The recent hype and online buzz around the release of Facebook vanity URLs has highlighted the importance of claiming usernames on social sites. Yet, the reality is that most people outside the web/tech bubble don't fully grasp the importance of vanity URLs and social site usernames.
Use this post as a starting point for understanding the vanity URL phenomena, and as a catalyst for thinking about online branding for your small business. If you can reinforce your company, product, or service using vanity URLs, and publish great content, then you'll be way ahead of the curve.
What is a Vanity URL?
A vanity URL is nothing more than an URL that is associated with an identity or online presence, and it usually takes the shape of http://domainname/username or http://yourname or http://productorservicename. The former is the standard for web services and social sites that support vanity URLs for users, the latter are domain names that people and companies register to reinforce branding on the web.
Some web services are built with default vanity URLs, which means that whatever username you create during the registration process will become the base of your vanity URL. Twitter is an example of this, so your Twitter name becomes your Twitter vanity URL, which looks like http://twitter.com/twittername.
What's the Point?
Vanity URLs are an essential part of any sophisticated online user or company's presence. Simply put, because they're always associated with identity, they can influence SEO and make it easy for others to find you. You also want to avoid being brand-jacked by people who claim your vanity URL, and could own your online voice.
For small business, vanity URLs should play an important part of your web and social media strategies. You'll have to decide what your default username will be, but it should be your company, the name of a product or service you offer, or something directly associated with the company. The bottom line is that your social presence, by way of vanity URLs, can greatly improve your branding across the web.
Depending on the size of your company and the types of products you offer, you may consider having an online presence with a username/vanity URL for each product or service you offer.
Vanity URLs to Grab
If you're trying to establish an online social presence for your brand, you'll want to grab a myriad of usernames/vanity URLs to not only improve SEO results for your product or company, but to get more online exposure for your brand.
Facebook just released vanity URLs for profiles and pages, so you'll want to claim your company name as soon as possible should you plan to leverage the social media marketing potential of Facebook Pages. For tracking purposes, you might also consider setting up a Social Too Facebook URL. You'll also want to verify that someone else hasn't already claimed your trademarked name. Should you find that to be case, you can fill out this form.
As Twitter becomes a more effective way to promote your business, you'll want to make sure you secure your Twitter name of choice now. Eventually Twitter will offer verified accounts to businesses, but until they do your only recourse for false representation is to fill out this form.
If you're thinking about using video for tutorials, how-tos, or other business objectives. Both YouTube and Vimeo support vanity URLs, so you'd be wise to lock down the same username there as you do on other social sites.
Of course there are hundreds of other sites that support vanity URLs, so the important thing to keep in mind is to remain consistent and remember that the social content you publish can really improve the SEO for searches on your company name or products.