There are so many great little online tools out there that can make a big difference to the way we work.
In the first of – what I hope will be – a regular series of blog posts I’m going to look at Google Alerts and how they can be used by charities.
What are Google Alerts?
To start at the beginning, “Google Alerts are emails sent to you when Google finds new results – such as web pages, newspaper articles, or blogs – that match your search term.”
You should assume that every piece of information you need to know – sector updates, government policy, funding programmes, campaign news – is firstly being published online. If you were able to get hold of this information as soon as it was made available, just think of the advantage your organisation would have over others.
Using Google Alerts well could save you money as it removes the need to subscribe to paid for news services.
Once Google Alerts are set up they can be left to their own devices, allowing you to get on with the work that really matters.
I would call using a tool like Google Alerts “listening” on the web, and I’ve written about how important I think that is elsewhere on the site.
How can our organisation use Google Alerts?
Google Alerts is a tool that will notify you about information on the web as soon as it appears and as such is relevant for every member of staff.
Some ways you could use Google Alerts include:
- As a substitute for newspaper cuttings. Set up an alert for the name of your organisation to find out when it has been mentioned.
- To follow the progress of your campaign. Set up an alert for the name of your campaign to find people writing about it or doing their bit.
- To keep track of a piece of policy. Set up an alert for the name of the policy or paper, restricting it to the relevant government department website if appropriate (see tips below).
- Keep up to date with developments and discussions in your sector. Set up an alert for the medical condition name, local area or sector name.
- Monitor your competitors. Set up an alert with the names of other organisations or services.
Setting up your Google Alerts
- Go to www.google.com/alerts and start filling in the Alerts form.
- Search query: This is where you type in your search, just think about what you would put in a normal Google search. There are tips for being smarter with your search below.
- Result type: You can specify what you want your search results to show; Everything, News, Blogs, Video, Discussions or Books. Unless you know exactly what you are searching for it’s worth setting this to Everything initially.
- How often: You can decide how often you get your alert; As-it-happens, Once a day, Once a week. As-it-happens is useful if you want to know as soon as a funding programme is opened or a paper is published. Once a week is probably a better setting if you’re just searching for general terms. Start with Once a day and make a decision about whether you want your alerts to be more or less frequent.
- How many: You have the option to choose between ‘Only the best results’ or ‘All results’. When you start out with your alerts it might be best to set this to ‘All results’. If you find you’re getting too many results back then you can change this.
- Your email: This is where your alert will be sent to. If you already have a Google account and are logged in this box will be pre-filled with your address. If you don’t have a Google account then you’ll be sent a confirmation email to your chosen address.
- Review your alerts: After a week or so of getting alerts review the information you’re getting. If you haven’t received anything then perhaps your search criteria is too narrow. If you have been totally inundated with alerts then it might be worth narrowing your criteria. Have a look at the search tips below. If your search topic suddenly hits the headlines you might also find you need to review your alerts. This is where having a Google account comes in useful as it’s easier to log in and manage your settings.
- Share what you find. There’s no point keeping all of this information to yourself, share it with colleagues.
Tips for perfecting your search
If you’ve never really looked into setting up smart searches then you might be surprised by how much you can do to refine your results.
Here are some tips:
- Use “quotes” to group together words or specify spelling, for example “National Trust” or “colour” (to remove American spellings from results)
- Exclude terms using a -, for example Walkers -crisps
- Search just specific websites using site:communities.gov.uk, this will just search the DCLG website
- Exclude specific websites from your search using -site:bbc.co.uk, this will search all sites, except the BBC. This is useful if you notice your alerts are returning lots of irrelevant results from a particular site
- Search for more than one term by using OR. This can be useful if people use different terms to describe the same organisation or issue, for example “London 2012″ or “Olympics 2012″ or “London Olympics”.
Do you use Google Alerts in your work? Are there any other tips you can add?