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Dave Hatter, TechSide: Google it! Or even better, set up Google Alerts, so you can be specific

The amount of information available on the Internet is mind-bogglingly vast and growing exponentially.

According to the Netcraft 2020 Web Server Survey, there are 1.2 billion web sites as of September 2020. How many individual web pages are there? No one knows exactly, but educated estimates put the number more than a trillion.

Despite the explosion of content, it has never been easier to research any topic because Google and other search engines index billions of public-facing web pages. Google has mastered the art and science of search, earning billions and becoming a household name. Google is so ubiquitous that their name is now a verb, who hasn’t said “Google it?”

But even with all Google’s power, finding information can be a daunting task as the sources of information continue to grow. This is especially true if you want to take a proactive approach. Examples include: following job openings, tracking a competitor, finding the latest team news, or learning when information about you or your company hits Google’s index. Remembering to visit Google and performing the same search day in and day out is both tedious and time-consuming, and you could miss something important. This is particularly true when tracking multiple topics.

Google Alerts is a powerful but little-known feature that simplifies and automates searching for topics of interest. It provides a simple, free mechanism to get regular updates anything you fancy. You specify keywords and phrases to follow and when new information about that topic is indexed by Google you will receive an e-mail. It’s just that simple, and did I mention it’s free?

You’ll need to have a Google account to get started. If you use Gmail or other Google services, you already have an account. If you don’t have a Google account, create one. Then log into Google and visit the Google Alerts home page.

To create an alert, type a word or phrase in the box that says “Create an alert about. . .”

For the alert topic, you can enter a single word or a phrase that you want to track. Enclose multiple words in a phrase in double quotes (“”) to find results that match the entire phrase rather than any word in the phrase. “John Galt” will only produce alerts when Google finds content with that entire phrase whereas John Galt will produce an alert when John OR Galt is found. Note that this is true for any Google search.

You can click the “Show options” link to further refine when and where the searches are conducted and how the results are delivered. The options include:

How often: The frequency of alerts (as-it-happens, At most once a day, At most once a week). Google sends alerts only when new content is found. I’ve found “At most once a day” to be the best option for most topics.

Sources: Content to search (Automatic, News, Blogs, Web, Video, Books, Discussion, Finance). Unless you are looking for a very specific type of information, you will generally get the best results with the “Automatic” setting.

Language: Pick the language to search.

Region: Filter the search by region. I generally select “Any region” to find content wherever it may appear.

Dave Hatter

How many: How picky Google should be regarding relevance of the content you wish to find (Only the best results, All results). Start with all results and change it if you get too many irrelevant results.

Deliver to: Where to send alerts (email, RSS feed). Specify an e-mail account for alert delivery.

Click the Create Alert button to create your alert. Google will send an e-mail confirmation and will then start sending alerts when content is found matching your query. Managing alerts is easy too. You can edit or delete an alert at any time, and you can create as many as 1,000 alerts.

One way I use Google Alerts is to proactively search for information about me to see where I am showing up on the web.

I have alerts on “Dave Hatter”, “David Hatter” and “David L Hatter”. If you’re job hunting, create alerts for all variants of your name to see what shows up in Google. Rest assured that recruiters and hiring managers are checking you out.

You could also create alerts to track job openings at certain companies or in particular industries. In fact, you can create alerts to track just about anything.

Google Alerts is a very powerful tool that helps me to quickly, easily, and proactively sift through a farm full of haystacks to find the proverbial needle. I encourage you to check it out!

Dave Hatter (CISSP, CCSP, CSSLP, Security+) is a cybersecurity consultant at Intrust IT and an adjunct Instructor at Cincinnati State. He provides a Tech Friday sebment on 55KRC, live at 6:30 a.m. ed and will be writing a regular tech column for the NKyTribune. He can be reached at davehatterlt@gmail.com.

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