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Google is offering an incentive for Google Apps users in the US and Canada to spread the word about the online productivity suite, in the form of a cash reward for each new customer they refer.

The online ad-slinger will pay a $15 referral bonus each time a new user signs up for Google Apps using an existing customer's unique referral URL, the company said in a blog post on Monday.

Google Apps is the Mountain View Chocolate Factory's $5-a-month subscription-based set of online software for businesses, including Gmail, Calendar, the Google Drive cloud storage service, Sites for publishing simple websites, and Docs for collaborating on documents, presentations, and spreadsheets.

There is a catch, though. Google won't actually pay the bounty until a referred customer has been a paying subscriber for 120 days.

The arrangement actually works out to be a good one for Google, which ends up paying only a very modest amount in user-acquisition costs, compared to what some other companies are willing to pay.

When Facebook shelled out a staggering $19bn to acquire WhatsApp in February, for example, shrewder analysts observed that the sum was equivalent to $42 per user, which is high but isn't out of line with the per-user valuation of other past social media acquisitions. With its $15 referral bounty, Google will be paying practically a third as much per user.

There is no limit to the total number of individuals a Google Apps user can refer, but Google will only pay rewards for the first 100 referral users who sign up from a single business (that is, a single Google Apps domain name).

The search giant said it will also offer coupons that can save referral customers $10 per user for the first year that they subscribe to the service.

To begin receiving awards, current Google Apps users must first sign up for the program and provide a taxpayer identification number and bank account information, so that Google can deposit awards directly into their accounts. ®

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