Google Alerts are a great time-saving tool for reputation management and brand monitoring. There are countless other ways to use Google Alerts, too — to detect plagiarism (or, more positively, to discover where your Creative Commons licensed content has been shared online), to find donors for your nonprofit, to keep up with your members
and supporters, to learn about other organizations in your field, to
follow breaking news on hot topics around your cause, and so on...
In Part 1: How to Set Up News Alerts,
we covered the basic process to sign up Google Alerts.
By now, you’ve probably had a
look at your first few Alerts, and you may have started to wonder what all the
hoopla’s about. Are you seeing a lot of off-topic information mixed in with useful notices about your organization and your cause?
No problem — a few quick tweaks of your search terms can make Google Alerts give you better results.
Test your Search Terms
Run an ordinary Google Search on the keywords you propose to use. It
takes only a moment to do, and will help you to set up more precise
Alerts that will deliver more useful results.
Typically, an organization will start by setting up an Alert on its name. Let’s take this blog's name for an example:
Example: wild apricot.
Type those two words into Google (search is not case sensitive, so
you don’t need to capitalize), hit the Search button, and you’ll get
links to any web content that contains both wild and apricot — in any order, and not necessarily together as a phrase.
Obviously, this search query would give far too many results to make it a useful Google Alert!
Refine your Search Terms
You can refine your Google Alerts to eliminate a lot of the
meaningless results, using any of the Advanced Search operators that
are available for a Google web search.
Here are the two most useful methods of refining your search terms, so you’ll get better results from your Google Alerts.
Search for a Phrase
Quotation marks around any search words will force Google to look
only for instances where those words appear together in that order.
Example: “wild apricot”
Alerts using this search term will give you only those webpages containing the exact phrase you’ve put between quotation marks.
Remember that Google ignores most punctuation, however, so this alert would also show me a page that said something like this:
Our designers went wild. Apricot is such a trendy shade of orange!
You can see, no search will be perfect! For the purpose of setting
up your news Alerts, however, putting quotation marks around your
organization’s name will often be all you need to do — especially if your
organization has a unique name.
But what if your Alerts are still too general?
Narrow the Search
Our “wild apricot” example makes a fairly useful Alert, but
the search results tend to include a few too many references to fruit
trees, recipes, and charming holidays on the Mediterranean — entertaining, maybe, but not especially relevant to the blog or the software we're interested in monitoring.
It’s easy to ignore a few off-topic results, but if you’re getting
more than one or two every now and then, you’ll want to narrow down
your search query to get rid of most of those irrelevant links:
A minus sign (-) on the front of any search term tells Google not to show you any pages containing that word or phrase.
Example: “wild apricot” -fruit
That’s one option for refining this Alert, but fruit is such a common word that we might accidentally exclude results that we’d like to see — such as the Terra Firma Farms newsletter that includes articles about fruit as well as a note about WildApricot.com!
Excluding a very specific and not-too-common phrase is a better choice.
Example: “wild apricot” -“Prunus armeniaca”
In this example, a minus sign in front of the very specific Latin
term used in botanical references will cut out many of the results
about fruit trees, without missing out on useful results like the Terra
Tip: Use the minus sign carefully! It’s better to get one or
two irrelevant stories in your Alerts than to miss out on important
news by making the search terms too narrow.
Those two search tricks — putting quotation marks around a phrase;
and/or using a minus sign to exclude any unwanted terms — are often all
that you’ll need to get much more useful results from Google Alerts.
you want to fine-tune even more, however, Google offers a handy cheatsheet of advanced search operators to save and/or print for reference. See what you can do with the OR, site: and link: options, in particular.
As a general rule of thumb, start out by setting up your Alerts with
fairly broad search queries, to be sure you’re not missing anything
important. As you begin to see patterns in the types of information
being reported, you can edit or delete and refine your Alerts to
deliver more useful results. Remember, you're allowed to have up to
1000 Google Alerts per email address, so there’s plenty of room to