Loud speakersIt’s positively impossible for you to keep track of everything that’s happening on the web and it’s just too time consuming to keep searching for what’s new. That’s one of the reasons why Google Alerts are so darn useful. You get automated updates of the latest content that you want to find on the web. You define the queries and Google handles the rest.

With great power comes great responsibility, so it is very easy to misuse Google Alerts, causing you more grief than convenience. There’s a smarter way to monitor new web content using Google Alerts and we’re here to point you in the right direction.

Craft the Right Search Query

Nearly anything that you can search for on Google can be converted into a Google alert. What this means is that the way you put together your search query follows the same kinds of rules that you’d have with a regular Google search. You know all those boolean operators like using “or” and quotation marks? Those work.

The same is true when it comes to using the minus sign to filter out words you want to exclude. You can also limit your results to a specific domain using the “site:” modifier. It’s important that your Google Alerts search query is as specific and precise as possible; otherwise, you’ll just get overrun with results. Two additional ways to reduce the number of results is to choose a result type (news, blogs, video, discussions, or books) rather than “everything” and to select the “only the best results” option rather than the “all results” option.

Filter the News of Interest

Let’s say that you want to stay on top of a current news story, but you don’t want to search manually for the latest reports. Google Alerts can do that.

iPhone 5 Google News

Google Alert for iPhone 5

When I did a search for “iPhone 5” in Google News, for example, below the list of results was the link highlighted above. This lets you create an email alert for the chosen search term. You can do this manually from the Google Alerts main page, too, which will then preview the results for you before you create the alert.

The problem with using something like “iPhone 5″ as the search query is that you’re going to get far too many results. Narrow down your search term further by using a query like: “iphone 5″ display size

Watch Social Mentions of Your Brand (and Your Competitors)

One of the most powerful ways to use Google Alerts is to keep tabs on your brand and your company, as well as those of your competitor.

Blogsearch Google Alert

Brand monitoring with Google Alerts

I’ve had a Google Alert set up for “Michael Kwan” for years. This way, I can know if anyone is talking about me on the web. In like manner, you can do the same for your business name, having a good sense of what the public has to say about you. This is also a good way to keep track of inbound backlinks. All you have to do is the use the “link:domain.com” construction in your search query.

Monitor RSS Feeds in Google Reader

By default, Google Alerts will send you either a daily or weekly digest of the search results. It can also send them to you “as they happen,” but you can see how your inbox will just get inundated far too quickly.

That’s why it’s good to see that these Google Alerts can also be delivered in the form of an RSS feed. You can then subscribe to the feed in Google Reader, perhaps setting up a category for nothing but Google Alerts. This way, you have one place to look for all your alerts and they’ll all be stored in a searchable archive for later perusal.

There used to be tools like AlertRank and Alerts Grader that further filtered your Google Alerts, but they no longer appear to be available. And so, the onus is on you to craft the best and most manageable Alerts possible.

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