Thursday, March 11, 2010

Are You Using Google Alerts?

With Google having so many products and more new ones introduced every day, Google Alerts might have slipped past your radar screen. It is a very useful product and is being used by all kinds of people for scores of things from one of the tools of those using it track SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) campaigns, to people and companies wanting to see what is being said and written about them in the internet, to people just wanting to see what the latest news is on their favorite star. It is also free.

Figure 2: Getting to Google Alerts from Gmail

"Google Alerts is a content monitoring service, offered by the search engine company Google, that automatically notifies users when new content from news, web, blogs, video and/or discussion groups matches a set of search terms selected by the user" (wikipedia). These notifications can sent to your email, and rss feed, or even configured into iGoogle. I first heard about Google Alerts from a podcast where one of the podcasters had set up a Google Alert to keep up with all the things being done by William Shatner (Star Trek's Captain Kirk) but have since found it useful for tracking all kinds of things. Imagine finding out latest news on your favorite top without having to really search for it.

Figure 3: Finding Google Alerts from amongst the various Google services

Finding Google Alerts is relatively easy. If you already have a gmail account you can click on the "more" button found next to Calendar, Documents, Web, and Reader in the upper left-hand corner of your gmail account (shown in Figure 2). That will then take you several services that Google offers (Figure 3), where it is currently listed as the first service under "Search". You'll then be taken to the "Welcome to Google Alerts" (shown in Figure 4).

Figure 4: Welcome to Google Alerts

Now you're ready to create your Google Alert (Figure 4). Here is how the form is laid out:

  • Search terms: is what you wish to be alerted about
  • Type: is what type of search to you wish to do. You can selected News, Blogs, Web, Comprehensive, Video, and Groups. So you can focus on any of those areas but the default setting is "Comprehensive which includes all the others anyways
  • How Often: is how often do wish the alert to be generated. You can select "as-it-happens", "once a day", or "once a week"
  • Email length: allows you to select between 20 and 50 results (note there won't always be that many returns depending upon how much activity there is on your search term
  • Deliver to: will send the report to your gmail account or a feed

After you've clicked on the "create alert" button, you'll get a window that looks similar to the screen shot at the top of this post. If you want to create another alert from here you can click on the "New Alert" button. This looks a little different than the initial "Create Alert" (shown in Figure 4) but you still have the same components.

Figure 5: Manage Your Alerts

You should think about other search terms that are similar or affiliated with your initial search term, if you wish to capture more returns in the search. Companies are often known by and reported with several terms. General Motors for example is also known as GM, and then there are the various divisions it has today and had in the past, so you might set up a variety of search terms to find out in your Google Alerts if you wanted to keep up with news on them. A word of caution, however is that you should think about the frequency that you get the alerts or how many alerts you set up because otherwise your inbox could quickly get flooded.

Google Alerts are a very useful tool for all sorts of things. Regardless of if you want to do some inexpensive SEO campaign, keep an eye on what is being said and reported about you or your company, or if you just want to keep up to date on what your favorite star is doing, you can do it with Google Alerts.
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