Google Alerts is a great tool and one that most marketers and website owners will already be familiar with. Alerts are simple to use, but are more powerful and flexible than many people realise. With a little imagination Google Alerts can be used in a surprising number of ways that go beyond just monitoring mentions of your brand.
Here are a few of my favourites:
When your website gets hacked
Google Alerts are not a good substitute for a full blown website scanning service, but it can be a useful option when budgets don’t stretch to anything more. Common hacks exploit vulnerabilities in common CMSs and their plugins to inject links on the site. Getting an instant alert if suspicious words appear on the site is cheap, easy protection against a widespread problem.
For example an alert for “site:yoursite.com viagra OR cialis OR levitra OR Phentermine OR Xanax OR payday OR poker” will tell you when those words appear on your site.
Alter the search to ensure that you aren’t getting false positives from your content. For instance, if your website is about coal fires you might not want to include the word ‘Poker’.
Finding your content scraped or plagiarised isn’t just annoying, it can hurt your traffic too. Setting up alerts for key phrases for each piece of content will help you find content thieves more quickly and get those DMCA wheels turning before damage is done.
I like to set up my searches using the end of one sentence and the start of another. For this article, for instance, I might monitor the phrase “plugins to inject links on the site. Getting an instant alert if suspicious”.
Create a feed page
Google Alerts doesn’t have to send result my email, it can create an RSS feed from them as well. Creating pages from feeds of search results has always been a favourite trick of spammers, but it can be used to add genuine value to sites as well. Limiting result to those from a curated list of sites, such as newspapers, can give you useful content in the form of a “recent headlines about” block for your pages.
News headline alerts
Limiting to results from newspapers can also be a good way to ensuring that you don’t miss important stories without having to wade through pages of less newsworthy mentions. The search above could just as easily be set to be an instant email notification so that you don’t miss those vital stories (or, indeed the eventual launch of consumer hoverboards).
Updates from your favourite authors
If there is an author you like who tends to write a lot of guest posts, Google Alerts can be a great way to track their work and follow what they right. Just create an alert on their name and add optional keywords to cover the topics you are interested in.
Find niche questions to answer
If you market yourself through Q&A sites, alerts can speed that process up too. Alerts for searches like “inurl:uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid wordpress” will let you know about new questions relating to WordPress on the UK version of Yahoo answers.
A similar approach can be used to find niche questions on forums. Rather than limiting using the inurl operator, you can select “Discussions” from the sources drop-down and using searches containing wildcards.
This process works equally well for link building. Setting up alerts for questions relating to each blog post you write can surface a regular stream of link opportunities.
Weekly roundup posts
Who doesn’t love a weekly roundup? The weekly update feature of Google Alerts is a great way of organising these. Just set up alerts to cover the keywords and news sources that you want to cover and they’ll give you a weekly email of round up topics to consider.
Find an excuse to network
Some people are natural networkers and are happy to pick up the phone and build relationships at any opportunity. Others find it more difficult and need a reason to make contact. Setting up alerts on the names of some of your prospects (whether for sales, link outreach or any other purpose) can be a great way to stay informed on what they are doing. If you filter those alerts into their own Gmail folder it can also be a great resource when you know you need to make contact but need an ice-breaker.
News jacking opportunities
News jacking can be a great way to get bursts of significant exposure, but is a race against time. The immediate nature of Google Alerts can help give you that edge and release a story before it peaks.
Monitor user generated content
Engaged audiences who spend their days creating content for you are great, but can leave you open to problems if things get heated. Google Alerts provides a simple way to flag up suspect UGC based on the keywords used.
Use cases will depend on the common issues your site faces, but I’ve used this to monitor inappropriate language, spam, and even to help fend of legal issues sub judice cases being discussed or potential libel being spread.
People are always asking online for recommendations. From SEO agency to local plumber, the web is covered with messages from people in need looking for a firm to help them. Whilst asking for a recommendation isn’t the same as asking for firms to pitch to you, it can present a strong opportunity if handled well.
Customers (or competitors!) leaving you reviews
If your brand gets a lot of mentions you might not want to be alerted of them all, but you might still want to hear about reviews. If you have a distinct brand name then and alert on “brand review” will be all it takes, but those with more common names might need to get creative with their negative keywords.
Follow a news story
Modern news seems focus on breaking stories, but often loses interest before the story plays out completely. Creating alerts for stories that interest you can keep you informed and also let you know when it resurfaces again at a later date.
Find guest writing or guest speaking opportunities
The use of Google Alerts for guest writing opportunities is pretty widespread, but the same approach works well for guest speaking opportunities as well. Whilst the key events in your niche are probably well known, alerts can be useful to surface other events with a potentially interested audience.
The vanity alert switcheroo
In this age of blogging and personal brands, lots of people have alerts set-up on their name. It’s no different to monitoring any other brand. This can be a good way of bringing your work to the attention of key influencers, simply by mentioning their name in you content and waiting for Google Alerts to tell them about it. It’s a tactic that many abuse, but if your work is quality and the mention is legitimate it can still be a worthwhile approach.
Google Alerts seems to be one of those tools that everyone finds their own use for. Researching this piece I’ve seen people using it for stock market predictions, to find out about local events and even to be notified when a particular pop-star becomes single. If anyone has other useful ways to use it I’d love to hear them and maybe add them to the list.