Reputation Management: 1% Perspiration, 99% Google Alerts

Nico Brooks

March 6, 2010

Reputation Management: 1% Perspiration, 99% Google Alerts

I wrote on the Local Matters blog yesterday about the value of monitoring online conversations for mentions of a brand or business in comparison to buying broadcast advertising media. My argument there was that monitoring and responding to mentions of a brand has the same person-to-person connection and comparable costs as customer service calls. And I believe that monitoring and responding to online conversations is money better spent than most broadcast media. Any time someone is talking about you or your business, you have a chance to promote what you do and add value to the conversation. That is worth a lot more than buying an ad that doesn’t talk back.

But for most local SMB’s, I wouldn’t recommend hiring a call center or paying for a reputation management service. Unless the scale of your business is such that people are talking about you frequently throughout the day, outsourcing is probably overkill. But I do recommend setting up some Google Alerts. Google Alerts are a free and incredibly powerful way to keep track of what’s being said about you, your business and important topics in your industry. Google Alerts work a lot like Google search, but only notify you when new things come up, and you get results via email or an RSS feed.

Setting up a basic Google Alert is very straightforward. For example, if I wanted to monitor for mentions of Thomas Edison, I would go to http://www.google.com/alerts and create an alert.

Google Alerts

By setting the type of the alert to “Comprehensive”, this alert will search the web including news media and blogs for the phrase “Thomas Edison”. Like Google.com search, it will find results that have the words “Thomas” and “Edison” in the text, but not necessarily together. If I want to only find results that have “Thomas Edison” as a phrase, I put quotes around the search term. That’s the basics. Google offers more detail on their Alerts help page. Now for some recommendations for how to set up alerts for your business.

First, while you can create an alert and have it sent to any email address, I recommend that you create a Google account if you don’t already have one. This will give you the ability to manage alerts, along with various other advantages. It will also result in alert emails being sent to the Gmail address that is created as part of your account. But you can still receive alerts at another address by setting up forwarding on your Gmail address. To do this, open Gmail and click “Settings” in the upper right-hand corner. Then click on the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab. From there, select “Forward a copy of incoming mail to,” and enter your email address. This will deliver all alerts to the email account you specify. You will still need to log in to your Google account to add or edit alerts, but you don’t have to worry about checking another email account.

Second, use Google’s advanced search options to refine your alerts. Unfortunately, Google didn’t build this in to the Alerts interface, but most advanced search options also work in Alerts. The easiest method I’ve found is to build queries on the Advanced Search screen, then copy them to Alerts.  As you are building a query using the form fields, a properly constructed query will show up at the top of the screen, which you can select and copy. Unfortunately, some advanced search options don’t work. Notably, there is no way on the advanced search screen to add region to the query even though you can specify a region in the form. Strangely, you can add a “location:” parameter to News alerts, but this is undocumented and doesn’t work for web or blog search.  Using the “location:” parameter, you can specify any two-letter state abbreviation and some countries. For example, if you want to limit your News Alert to search New Jersey news sources, you add “location:nj” to the query. For more than you probably want to know on the undocumented (and documented) features of Google Search, the site Googleguide.com is a great resource.

Using advanced search features, here are examples of alerts Thomas Edison might set up for his business:

  • Comprehensive alert for: “thomas edison” “menlo park” OR inventor –high -school
    Since Thomas Edison is a fairly common name, this refines the name search by only including pages that also have the phrase “menlo park” or the keyword “inventor”. And since there are a lot of high schools named “Thomas Edison”, it also excludes pages that include the words “high” and “school”.
  • Comprehensive alert for: link:ge.com
    This alerts to any new inbound links to ge.com.
  • Comprehensive alert for: “edison electric light company” OR “edison general electric” OR “general electric”
    This alerts to any mentions of one of Thomas Edison’s companies.
  • Blog alert for: “ac current”
    Thomas Edison was a vehement opponent of alternating current, and would surely have wanted to know of any blog mentioning it, so that he could proselytize his preference for direct current.

I have found that sometimes I need to tweak my alerts by adding and excluding keywords, to prevent getting too much information. For example, you may need to put the town your business is in as a keyword if your business name is fairly common.

Lastly, I prefer to view my alerts as RSS feeds in Google reader versus getting them as emails. This is too big a topic to cover here, but if you are already subscribing to RSS feeds in Google Reader, iGoogle, My Yahoo, Netvibes, or another RSS reader, you may want to give it a try.

The value of an idea lies in the using of it. – Thomas A. Edison