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How To Get More From Google Alerts

[1]As a small business owner, I prefer simple tools. I like having one tool that I can push to the limits over a slew of them that I have to manage. It makes my life a little easier and m processes more streamlined. Which is why I’m a huge fan of using Google Alerts [2].

You’re probably already very familiar with Google Alerts. Google lets you set up as many Alerts as you’d like on as many different topics as you’d like. You tell them what to track, what kinds of content to track (News, Blogs, Video, Groups, or Comprehensive ), how often you want it and they’ll create you a list every day and send it to you via email or RSS. Google Alerts have always been a super easy way to track brand mentions and listen in to conversations, but that’s not all they can be used for. I thought I’d break down a few of my favorite ways to use Google Alerts and see if maybe some of them could help you as well.

Here are six ways I use Google Alerts.

Track Keywords

This is how most of us start out using Google Alerts. By creating Alerts based around your most important keywords you’re able to find new information about topics you’ve told Google you’re interested in. Doing this can help give you food for blog entries, guest articles, newsletters and help you stay better informed overall. Keeping on top of what’s happening in your industry will help you make better decisions in your business and alert you to new products or strategies that can help you do things smarter. Using Google Alerts to track relevant information is great.

The problem with tracking broad keywords is that Google often finds information that’s not as relevant as you’d like. To help cure this a bit, you can use advanced search operators to help you filter out bad results. For example, last week if you were a florist interested in what flowers were hot for Valentine’s Day, you could have set up an alert for [Valentine’s Day + flowers]. This would make sure that you only received flower-themed Valentine’s Day articles, instead of everything being published about the holiday. In the same way, [Valentine’s Day -flowers] would omit any mention of Valentine’s Day where the term [flowers] was present, while [Valentine’s Day OR flowers] would show mentions where at least one term was included. It’s all about making your results more relevant.

Track Yourself

An obvious offshoot of tracking broad keywords is to use Google Alerts to also track your brand name, the names of all of your employees, the name of your blog, your domain name, any product names, etc. Anything that is associated with your company and is unique enough that it can be tracked, should be tracked. Being able to quickly spot conversations taking place about you on the Web allows you to become part of them. Whether the mention is someone giving you props, asking a question about your product, or even someone taking shots at your brand, knowing about it means you can respond. In the days where small miscommunications can become big online reputation management nightmares, the ‘knowing’ part has become increasingly more important.

Track Competitors

A few months ago I wrote an article offering up 11 Competitive Intelligence Tools for SMBs [3]. The first tool I mentioned on that list was Google Alerts. Use Google Alerts to track mentions of your competitors, their products, and anything else you know about. The same way you’re tracking your own mentions, you should be tracking those of your competitors. It’s just good business. 😉

Track New Links

As a small business owner, it’s really important to pay attention to the links coming into your site. Sure, you want to find the conversations and the people talking about you, but links are important for lots of other reasons. They may help you identify new partnerships, new sites in your industry, places to guest post or promote content, or even the pages on your site that most connect with users. And of course, if you’re tracking links to your site, do I even need to tell you to track links to competitors’ sites as well? If people are linking to them, then there’s a good chance they may be up linking to you, as well. Find ways to duplicate their success.

Find Content Stealers

Another way I use Google Alerts is as a low maintenance way to find content stealers. I used to work for a company that had its entire Web site stolen on a daily basis. Someone would come, copy the whole thing, and then slap it on a new domain and change the contact information. Now as a blogger, I have folks who, sometimes well-intentioned, will take complete blog posts and repost them on their own blog. And then, of course, we all know about scrappers who will take whatever they can get in order to throw ads on it. If you know that you have a piece of content that gets stolen often or there’s a flagship piece on your site you really want to protect, take a unique selection of that post and create an Alert for it. If anyone posts it on their site, you’ll be notified and can go about getting them to remove it.

Find Customers

Another interesting way to use Google Alerts is to get Google to track down potential customers for you. If you run a local bakery, set up a Google Alert for the phrase “who sells a, Yahoo Answers, Flickr Groups, Google Groups, and other question/answer-types sites. If people are out on the Web talking about a need that your business fills, Google can help you find it.

Are you using Google Alerts in any cool or exciting ways?