Who Gets A Vanity URL on Facebook?

Lately, many marketers have noticed that hundreds of Facebook public profiles have been assigned a nice-looking “vanity URL” (like http://www.facebook.com/barackobama) in order to make them easier to find and improve their SEO. In addition, some have reported seeing survey questions from Facebook asking users if they would be willing to pay for vanity URLs for their own profile pages.

Currently, all vanity URLs are assigned by Facebook (PageData offers a view of all Facebook Pages that have been assigned vanity URLs for those interested in seeing which types of Pages Facebook has chosen), but how does Facebook decide who gets one?

As of yet, Facebook has not officially stated how it decides who gets vanity URLs. A Facebook spokesperson tells Inside Facebook today:

“We don’t offer specifics on which parties may have received ‘vanity’ URLs, but it’s something we’ve experimented with and have only offered on a very limited basis. We’re looking at how we might roll this functionality out to all of our users, but we don’t have anything to announce at this time.”

In other words, Facebook is still evaluating different ways of rolling out vanity URLs to balance SEO and direct sales opportunities.

Clearly, vanity URLs represent one of the best SEO opportunities on Facebook ever (for background, see Search Engine Land, SEO Chat, ClickZ, Matt Cutts), and Facebook knows it. As such, they’ve got to be careful how they roll out the program, because URL changes are hard to undo in the SEO world.

Facebook wants to get as much traffic as it can flowing into the Facebook.com ecosystem, but at the same time is considering becoming a vanity URL “registrar” of sorts as well in order to establish another secondary revenue stream.

Those familiar with the history of domain name arbitrage know the type of economy that Facebook could be sitting on. Nearly 200 million domain names are registered worldwide – generating somewhere around $10 per domain per year. There is also a substantial domain name aftermarket, where hundreds of names are sold for tens of thousands of dollars each year, with several transactions going into the millions.

While Facebook.com/hotels isn’t as good as hotels.com, the same fundamental principles apply. It’s not unfeasible to think that a million or more businesses and individuals interested in securing their vanity URL for SEO purposes would pay Facebook somewhere between $10-$100 per year for “prime real estate” to ride Facebook’s SEO coat tails. Facebook could also auction off rentals for premier keywords (like “hotels” and “mortgage,” etc.) for much more than $100 per year if it wanted.

Facebook is still deciding how it wants to play its vanity URL cards, and it’s likely to be a few months before they launch any official programs in this direction. However, the company is smart for considering its revenue generating options.