Google Alerts: You’re doing it wrong

3 simple steps to better free monitoring

More than a third of people we surveyed use Google Alerts for business purposes. It should be no surprise: Google Alerts has an unmatched data set, a smooth user experience and is attractively priced (which is to say, free).

Of those we surveyed, 69% use Google Alerts to follow their own company or themselves; 49% use it to follow related companies, including competitors. Nearly 90% of users have multiple alerts running, and usage is habitual, with 42% using it at least daily and 64% at least once a week.

Despite Google Alerts' popularity, most users report middling results (just three out of five stars) when it comes to accuracy (too many false positives) and comprehensiveness (it doesn’t always catch the developments they are looking for).

This is because they are doing it wrong.

If you are one of these people and your own Google Alerts experience could use improvement, here’s a three-step strategy to get better results:

1. Narrow 2. Multiply and 3. Deliver.

1. Narrow

Save yourself from the distraction of false positives by using better search queries to limit your Google Alerts results to only what you’re interested in.

Start with your basic query, be it a company, product or person’s name.

For a name with multiple words (first name and last name) you’ll be better off if you narrow the query by putting quotation marks around them.

Adding more required terms to the query will narrow your results. If you’re monitoring a person, try geographic limitations, like the city where they live. Or their company’s name of someone you’re tracking professionally.

If you’re monitoring a company and the name is at all ambiguous, you may want avoid irrelevant results by adding another limiter, like a word or phrase that relates to the company’s business. Choose this one carefully, since it needs to be a phrase which must about always will be present on an item about your subject, but uniquely so.

To do this right, you’re going to need to get familiar with advanced search operators.

“Jim Brock” +technology -musician

This means that my name must also be accompanied by “technology” but that if “musician” is present, don’t return that page.

Advanced queries do have their limits. In our own research, when you get over three parameters in the query, you find odd results. But luckily, Google makes the process of query refinement painless, showing you sample results as you tweak.

2. Multiply

Narrowing the queries reduces the noise, but to make sure you’re getting everything, you should create multiple queries for each brand or person you follow. For example, you might have multiple queries for “Jim Brock” like this:

“Jim Brock” “Santa Cruz”
“Jim Brock” MarketSpace
“Jim Brock” “air guitar player”

By narrowing and multiplying your queries this way, you capture more results without sacrificing accuracy.

3. Deliver

If you need more email in your life, by all means have Google deliver the results there. Be careful if you choose “as-it-happens” and your subject has a lot of news.

The pro tip here is to do what only 10% of surveyed users do, which to deliver your Google Alerts results directly into RSS. When sent to RSS “as they happen” you can always have an up to date set of results in your feed reader (when you want it), without overwhelming your inbox.

RSS delivery also allows you to send results to other end points besides your RSS reader. Just about every team messaging platform (like Slack and Hipchat) has integrations to receive RSS.

One more thought: When you’re ready to graduate from Google Alerts to a more professional tool to keep track of your company and the competition, give Market.Space a try.

Start monitoring right now for free.