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Web presence 101.9 – Google Alerts

So, you’ve put yourself out there online, with a website and social media – but that’s only half the story. If your self-promotion is successful, then other people are going to start talking about you online. Sometimes they’ll let you know, but often they won’t. That’s where Google Alerts comes in.

What kind of information will Alerts find for you? Basically, anything that you could find out by manually searching on, say, your author name and/or title. That includes:
<li>your website</li>
<li>your social media profile pages</li>
<li>interviews and guest blog posts</li>
<li>book reviews</li>
<li>online bookshop listings</li>
<li>piracy listings*</li>
* unless your publisher has issued a DCMA take-down notice to the site – thankfully Google is now omitting these hits from its search results

Note that it only sends you newly-indexed results, so if you are already active online, it probably won’t return any results for those outlets. It’s mainly useful for catching the last three: reviews, shop listings and piracy listings.
<h2>Setting up your alerts</h2>
Google Alerts are something you can set up as part of your Google account, so if you don’t have one of those (via Gmail or Google+ or whatever), go forth and sort that out first. Done? OK, onwards…

The Alerts page is tucked away, so you’ll need to poke around to find it – at the time of writing, you’ll need to sign into Google and click on “More” in the black linkbar, and then on “Even More”. Scroll down that page to the header “Specialised Search” to find the section about Alerts. Click on the link and fill in the simple form, and you will receive emails whenever Google adds a new search result based on the terms you specified.

As for what terms to search for, your author name and book title are obviously a good start. If your name is common, or your title includes common words, you’ll probably get a lot of false positives, like you would if you did that search manually. If so, try out your search terms on Google itself until you get the kind of results you want. For example, the search “John Smith fantasy novel” will probably find a lot more results about you and your book than just “John Smith”.

Google Alerts won’t find everything, of course. It doesn’t index social media sites (apart from user profiles), so you can’t use it to find out if people are talking about you on Twitter or Facebook, but those sites have their own search mechanisms you can use if you’re really that paranoid! However if you are keen to keep tabs on your online presence, it’s a very useful tool.

This is the last of my posts in the Web Presence for Writers series – I hope you found it useful!

Other articles in this series:

  1. Claim your name
  2. Your website
  3. Blogging
  4. Introduction to social media
  5. Twitter
  6. Facebook
  7. Goodreads
  8. Pinterest
  9. Google alerts