15 Smarter ways to use Google Alerts


Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 17 seconds

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’.


Detect plagiarism

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.


Lead generation

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.

guest speaking

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.

Other ideas

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.

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Mat has been building, managing and marketing websites since 1996 and now heads up the team at OKO Digital. Mat has solid experience across a range of digital skills, but is increasingly focused on his specialist area of website monetisation.

State of Digital


7 ways to build smarter infographics


Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal RaganTraining.com. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

Let’s say you work for a health care organization and you’re looking to inform the public about the risks of eating disorders such as anorexia.

Hey, some clever person on your team says, how about an infographic with a picture of a skinny teenage girl looking in a mirror and seeing an overweight version of herself in the glass?

No, no, no, says Karl Gude, former director of information graphics at Newsweek and the Associated Press. He’ll show you at least 20 illustrations based on the same idea.

Gude offers his advice in the Ragan Training session, “How to engage your audience by creating buzz-worthy infographics.”

“If you’re going to use these visual clichés,” Gude says, “if your knee-jerk reaction is to spend all your money, all your resources and time and energy to do a hackneyed, old-hat message … you’re wasting your time, because nobody’s listening.”

How to engage your audience by creating buzz-worthy Infographics

In that case, how can you use the powerful infographics format in a way that grabs people’s attention? Here are some tips:

1. Make it a team effort.

Ideally, it takes a team to produce an infographic, says Gude. You should include a visual designer, a verbal content person, a programmer and an “information designer” who does research.

Unfortunately, the bosses at a lot of organizations don’t realize that. Some will say, “Anybody want to do the infographics?” When everyone shifts uncomfortably in their seats, the bigwig tells someone, “You’re it.”

Trouble is, when it’s communicated that way, colleagues think cooperation is optional, Gude says. They brush off the poor sap who is left begging for help.

To make it work, the boss has to commit to creating visual options for your audiences. Your coffee-breathed leader must make clear to everyone: “We’re all going to be a part of this. So-and-so is going to be front-running them. And when they walk in, I want you to help them.”

2. Find stories in data.

What stories emerge from those tables of data the boss dropped on your desk? Hunt for trends in the data.

“This is where you’ve got go to buy your pith helmet and enjoy the hunt,” Gude says.

By all means, don’t just throw charts in front of people and say, “You figure it out.”

“Your infographics are supposed to make people feel smarter, not stupider,” Gude says. “If you’re not explaining stuff to them, you’re making them hate you, because you’ve just made them feel like a total idiot.”

3. Figure out your message.

There tend to be two types of infographics, Gude says. One is data- or information-driven, he says, as when a boss walks up and—boom!—drops a huge report on your desk, asking for an infographic to explain the Affordable Care Act. The other starts with a message—as in stopping anorexia and bulimia in girls—and you must to find data to support it.

Either way, focus. Ask yourself what you are trying to communicate and why.

“The narrower your message, the more audience reaction you’re going to have,” Gude says. “The broader your audience, the more ignored you’re going to be. Because everyone’s saying the same thing, like, ‘Tanning salons kill.’ ‘Smoking causes cancer.’ Who cares?”

4. Don’t dumb it down.

If you’re doing an infographic of the Large Hadron Collider, the massive particle accelerator in Switzerland, the science isn’t simple. Your infographic shouldn’t dumb things down, either.

“We don’t talk about simplifying the message,” Gude says. “We talk about clarifying the message.”

5. Know your audience.

Whom are you trying to reach—teenagers? Their parents? You should communicate very differently to each audience.

“So you have to really discuss what’s relevant to those audiences and what will engage them if you get them to spend five seconds with your graphics,” Gude says.

6. Offer better alternatives to control freaks.

You know the type of executive: The control freak who tells the logo designer, “I want every branch of the company in the logo. We have six branches, and every one has to be in the logo.”

Come on, Nike just has a swoosh, Gude counters. A better way to persuade is to offer better alternatives.

7. Write meaningful headlines.

Gude tells of the 100th-anniversary graphic he designed about how the Statue of Liberty was built and restored. It was full of interesting history and facts. But an editor headlined it, “The Majestic Lady Liberty.”

“Come on,” Gude says. “I hate headlines like that. It’s fluff.”

Make them meaningful.


(Image via)