How and Why to Set Up Google Alerts

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Plus some Google Search Tips and Another Free Media Monitoring Alternative

One of the first things you should do for yourself or your small business is set up Google Alerts. First of all, unlike other media monitoring tools, Google Alerts is Free, so even if you’re working on a zero budget, you can set this up. Basically, what it does is send you an email whenever google catalogues anything on your search term(s). There’s no limit to the number of keywords you can search for – you can set up an alert for your own name, your business name, your competitors, product names, industry terms, or specific trends -- so you can set up a search for whatever you can think of.

Without even needing to think about it, you should just go ahead and set alerts up for your name, your company name, and your URL. Then, you can get creative. You can set up alerts for keywords in your industry, or trends you’re following.  That’s one of the great things about these alerts, you’ll be in a place to identify news trends in popular culture or in your specific industry as they’re happening.  And that puts you ahead of the curve so you can comment on stories, start conversations on social media, pitch your expertise to reporters who are covering the topic, or even to use to write your own blog posts. It’ll also show you what’s already been covered, and that can save you time when you’re researching publications.

Set Up Your Google Alerts

Here’s a basic tutorial on how to set up Google Alerts.  I’ve done enough talking in between steps so you won’t have to press pause to follow along as you set up your alerts. 🙂

Once you've set up Alerts, and while you’re already here and thinking about Google, just want to make sure you’re also aware of a cool little feature on regular ol’ Google Search – you know, where you go when you ‘Google’ stuff.  It can come in pretty handy if you’re doing any kind of public relations or business research.

When you do a google search, you can also click on the title bar above the results to refine your search.

Click onNews’ and it gives you all the news that was printed on your topic.  

Then you can further refine your search by clicking on Search Tools’, which brings down another menu below it, and then click again on ‘All News’, and you can further refine your search to include only 'Blogs.' That’s super helpful if you’re looking for blogs to pitch guest posts.

You can also click on ‘Search Tools’ and then ‘Any Time’ to sort by the hour, day, week, month or year, which can matter pretty significantly based on the timeliness of the news your searching on.

A few more random, general tips:

  • Set up google alerts on your favorite industry influencers or customers, so you can congratulate them on good press.  Great for building relationships.
  • To find forums where you can join discussions – great for research or just getting yourself in the mix – just change your sources type in the alert set-up to 'Discussions.'
  • To search for a page that links to another, specific page (i.e, to see all the pages that link back to a competitor, for example), use link: and then the URL.  It’ll look like this:   link:melaniedowney.com.  That particular one will then send me all the pages that link to my web site. And I’ll happily promote those pages in my social media and email newsletters! You can use this trick to find out who links to competitors, publications, even certain articles.
  • To find sites that are similar to other sites, you can use this little trick: related: and then the URL. So, say you want to find sites similar to a blog you wanted to guest post for, but they turned you down. You can search for sites that are similar, and pitch your post to them! Same goes for trade and news web sites. It would look like this:  related:chocolatechip.com.
  • To find mentions on a particular site – say you pitched a story on HARO and you want to see if a reporter quoted you, but you don’t want to bug them, or you want to see all stories about chocolate chip cookies on the New York Times web site, you can use “Search query” site:thepublicationURL.com and it will return the results where your search term, chocolate chip cookies, is mentioned.  In this example, it would look like this: “Chocolate chip cookies”site:NYTimes.com”.

And in case you need a refresher, here are some general google search terms that will come in handy:

  • Use quotation marks around your search terms.  It’s the difference between all search results for Melanie and for Downey or search results for the exact phrase “Melanie Downey”
  • To exclude words, use a (-) and then the terms you want to omit from your search. For example Chocolate Cookies –chip. You’ll get lots of chocolate cookie recipes, but no chocolate chip cookie ones.  With a general chocolate cookies search without the –chip, your first page will show chocolate chip cookie recipes.
  • You can search for social tags by placing an (@) before your keyword, like this: @chocolatechipcookies
  • Use (*) as a wildcard. Not sure what exactly what you want, or do you want everything within a category? You can replace words with an * to blank out specific words. Here’s an example: Chocolate Chip *. In this case, my first page results included not only cookies, but Pop Tarts and Larabars.
  • Intitle: along with the word you’re searching for will give you all sites with that particular word in the title.

Keep in mind, though, that Google Alerts is not as robust as it once was, and there’s been talk for years that they might be doing away with it.  But, it’s still working for me, so I recommend everyone go ahead and sign up.  After all, you’ve got nothing to lose but a few minutes of your time in setting it up.  It may not catch everything, but it’s a good starting point before you move into paid media monitoring tools, which, depending on the service, will run you at about $29/month or more for a solo account.  That seems a bit pricey to me for small businesses or individuals who are just starting out with public relations.  (However, if you’re starting an agency or consultancy, and have many clients to monitor, it might be worth the investment).

There is one more company to check out, though.  At the time of this writing, Mention offers a free plan for one search term and a limited number of ‘mentions’ sent to your inbox each month.  It’s set-up is very similar to Google Alerts and easy to do.  But with only one search term allowed for the free account, you have to pick – I’d recommend you choose to search for your name, your URL, or your product, depending on the nature of your business. You can click here to sign up for your free account.

So, which was your favorite Google Alerts or Google Search tip?  Got any others, or know of any other free media monitoring services?

Let me know in the comments below.

About the Author Melanie Downey

I'm Melanie Downey, small business brand innovator and public relations expert. I like to teach and write about what I've learned in 20 years working in brand development, PR, and marketing. And when I'm not doing that, I cook, drive my kids around, hang out with my hairless dog, Penny, and practice playing my ukulele.

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