All the trending talk these days seems to be about bots and artificial intelligence (AI.) One bot that’s been around for years is Google Alerts. Considering all that can be done with it, small business owners should give it a second look if they're not already using it.
It’s a powerful automation tool that can quickly lighten your workload and make you more productive.
What Is Google Alerts?
A bot is the slang term for “web robot,” which is a computer program or script that automates specific tasks, usually via the internet. Google Alerts is one such bot. You can use it to automate an incredible array of prospecting, lead generation, marketing, and personal development tasks in your small business.
Another appealing feature is that it’s free. As with many “free” products, there are other considerations, which we discuss at the end of this article. Nevertheless, we put together 22 productive ways to benefit from Google alerts with their simple automation. You can take a host of repetitive marketing, sales, and business tasks and have it done for you.
If you’re already an Alert user, you can skip the setup instructions and scroll down to the list below. There are probably some tactics here you haven’t thought about using.
How to Set Up Google Alerts
If you're new, you can start here. This takes you to a page where you can create an alert about anything that interests you. Then, when Google finds new content containing those keywords, you get an email alert with a list of articles from the Web, News, Discussions, or Blogs, or four if you so choose.
1) Simply enter your topic or keyword. For instance, let’s enter “restaurants Seattle.”
2) You get an Alert preview as shown above. Look at the results to see if you’re getting anything helpful with those keywords. If it’s good, go to the next step. If not, try new keywords.
3) Set your Alert options. Click the Show Options dropdown (red arrow in screenshot above). You have 5 options to set for each alert as shown in the next screenshot.
Set for As It Happens, At Most Once a Day, or At Most Once a Week. Frequency will depend on the purpose of the alert. We talk about that in the list below.
Unless you have a specific purpose as we describe below, you can leave it set to Automatic. Don't hesitate to try different settings if you're not getting enough results.
That’s an easy one.
Again, this depends on the purpose of the alert. The dropdown contains a list of countries.
Set for Only the Best Results or All Results. Default is Only the Best but there could be cases where you want all results.
As I mentioned, the purpose of your alert will determine how you customize it. We go into that in detail below each topic.
4) Enter your email and hit the Create Alert button. However I recommend setting up and using a gmail account. You’ll end up creating a lot of alerts and it’s easier to manage, track, and edit if you just use a single gmail account.
As you can see, it’s easy to set up a Google Alert. To get the most from our list below, start with a little homework. Assemble your list of top keywords, top competitors, and top customers. You could also list things about your area of expertise that are important to your customers. Start with a handful. You can expand your lists later.
Although we’re talking about basic search for most of this article, you can refine Google Alerts the same way you’d refine a Google web search. Here is a list of Google web search “operators” which tell Google specifically what to search. We use just a few of them below but there are many more available.
Once you dive in, you’ll find that there is almost no end to the variations on the alert tasks we outline here.
22 Ways Your Small Business Can Benefit from Google Alerts Starting Today
1 - Lead Generation
Create alerts for questions that your prospects ask. This is a powerful feature when you get the hang of it. You really have to put yourself in your customer’s mind. What terms will they use to find your product?
For example, if you sell restaurant stoves, you could create alerts for “best commercial stove,” or “best restaurant range,” and other variations. If you’re not sure what your customers are thinking, think of the frequently asked questions you get from them and use those terms in your alerts. Set the Sources on these Alerts for Blogs. That way you’ll only get results from blogs, where commenting is allowed.
When someone asks that question online, or enters those keywords in searchable content, you’ll get an alert.
The two examples in the screenshot below illustrate the idea. (Although this is an Alert Preview, it’s the same content you’ll get in your email.)
The first result is perfect: “What is the best commercial stove for a small café?”
Simply go to the blog (ChefTalk) and answer the question in a non-salesy way. For instance, you might have a worksheet you use with clients to figure out the best stove. Offer that up to the person who posted the question. Or there might be specific stove considerations they should know about. Put those in your answer.
“Who makes the best commercial kitchen range?” is another good prospect. Go to the site, read the question to determine if you can answer.
Have these types of Alert results sent to you daily so you can respond right away. Such leads are partially pre-qualified. You already know they are in the market for what you sell. You simply have to make contact with them to further qualify based on geography, budget, etc.
You might ask, “Can’t I just do a Google search and not do an Alert?” Yes, but the results you get will probably be too old. The point to doing a lead-generation alert is that you are notified soon after the item is posted. And as you know, speed is critical in responding to any lead.
To cast a much bigger net when fishing for leads this way, introduce the following basic words into your Alerts—who, what, when, where, why. You can also add how much, how, and is. Combine them with your primary keywords and a wildcard operator “*” (asterisk).
For instance, we could modify our “commercial stove” alert like this:
Who * commercial stove
What * commercial stove
When * commercial stove
Where * commercial stove
Why * commercial stove
Is * commercial stove
How * commercial stove
How much * commercial stove
The wildcard means that any other words used by the searcher (usually verbs) will be pulled into your results. “Who makes the best commercial stove” “Who installs…,” “Who rebuilds…” “Who guarantees…” and more.
Repeat this for the primary key words or phrases that are important to your customer. It only takes a few seconds to create each Alert.
Once they’re set, you’ll get Alerts forever, if you like. With all these variations on all your primary key words, you automatically get a steady stream of prospects. It’s well worth the initial investment of time to do this if you want to get more leads for your business.
A Shortcut to Creating Your Alerts
Here’s a simple shortcut to figure out what to put in your alerts—use your most popular FAQ’s and set alerts for them. Copy from the FAQ section on your website. If you don’t have one, write down all the frequently asked questions, or ask your sales team to list their top 10 questions. Start there.
You can easily take this to another level to build authority at the same time, as outlined in #11 below.
2 - Follow Authors, Leaders, and Industry Colleagues
Track people you follow, such as favorite authors, industry leaders, or colleagues. You can get valuable intelligence and insight to help your clients or improve your products and services. It’s also a great way to network and connect as described in #16 below.
3 - Track Prospective Customers
Keep up to date with activities of companies with whom you want to do business. It keeps your research current. When you have reason to make contact with them, you'll be prepared with current info.
If you’re selling big-ticket items, you can bet some of your competitors are already doing this. Knowledge is power, and a series of targeted Alerts will deliver that knowledge in a timely fashion.
4 - Set Alerts for Your Top Customers
You can find opportunities for new business by keeping tabs on what your top customers are doing. If you have a large customer list, track the top 1-5%. They are probably responsible for the lion’s share of your sales anyway. And they’re your best, cheapest prospect for additional revenue. By targeting the top customers, you’ll spot opportunities for bigger more frequent sales than you would by tracking your entire list.
5 - Company Name and Reputation Management
Set an alert for all variations of your company name. Set alerts for all your products and services, too. Set alerts for your sales team or anyone else who comes into contact with customers.
Plan to handle both good and bad mentions. With a good mention, you can reach out and thank the writer. If there is a negative mention, you can get in front of it. Make an effort to do something to satisfy the disgruntled person.
Alerts can help you prevent small issues from becoming big ones.
6 - Track Yourself and Manage Your Personal Brand
Of course you want to see what’s being said about you to manage your personal branding. Set an alert for your name. But let’s take it a step further with one more pro-active step.
Reach out to people who have mentioned you in articles and thank them. If they’re saying something positive, it might be an opportunity to use it as a testimonial, or to ask them to give you one. This can also generate other PR opportunities with those authors. If you see a negative mention you can correct it publicly.
One of the downsides of Alerts is they don’t track social media by default, but there is a workaround. Insert your social media handles (for instance @andrepalko) into alerts. If you get your social media mentions through another app, you don’t need to do this. No need to clog your inbox.
7 - Get New Product Ideas
Track all the categories of products you sell to see what’s happening in the marketplace. This may inspire ideas for new variations on your own products. For instance, if you own a bicycle store, track “mountain bikes,” “touring bikes,” “hybrid bikes,” and so on. This helps you spot new products and trends.
8 - Track Specific Products
If you sell an accessory that fits on Product X, do an alert for “Product X.” Every new mention you receive could be a new lead. For instance, if you have an auto repair shop that retrofits turbochargers on older cars, create alerts for every model of car that you retrofit. Use the technique in #1 above to refine your results.
9 - Follow Competitors
This is worthy of an article of its own and is an obvious one to track. It can provide opportunities and help you remain on the offensive.
For instance, here are five alerts that SEO blogger Matthew Woodward uses to track business competitors:
“I think” [competitor name]
“Has anyone tried” [competitor name]
“This guest post by” [competitor name]
Leave the quotes in your Alert, but leave out the brackets.
Let’s say you have a competitor who gets all kinds of publicity. When you set up a string of alerts, you can see how they put it all together and then use their tactics for yourself.
For instance, let’s say a competitor alert mentions the company in ten publications or blogs. Add those publications to your press release list. Read a few of the articles to see what it was that appealed to the publications enough to cover your competitor. Then you can start crafting similarly appealing press releases of your own. Wherever your competitor appears is where you want to be as well.
10 - Research Blog Post Ideas and Blogging Topics
I promise, if you set up alerts for blog post ideas and topics, you will never run out of content. Enter all the topics you plan to write about. I’d suggest a weekly summary so you can go through them all in one glance, and so you don’t get overwhelmed with emails.
Sometimes the titles in the search results are enough to generate ideas for articles. I’ve been inspired many times by the headlines.
If your search topic is broad, you can refine it many ways with the additional Google “operators” we mentioned in the intro. You can include negative keywords, hashtags, site search, and/or operators, and much more.
11 - Build Authority for Your Business and Your Personal Brand
To build authority, you get involved in answering questions on other blogs. Enter your main topic keywords and then set the Source to Blog. When you get blog articles that are related to your area of expertise, go to them and comment. Add your perspective, answer a question that was posed, or provide a solution to the problem under discussion.
For instance, our restaurant equipment vendor might track questions and topics such as “restaurant kitchen operations” or “restaurant efficiency.” For example, the screenshot below shows an Alert preview shows one newspaper article that mentions kitchen operations. That’s good. Newspapers are authority sites. A quick reading shows that the subject of the article is talking about the type of equipment that “can make all the difference in a kitchen operation.” That’s also good since the topic is relevant to the equipment vendor.
Our equipment vendor can make a useful comment that expands upon the subject or offers a different perspective. Again, no salesmanship here. Enlightenment or amusement, but no selling. Such comments ultimately appear in web searches for that vendor, adding to his or her authority.
You can expand on this by creating your own blog article on that topic. (I’m assuming you have a blog. If you don’t have one, you need one in order to build authority.) By answering questions as a result of the Alerts you set, you will build authority for your site and yourself personally and professionally. Authority is a fantastic benefit of Google Alerts usage.
12 - Find Buying Opportunities and Good Deals
Let’s say you want to purchase a new laser printer for your office. You could set an alert for “laser printer deals” or “laser printer sale” or “laser printer discount.” You get the idea.
13 - Track Local News and Events
If you have a local small business serving a defined geographic area, use Alerts to keep up with what’s going on at home. For instance, a local Philadelphia caterer could set up an alert for “events Philadelphia” to search for catering opportunities at those events. A retailer could track events to spot opportunities for joint ventures.
Local events are great to track because there is often a chance to work together, to sponsor, or be a vendor for the promoter. Once you spot an event of interest, reach out to the organizer or manager to see how you can work together.
14 - Follow Local Media and Authors
Local media writers often have their own sites and solicit small business owners to interview for niche topics. If you run a local small business, set up alerts for all the relevant local newspaper editors and writers. You might spot—or create—an opportunity to be interviewed about your area of expertise.
For instance, the local business editor might have featured another local small business in an article. Look at the article to see what their angle was. Maybe it’s financial contribution to the local economy, number of employees, number of new jobs created, new technology, etc. Reach out to them and offer your own take. “I see you’ve written about ABC Enterprises bringing 10 new jobs to town...You might be interested to learn that here at XYZ Business we created 25 new jobs, etc.”
Follow them all on social media too. They often use social media channels to make inquiries for sources for an article. You might be just the source they’re looking for.
15 - Look for Bid Opportunities
For instance, our fictitious restaurant supplier could set an alert for variations of “bid opportunities kitchen equipment,” “request for proposal kitchen equipment,” “RFP kitchen equipment,” “request for proposal commercial stove.” Go through the list of products you sell. Check out the verbiage in some online solicitations to see what keywords are used and use them for your Alerts.
You can also set these alerts for bid opportunities for specific companies, such as “RFP commercial stove Subway.”
16 - Look for Networking Opportunities
Set up alerts using the names of your top prospects. When you see a news or blog item about them, it could give you a reason to reach out to them. Or it gives you something to talk about at your next networking event.
As we mentioned earlier, you might also be alerted to an opportunity to solve a problem with your service or product. For instance, if your product fits a machine they just purchased, it’s the perfect opportunity to reach out with some info and an introduction as to how you can help.
17 – Public Relations Opportunities
For example, our restaurant supplier could set an alert for “restaurant equipment” and select News under Sources. This will show you publications that could be good to contact for press releases or other editorial coverage. As you see new publications, television, or radio outlets, or any other kind of media, add them to your press release list.
Within the publications on your list, find out which editors are relevant to your area of expertise. Add them to your alert list and your press release list. Sometimes there are several editors and writers on a single publication who are appropriate to your niche.
Writers and editors are constantly on the lookout for new content. When they get your press release, they might write an article based on what you send them. Or it might inspire them to write something new, or to write a “roundup” article featuring several experts, including you. I’ve had this happen a few times.
18 – Link Building for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
One important element of good SEO is to get other websites to link to you. These are called backlinks. (A side note: never pay for backlinks.) Doing so will only heart your site. You want good, authoritative sites that are somehow related to your business and industry.
For example, if you operate a dine-in restaurant, you don’t want links from an excavation contractor. But you do want links from tableware and linen companies, food service businesses, other non-competing restaurants, beer and liquor suppliers, limousine companies, and so on.
There are many reasons why another site might link to you.
- You might write articles for them.
- You might have a common customer base and be possible joint-venture partners.
- You might (and should) be an authority on your product or service.
- They might like to write articles about you, your product, or your service.
- They already link to your competitors.
Neil Patel is a master at this and has an in-depth article on how to get high quality backlinks here.
Alerts are an easy way to get started on where they might come from. Set alert Sources to Blogs and Web, and perhaps News, for your top keywords. Let’s do an example with our restaurant supplier, and we’ll give them a physical location in Orlando.
We’ll set an alert for “restaurant vendor Orlando FL” as shown in the screenshot. You get a list of sites with the potential for backlinks.
The first result shows the Orlando Business Journal. Next is the Orlando Sentinel. Check out their website and see what kinds of articles they write about restaurant vendors. You might have an angle they’d be interested in covering. Or they might be looking for guest contributors. Both are certainly publications to add to your press release list.
You can enter your primary competitors into an Alert. From this, you’ll see all Blog and Web mentions which will tell you who is linking to them. The companies linking to your competitors are excellent candidates for linking to you, too.
19 – Get Content Marketing Ideas for Your Blog and Email Newsletter
If you need content for your blog, email, or print newsletter, you need to use Alerts. You can assemble a massive amount of content fast.
What do your customers care about? That’s what you want to set as your Alerts. Let’s use a restaurant to demonstrate.
For instance, “seafood prices” and “seafood availability” will give you something to write about. Customers sometimes don’t believe that you can actually be out of an item or that your costs are really that high. They’ll be interested in learning the back story. Get News Alerts on this as well as Blog and Web Alerts.
You can quote a line or two from most articles (fair use doctrine) as long as you reference the source and don’t infringe on the author’s copyright. I’ve found that in many cases, the authors are happy to let you reprint an article in a newsletter, usually with a byline and a brief attribution supplied by them. And in any case, these articles might inspire you to write your own original article or short blurb.
If you’re not sure what Alerts to set, think about what your customers talk about or complain about. Set Alerts for your town or region. If you set ten to twenty Alerts on a variety of topics that interest your customers, you will never run out of things to write about. Your customers/readers will actually look forward to your newsletters. They will never tire of reading and thinking about you either, which is the whole point of a newsletter!
20 – News Jacking
If your customers depend on you for timely updates on a topic, set Alert frequency to “As they happen” to stay on top of it.
For example, let’s say you do security work for small to medium businesses. Create alerts for all your relevant keywords, set the Source to news, and frequency to As They Happen. When something happens that affects security you can look like a true pro and contact your customers immediately. Add your own spin to the news event. Get into the "why" to show your clients you understand the threat and are protecting them.
You can also curate the news along with other Blog and Web results. Then write your own preventative security tips for your newsletter. News jacking takes some thought and creativity but it can help you own your turf.
21 – Detect Plagiarism
You spend a lot of valuable time creating content. You can protect it from plagiarists by setting up Alerts for key phrases from your important pieces. I once found a site that had re-purposed dozens of my articles as their own ebooks—verbatim—without any attribution or credit.
To get the most accurate results from your plagiarism alert, use a unique phrase from your article, in quotes. You can also use the title, but titles can be duplicated.
22 – Personal Productivity
This one can save you a LOT of time, especially if you watch the news on TV. Stop watching and get your news fed to you through Alerts. This forces you to focus on what’s truly important to you, rather than on what’s important to some news editor who is looking for ratings.
There is however, an even larger benefit. Removing daily negativity improves your outlook. It makes room for the new and the positive. What you focus on, expands. Focus on the good, the positive, and the important.
That's it for our list, for today. Now you have enough information to keep you busy and productive for days.
Before you start, you should be aware of three cautions about using Alerts.
1) As with all things Google and free, it could disappear any time, without notice. Yet this isn’t a deal-breaker for me because it’s easy to back up and recreate the work I’ve done with Alerts. Alerts are powerful, and they are free. The benefits outweigh the risk.
2) Do a quick backup by creating a spreadsheet of everything you’re actively tracking with Alerts. Should the worst happen, you can quickly migrate to another vendor. There are many paid alternatives.
3) Google Alerts isn’t comprehensive, and things slip through their net. After all, it’s a tough job cataloguing all the information in the world! If your tracking requirements are high, and you want to integrate your social media posting, you might want to use a more robust paid alternative such as Buzzsumo or Hootsuite. You get many other features in addition to more accurate tracking.
If you use Alerts in a way we haven’t covered, please share with us below. And if you liked this article, please take a second to share it with your friends and colleagues with the social buttons on the left.