Sleuthing with Google Alerts
Well hey everybody, welcome to week two of "Mike talking about handy computer programs." If you missed it last week, I explained that for the next few weeks I'll be using my semi-substantial nerd powers to dig up some Web tools that you might find useful. This week, we're going to cover Google Alerts.
Not a new service from Google, but if you've never given the application a try, it's worth a look. Essentially, Google Alerts lets you program the Google search engine to constantly comb the Internet for you, notifying you whenever the terms you specify show up in a new Web object, be it a blog post, news item or new Web page.
Why should you care? Because research work is incredibly time-intensive, which isn't always ideal given the 10 million other things that demand your attention daily. With Google Alerts, you can make Google do the work for you, delivering all relevant information to you in your inbox at an interval you determine (the mail frequency options range from "as-it-happens" to "once a week.")
Some examples of useful searches you can set up:
Keeping track of any number of competitors' activity, be it one or 100.
Just key their names into the proper fields in the Google Alerts interface, and you'll know any time one of their names is mentioned on the Internet. Ever.
Follow the activities of clients or prospects.
That banking client of yours opening a new branch someplace? A local university planning a big recruiting push to boost enrollment? Google Alerts can keep you informed of all that, with the added benefit of letting you track where clients' names are showing up online, what they're involved in, and what they're trying to promote to the press and public.
Staying informed on developments in product safety.
I personally use the program for this purpose, and I have to say I've found it pretty effective. Keywords like "BPA" and "Cadmium" are easy for Google to hone in on, being unusual words that newspapers and blogs cover pretty frequently, so I get a steady stream of relevant material. News stories usually cover things like how state governments are reacting to product safety concerns or new university studies on a particular chemical.