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google-alerts-tipsFor most of us web workers Google is almost a simile for a spade. I would be treading on much furrowed ground if I were to hail the power of Google search. I don’t need to but the search engine has another little offshoot called Google Alerts which is of interest to those seeking information of a prompt nature. Optimally tuned with the correct search string, Google Alerts becomes a speeding bullet for targeting precise data.

For those who have come in late, Google Alerts is nothing but ’email updates’ (and now RSS feeds too!) of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. It distills the results from the first 20 or so pages of its search engine results and sends you the alert. It simply allows us to automate our search, setting it just once instead of doing it every day.

For a freelancer, Google Alerts can become a homing missile in his or her arsenal. So here are some ways I use the service to save me lots of time and the dimes on my caffeine.

    (1) Walk around the writer’s block – Get fresh ideas to write on.

    The obvious…but for us keyboard tappers, Google Alerts are a fountain of fresh topics to write on. Simply, set up an alert on your area of interest and let the breaking news trickle (sometimes it’s a deluge) into your mail box.

    (2) Be in step with your niche – Get the news delivered to your inbox.

    A fine-tuned alert updates us on what’s happening where. New beta announcements, new software launches, new posts get indexed by the search spider and Google sends out the alert. For instance, set up a Google news alert with this – Windows source:cnet (delivers Windows related news from CNET.com).

    (3) Become a cyber paparazzi – Become an ardent follower.

    We all have our favorite blogrolls, our favorite authors or we just want to slaver over Brangelina. A specific keyword in the search query box allows us to note when and where any relevant snippet gets published. Follow them around on blogs, news websites and even on Twitter. For instance I follow some of my favourite blog authors through the blogosphere with this simple query – inpostauthor:Seth Godin [Alert Type: Blogs]

    (4) Use it as a job scout – Go where ‘no freelancer has gone before’.

    Life for a freelancer often means a 24×7 job hunt.  Jump ahead of the queue with just-in-time alerts. It could easily be on an obscure site not on your feed list. Sometimes major events in a company could signal an opportunity for the freelancer. Especially during a recession when a company looks to retrench its rolls with outsourced work. Seek, prepare and apply. Google Alerts is a powerful tool if set up with your skills matched to your niche.

    (5) Proof the future – Prepare a job directory.

    I try to take my job hunt a bit further by using the job postings as a future source of reference. Keeping a list of sites where jobs usually crop up means I have a prepared database to bank on when my well runs dry. Bookmark them, tag them, or put them on an Excel file or just a notebook. A ready list saves time and hassle.

    (6) Climb up the SERP – Do your own SEO.

    Page rankings revolve around keywords. Bring out your own list of keywords and see which sites rank near the top for those phrases. A look at the content of those websites will help you not only give you knowledge but also a bunch of other keywords to use. This is a precursor to the next activity.

    (7) Be with the crowd – Take your work to the community.

    A visit for information is just so casual. We can increase the interactivity with our niche by using the power of comments. A well thought out (polite, please!) comment with a backlink/trackback/linkback to your own article/blog helps to build a community on the web. Using something like Trailfire helps to find relevant forums where you can contribute. Make sure they allow linking. Such peer to peer communication not only brings in additional information to a post but also helps to generate traffic.

    (8) Spot the spotter – Know when Google finds you.

    When you are delivering content like there’s no tomorrow and like to know when Google indexes the page (and how popular you just became), Google Alert notifications enable instantaneous tracking. Use a unique line of text from a page as a Google Alert search term.

    (9) Do some ego-googling – Manage your reputation.

    On the web everything is permanent. Both positive feedback and acerbic comments. Use Google Alerts to see where your name crops up or if someone links to your blog. Somethings deserve a thank you…but I wouldn’t tell you what to do with an acidic barb. It also helps to keep tabs on your profile by removing long forgotten mentions on other websites. And just for fun see if there’s a personality clash with Googlegangers (namesakes)!

    (10) Catch the copycats – Defeating plagiarism.

    Copyscape is good but add Google Alerts to it. Make up some unique phrase or keyword combination. Put it somewhere in the article (preferably, towards the end)…and wait for the fly to catch.

Some Tips to Manage Google Alerts –

    * Get friendly with Google search queries. There are specialized search queries for news and blogs too. For instance, Blog search has specialized queries like – [inblogtitle:], [inposttitle:], [inpostauthor:], [blogurl:]

    * Alternatively, you can use the Advanced Search in Google Search to create a search parameter and copy it to your alert.

    * Google has introduced RSS Feeds option to deliver alert results. It is a more compact option to the earlier email only option.

    * If email is the choice choose HTML mails. You are always a click away from the source.

    * Get accurate results by putting quotes around your search terms.

    * Choose ‘Comprehensive’ as Google Alert Type for getting results across the web, news, blogs and groups.

    * Choosing ‘once a week’ in the ‘How Often’ dropdown prevents clutter in your mailbox or feed reader.

Old world searching is passé`. It’s time to sit back and let the results come in on their own.

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How do you use Google Alerts? Maybe a tip from you could add another to those mentioned.

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