or product.
  2. The page’s profile must link to the organizations website.
  3. The organization’s website must link to its Google+ page:
    • Link from the home page only
    • Use the rel=”publisher” tag in the link
    • Use the canononical version of your Google+ URL
  4. A meaningful number of people must have added your Google+ page to their circles. To date, there has not been an exact number placed on “meaningful”, but estimates range upward of 100.
  5. Submit a verification request form. http://support.google.com/plus/bin/request.py?hl=en&contact_type=page_verification&rd=1

As a bonus, a verified & active Google+ page will occupy the right column on SERPs for branded terms – further helping an organization to manage their online presence.

Most likely custom URLs will soon be available to most Google+ users and pages. Will this alone help your SEO? Probably not, but it may make it easier to grow your circles, increase your influence, and in turn directly influence Google’s personalized search results.

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