Even though I work in a tech environment, I periodically like to remind myself that not everyone does; and even those who do, don’t necessarily know about and use all the cool tools available to them. Google Alerts is one of those tools that can be extremely useful to virtually anyone, and best of all, it’s free.
What is a Google Alert?
Available since 2003, a Google Alert is simply a system that sends you an email notification whenever Google finds a word or phrase you specify anywhere online. It’s like having a free, full-time research assistant combing the Web and sending you results tailor-made to your specifications.
How do you create a Google Alert?
Setting up a Google Alert only takes a few minutes at http://www.google.com/alerts. For each subject or topic you want to follow, write a simple search query (exactly like you would in a Google search) and answer the three simple questions that follow in the drop-down format.
As soon as you enter your query, Google will show you the current results your query will produce to help you further define it. Here are a few tips to help you with that process that will also work in normal Web searches:
• If you are looking for a specific phrase, put it in double quotation marks.
• If you want to exclude a particular word, add that word to your query with a minus (-) sign immediately before it. Example: “small dog breeds” –dachshund will exclude that breed of dog from the results.
• If you want to include similar words, use the “~” symbol in front of the word, as in “public relations marketing” ~online, which would include results using terms like “web” and “Internet.”
• Document types you are looking for can be specified by using the term “filetype:” followed by the standard file extension, such as “ppt” or “doc.” “Public relations best practices” filetype:ppt would return PowerPoint documents about public relations best practices.
• Another great tool is the “OR” operator. This is particularly useful when searching for something like “public relations” OR marketing. Notice that the “or” needs to be capitalized, and public relations was included as a phrase to limit the results.
• Similar to the OR operator is the AND operator. AND requires that both the words or phrases used are included in each result returned to you.
The four drop-down questions help to further define the results you receive:
• Result types include: Everything, News, Blogs, Video, Discussions and Books.
• You can also specify how often you want to receive alerts: As-it-happens, Once a day, or Once a week.
• A modifier is even provided regarding how many alerts you wish to receive: Only the best results, or All Results.
• The deliver to drop down lets you specify whether you want the results delivered by email, or through news feed.
Once you have created your alert, Google sends you an email notification asking you to confirm the alert before it becomes active, unless you are signed in to a Google account when you create it. (Thank you, Google! I can only image the mischief that could ensue without that.) Once verified, you’ll receive an email whenever Google Alerts finds new results for your search.
Google also provides a handy menu at the bottom of the set up screen that allows you to manage alerts you have already set up, as well as a help screen with links to the following topics:
• What are Google Alerts?
• Create an alert (Basics, Tips, and Examples)
• Advanced options
• Common questions
What can a Google Alert do for you? Tons!
First, as mentioned before, it’s a time-saving way to get relevant research delivered to you automatically. Second, it’s an effortless way to keep up on topics of interest. Third and particularly important for those in marketing and public relations, it’s one of the best ways to know what is being said online about an individual, a firm or a product as soon as it hits the Web.
Google Alerts can provide a virtual online thermometer to the public’s pulse regarding your search topic. If you consistently get positive results, your subject is healthy. Anytime you receive negative results, Google Alerts has provided the opportunity to remedy a potential cancer before it can metastasize and become much more difficult to cure. Lastly, if nothing is being said about a company or product, don’t wait until it gasps its last breath – give it a transfusion of online public relations to power up its pulse and potential profit.