Tips for using Google Alerts and refining searches

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There’s no denying that the Internet is an integral part of doing business in the 21st century.

But chances are you’re not taking full advantage of the tools that are available which can help improve your business, especially during this tough economy.

Fortunately, folks like Stephanie Chandler, founder and CEO of AuthorityPublishing.com, fill my e-mail inbox with helpful hints on an almost daily basis.

Chandler says that one of the most useful services available on the Web is Google Alerts (google.com/alerts), which sends subscribers an e-mail notification when selected keywords and phrases appear on Web sites, blogs or online news channels – or practically anywhere else in the Google universe.

So, here are 10 ways that Chandler says you can leverage Google Alerts for your business:

1. Business name - Keep track of Web sites that mention your company. This is an opportunity to send a note of thanks or address an issue if something derogatory is posted like a complaint about customer service. Big companies track mentions of their businesses online and you should, too.

2. Personal name - Find out where you’re mentioned online. This is especially important for prominent figures such as authors, speakers, celebrities and individual service providers.

3. Web site - Track where your Web site is mentioned by creating an alert for your domain. Leave off the leading “www” and instead just specify your domain and extension such as “authoritypublishing.com.”

4. Blog - If you host a blog, follow the Web site guidelines above to create an alert for your blog domain. This should also produce results if your blog link is posted somewhere with a specific pointer to one of your pages.

5. Titles - If you distribute articles for online marketing purposes, create an alert for each article title so that you can track where your articles are appearing. Authors can use this same strategy for tracking book titles.

6. Industry research - To stay on top of industry news, create alerts for keywords and key phrases for your industry. If you are using social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, this can help you locate useful content for micro-blogging or to give you topic ideas to cover in your blog.

7. Competitive research - If you want to find out who is talking about your competition or where they are being mentioned, create alerts for each competitor’s business name and/or Web site URL.

8. Lead generation - If breaking news can produce leads for your company, use Google Alerts for related phrases. For example, if you own a human resources firm and want to find out what companies are hiring in Sacramento, you could create several alerts: “now hiring Sacramento,” “job posting Sacramento,” and “job listing Sacramento.”

9. Lead research - If there is a company or client that you want to land, create alerts to stay on top of their most recent online activity. This can provide valuable insight into what the company is up to and who is talking about them.

10. Top client research - Track activity for your top 10 or 20 existing clients. This can give you valuable insight into what they’re up to, and also provide you with reasons to contact them. For example, if one of your clients receives major media coverage, you will learn about it right away and can send them a note of congratulations.

Chandler also included the following Google search tips that should help you get what you want when you want it.

Exact keyword search: You can specify exact keywords by putting a plus sign (+) in front of the word. For example, if you search for the word “publish,” Google search results would include “publishing” and “publisher.” Adding a plus sign to the beginning of the word (+publish) will ensure that you only receive exact matches.

Exact key phrase search: When you search for a phrase, Google results will return anything that includes all of the words in the phrase, not that exact phrase. But if you enclose your search in quotes (“how to publish a book”), the results will only include that exact phrase.

Alternate keyword: To return a search with alternate results, use “OR” between the words (the letters OR must be capitalized). For example, “author OR writer” will return results with either keyword. For a more complex search, you can put part of the phrase in parentheses: (author OR writer) “business books.”

Synonyms: If you want your search results to return related terms, use a tilde (~) in front of the word. For example, if you use this feature to search for the word “~author,” Google returns results that include “book,” “writer” and “literature.”

Search a single Web site: If you want to track new entries on a specific site, you can use the “site:” operator. For example, if you want to track mentions of business books on the New York Times Web site, your search would look like this: “business book” site:nytimes.com.

Going to have to remember that tilde thing.

Mike Boyd is editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at Mike.Boyd@csbj.com or 329-5206.