Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Tool Belt - Google Alerts

The world wide web moves pretty fast - if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. - Ferris Bueller

At least I think I he said something like that.

As we learned yesterday while listening to Stuff You Should Know, the web is a huge place, and growing at a massive rate. How are we supposed to keep up with everything posted on the net? How do we know if someone has mentioned us in a blog post, a tweet or a news article?

This is where a tool like Google Alerts comes in handy. I know, I know, Google has let us down recently by closing some features that were super handy (I will forever miss you Google Reader), and they even let us down two days ago by having a major outage across a bunch of their features like Gmail, Google+ and Blogger. Some people even complain that Google Alerts is not as functional as it used to be, and expect it to be the next thing Google stops providing.

But for now, Google Alerts are great at keeping you up to date about the topics you want to watch.

How do Alerts work?

A Google Alert is an email (for pro users you can subscribe to an RSS feed) with all of the newest items posted anywhere on the web about a certain search term.

For instance, I have an Alert set up for my company name and my full name, so if I'm quoted in an article, like this one on using Twitter Favourites, I get an email with a link to the post.

You can set up alerts to send you either an email digest or send an alert every time something gets published. I received an email with a link to that article hours before the author tweeted out a link to it.

You can also set up Alerts for certain search terms. I recently took the position of communications team leader for the Green Party here in Guelph. It's a pretty big job and one I've never had at this level. I set up an Alert for anything about using online communication in politics. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are very new in the context of elections so we are all learning. New articles are posted regularly for me to read and learn and try things.

Not only would you use a topical Alert to learn from, you can also use it to help you find content to share with your fans, and for blog topics. If you worked in health care and had a professional passion for running you might want to get any new articles written about the health benefits of running sent to you.

Setting up a Google Alert

Setting up a Google Alert is easy. Head to Google, enter the search term you want to stay updated about. Click on News in the menu right above the search results and then scroll down to the end of the page. Click on "Create an email alert for {search term}".

Next you will choose which type of alert you want. I would suggest choosing "Everything" as the type. That will send you blog posts, news articles, and videos posted to YouTube. Once a day is probably a good frequency, unless you have a very hot topic issue you want to stay on top of as it happens. Depending on how broad the search term is you can choose whether you want all the results or only the best. Choosing only the best will ensure you don't receive the same article posted on the website of each paper which uses a wire service, for instance.

Enter the email address you want to use (if you are signed into your Google account this auto populates). Click Create Alert and you have it! Now relax, take the day off and let Google do the work. You can stop and look around!

Photo courtesy of IMDB 

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