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Google Alerts are a great way to keep up on new occurrences of topics you care about on the web.

Google Alerts are an under-appreciated feature provided by Google that let you monitor for new occurrence of search terms, getting notified either in email or as an RSS feed.

In this video clip from an Ask Leo! webinar, I'll discuss how a Google Alerts can be used to stay on top of new pages published about almost any topic almost anywhere on the web.

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Google Alerts are really interesting if you are - if you want to watch the web for things. That's probably about the best way I can describe it. I'll use one example that I think will make it fairly clear.

I'll make a search query for Leo Notenboom - my name. I'm going to have it return everything; it's going to do it once a day; it's going to give me only the best results. In other words, it's going to filter out some spam and some other things, but I'm going to change the 'Deliver to'.

Now, you can set up Google Alerts to email you these search results once a day or however often; how many options they give you here. However, an alternative is to say 'Feed'. So you'll notice the 'As it happens' is the default. So what it's done is it will create an RSS feed that gives you the search results for the term you've entered on a regular basis. So I'm going to 'Create Alert' and here is the RSS link to deliver to Google Reader.

So what I have now is I have this Google Alerts set up for my name. Now you can tell that Google Alerts needs to actually run its processes. What I expect they do is they batch up all of these searches for all of these Alerts and run them periodically so when you just create a feed and add it to your Google Reader, there may not be any results right away. In fact, there may not be results for a few hours. However, that's why I have this other Google Alert here that you saw.

This is a Google Alert for the word 'Corgi'. So what this has done is sometime overnight, since I've put this together, it ran a Google search for the word Corgi and returned the top results. I can go through these and read them all. You can tell that the unread count has now gone to zero. Sometime later today or tomorrow, that unread count will go back up because the search; the alert that you're running is always running. So the next time you fire up Google Reader, if there's been a new page posted that mentions the word 'Corgi' that shows up in Google Reader under these Google Alerts.

Same thing for the ego search on my name. The Google Alert for Leo Notenboom which is in fact one of the searches that I run regularly will automatically show up unread new pages that mention my name or one of the two other people on the planet that I know of named Leo Notenboom and will let me see what page I was mentioned on and let me go take a look at it.

So it's an easy way and a quick way of staying on top of not just specific web pages or websites as we're doing with these other feeds, but by using Google Alerts, you can now keep track of terms that Google can find across the entire internet.

Article C5094 - March 2, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

March 6, 2012 8:29 AM

But surely from what I have been reading, Google know far too much about us already. Myself, I am trying to stop Google doing this !!!!

Glenn P.
March 6, 2012 10:25 PM

I adore  Google Alerts, and have a dozen of them, keeping me abreast of things I'm interested in. Every once in a blue moon I get alerted to something that I otherwise wouldn't have a CLUE was happening, but would be VERY eager to know about, all because I had the forethought to set up a Google Alert on it!

But Kevin raises a valid point -- each and every Alert you post with them certainly does provide Google with additional profile information on your interests! It's definitely a trade-off; but they haven't spammed me, haven't bombarded me with ads, and haven't sold me out to the Fuzz, so I can see no evil in what they're doing.

The Alerts shall continue. They're useful as all Hell, and quite frankly, at this point, I'd have a very  hard time doing without them!      :)

Patrick C
March 7, 2012 7:24 AM


Things change so very fast I can hardly -if at all- keep up with the information I'm interested in.
Upto now I've been using my e-mail to get the latest news from a variety of sites (mainly focussed on sciences, politics, economy and software). This way of coping with information however doesn't protect me anymore from information overload, or so it seems. Between 60 and 80 mails daily is a lot, especially when I start delving deeper into (new) subject matter pointed to in my mails or start research on a very specific topic mentionned in some of them.

I wonder: Might Google Alerts serve as a partial alternative to my mailbox?

I understand that Google Alerts allows for or handles queries the same way Google's search engine does, i.e.: Google Alerts is a kind of personalised version of Google search combined with some "alarm" function...

I think I'll have to try Alerts and see how things balance out.

BTW, always interesting articles on your newsletter. Top of my favorites, actually. Thanks & keep up the good work.


March 10, 2012 5:17 AM

I have been using Google Alerts ever since my sons' deployment to Afghanistan. It has been a great tool to receive updates as to the newsworthy items taking place not only at his current location, but the surrounding area as well. Between Google Alerts and Skype, my wife and I are able to remain updated and communicate with him almost as if he were still here in the States. Alerts also is able to give us more information into current events that he is able to, for security reasons.

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