With Google+ now allowing users to customise their user profiles many are flocking to get their custom vanity URL.

However, how many have read the “payment” section of the new terms of use?

Google:

You’re now eligible for a unique Google+ custom URL that lets you easily point people to your profile (no more long URLs!).

That message is now going out to all Google+ users whose profile has a photo and at least 10 followers, and whose account is at least 30 days old.

This is the news that, in addition to the slew of Google+ updates this week, Google has started inviting all users of its social network to grab a custom URL, changing what is currently a long list of letters and numbers to something more memorable.

For those who don’t know what custom URLs (also called vanity URLs) are, here’s quick example. Currently, my Google+ profile is located at https://plus.google.com/113460065390054689377.

Now with my new custom URL it’s possible to access my user profile from http://plus.google.com/+AndrewIsidoro, swapping out the string of numbers for something that trips much easier off the tongue and is easier to share.

The price of doing business on Google+

Usually I’m not one to write about news, after all a number of leading outlets have already written extensively about how to claim your new vanity URL but all seem to have missed out the terms of use that have accompanied the new feature; most notably the phrase about payment:

Custom URLs are free for now, but we may start charging a fee for them.

The new terms of use, which can be found here, clearly state that Google may look to monetise the URL scheme.  

This would be a major shift in the business model of the platform, given that Google+’s user experience has always been geared towards being a ‘no ads!’ service (fuelled by the Google+ leadership that have, on numerous occasions, spoken ill of having ads on a social network).

Virante’s Director of Digital Outreach, Mark Traphagen wrote in a blog post a few months ago:

Even if they (ads) come, they will be in some creative and well-integrated form that adds to the user’s experience, rather than interrupting it.

Are premium features on the way?

This begs the question: Is it premium features and not advertising though that will be Google’s plan of attack in monetising their service?

Certainly, with the large amount of businesses using Google+ features and the current integration with other Google products such as + Local pages, there could be a market for premium services to help these organisations (and power users) ‘optimise’ their profiles with advanced features and customisation.

However, with what seems like the entire digital marketing industry clamouring to personalise profiles for themselves and their clients, the news that the feature may become paid might leave a sour taste.

On the other hand, the platform is still underdeveloped, and still seen as an echo chamber for early adopters and web hipsters.

To take a quote from Econsultancy’s Matt Owen:

How much revenue or awareness do we really think Ford Europe generated by running a brand promotion on G+ (a slightly uninspiring image-sharing competition), barring a bit of PR bumph because they were there first?

I’m yet to see a convincing campaign from the platform (though I’m happy to be proved wrong here).

Whatever Google’s motive is, it’s important to understand that you don’t own your nice new shiny custom URL and that, one day, Google may come calling for payment in one way or another.

Are you advising your clients to claim thier custom URL? How do you see advancements in this area going? Let me know in the comments…