Google has more tools than handyman’s toolbox. Most people know about the big ones, like Search, Gmail, Drive, Docs, and Maps, but there are many more. One of the ways in which Google innovates is by putting out numerous beta products for free, just to see which ones are picked up and used by large numbers of people. The most popular ones receive more focus and resources, and eventually become full-fledged products (Gmail was technically a beta product until mid-2009, five years after it was first released). However, there are loads more that many people haven’t heard of. For a (mostly) comprehensive list, go here. However, one of the most useful tools isn’t even on the official list of products: Google Alerts.
Google Alerts is a terrific way to make Google Search work for you and on your timeframe – think of it as customized search results delivered to your email inbox. To set up an alert, go to the starting page. There are pre-built suggestions listed there, but to customize alerts for your needs just enter your search terms in the box at the top of the page. Sample results will appear below to give you an idea of the kind of information that will be delivered by the alert. Next to the “Create Alert” button is a drop-down list of options allowing you to control how often you receive an email from the alert, what kind of sources the email will include, and several other factors. Pick the options you want and click the create button. You’ll start receiving emails with the information of your choice right away. It’s that simple.
Now that you know how to set up alerts, let’s explore why you might want to. One of the biggest challenges for a small business is reputation management. The reality of 2015 is that more and more people are looking online for answers to their questions, meaning anything that’s posted online about your company could be seen by current or potential customers. Whether it’s checking reviews on Yelp or monitoring hashtags on Twitter, you need to be wherever your customers are looking so you can make sure false information doesn’t go unchecked or requests for help don’t languish. Unfortunately, most small businesses don’t even have a marketing department let alone a PR department, so anything that can be done to simplify these critical responsibilities can be a life saver. Setting up Google Alerts for keywords like your business name or top product lines can help keep you informed of what’s being said about you online, thus giving you a chance to respond. There are other reasons, too, though. You can keep up with general news and trends on your industry, saving a lot of time by having the applicable information sent directly to you. You can do a little virtual stalking of your competitors, if you’re into that sort of thing. You can keep track of who is linking to your site by using “link:www.yourdomain.com” as your keywords. If you want to get fancy, you can use operators to nail down some specifics. For example, let’s say you want to be notified if someone hacks your site and posts racy pictures on it. You can set up an alert with the following search terms:
Nude OR naked OR porn OR sex site:www.yoursite.com
That should run along happily invisible until such time as a hack-and-post occurs, and then it will notify you right away. It’s a nice little bit of extra reassurance on top of your normal online security procedures. Feel free to set up as many alerts as you’d like – Google will allow you up to 1,000 of them. It’s just a single click to edit or delete your alerts, so anyone can do it. More tips and details about customizing your alerts can be found here.
But it’s not just for businesses. Individuals can use alerts to help discover potential identity theft or content theft, follow sports teams or Hollywood celebrities, or stay on top of new products and technologies. You can set up an alert to perform the written digital equivalent of a selfie to find out what other people are saying about you. If you’re a traveler, you can use alerts to keep you posted on what’s happening back home. If you crave savings, you can keep an eye out for coupons, discount codes, or free goodies. You can even use an alert to send you notices about a particular job title you’re interested in.
Google Alerts is a very versatile tool for just about anyone who wants to get customized search results on just about any topic. Alerts take almost no time to set up, they function with very little maintenance once created, and can be an extremely powerful way to keep tabs on the information that matters most to you. Give it a shot, and feel free to come back and leave us comments about what works (or doesn’t) best for you.