full mailbox
4th September 2019
Signal Editors

Why Google Alerts is a thing of the past

Google Alerts has been around forever. And for a long time it was the only way to monitor your mentions online. But is the writing on the wall for the free email tool? And is it about to meet its Maker in the Big Data sky?

Google launched Google Alerts in 2003 as a way of helping users navigate through the swathes of information available on the Google News network. It was the brainchild of an Indian developer called Naga Kataru. Although his manager initially rejected the idea, Kataru took it to Sergey Brin and Larry Pageand, six months later Google Alerts was born.

Fast forward 16 years, and it had become one of the most useful tools in the Google stable; with hundreds of millions of people using it to trawl through web content each year.

How Google Alerts works

As a free media monitoring tool, it will notify a user via email whenever Google indexes a new page or any type of content that contains the keyword or phrase that has been specified. This can be used for anything from tracking keywords or brand mentions, to keeping an eye on competitor output or industry developments. It’s even been used to detect plagiarism.

Aside from being free, with its uncomplicated interface and unlimited search time frame, it is nothing short of a miracle. And, provided you choose a simple keyword, your results should be reasonably comprehensive.

Sounds great. So where’s the rub? Well, ultimately Google Alerts is just an email alert.

And one that Google themselves announced was “broken” back in 2015. In spite of this, the product is still very popular with day-to-day users and PR and marketing professionals alike.

But for how long? Compare it to today’s media monitoring tools and Google Alerts just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Incomplete or irrelevant alert results

In 2019, Google Alerts doesn’t meet the ever-growing needs of many brands, businesses and organisations.

More often than not, it returns irrelevant results or will omit the most important mentions – even if you use Boolean searches. Which means you have very little control over what your queries will look like.

For example, a quick search for mentions of the Queen of AI, ‘Alexa’, brings up an array of results that range from Germany’s Got Talent winner Alexa Launeberger (and a dozen of her performing dogs), to US songwriter Alexa Ray Joel, British celebrity Alexa Chung, a meteorologist in Washington, as well as this week’s mentions of Amazon’s First Lady.

While all of this was fascinating, it just goes to show that even with a relatively precise keyword, you will receive irrelevant matches. And when it comes to volume, the aged app doesn’t fare much better – returning only 50 results in the past 6 days.

Media and brand monitoring is about filtering out the material you don’t want just as much as it is delivering the targeted results you do, which is something that Google Alerts just can’t offer.

Tracking of social media mentions

As a Google product, Google Alerts naturally relies on Google Search index. Which means that it will only return mentions from web pages crawled by the Google search engine.

Now, that’s great if you’re tracking the world’s biggest news sites for your reputation management, but it does leave out a lot of other conversations about your brand that are also taking place. Namely those happening on lesser known sites or social media.

Social mentions have become a valuable channel of interaction between brands and customers. Customers use social to share their product experience and are particularly vocal if it has been frustrating. But happy customers can be turned into evangelists if they are taken care of, while dissatisfaction can be solved if someone thinks their voice is heard.

Google Alerts can’t track these mentions and relying solely on the tool can result in some bad reviews for your brand. You will need the help of more refined PR software.

data breach webinar

Lack of reporting functionality

We all know the importance of reporting for PR and marketing professionals. Which is why it’s surprising that Google Alerts still lacks any meaningful way to crunch, slice and dice – let alone compare – the data that it compiles. It’s simply an email alert.

Which simply won’t cut it in front of the board at that monthly meeting. And if you do decide to take the plunge and create a report manually, you can end up wasting an awful lot of time. It’s 2019 and automated cars are on the horizon, so why are you still manually building reports?

Media monitoring tools take the hard work out of reporting, which is one of the things we love best about them – yes, OK, we would say that, but it’s true. Instead of a complicated cut and paste job, you can benchmark your mentions against competitors, track your progress month on month (or year on year), and provide in-depth insights with data visualisations of your brand monitoring.

And who doesn’t like a pretty graphic?

To track or not to track?

Brands not only need to track their mentions, but being able to dive into the data associated with these results is just as important. For example, exactly which term or terms does your brand get the most mentions for? And what is the percentage of sentiment as positive vs. negative?

And then we come to insights. What’s the source location of your mentions?  Will your product/service have value in untapped demographics, or has it been mentioned in different languages? This kind of insight could potentially help to identify your next market.

Share of Voice (SOV) is also crucial. You will need to see the percentage of conversations about your brand, compared with those of your competitors.

Finally, what about measuring your PR and comms success? Let’s not forget that by tracking your campaigns, brand mentions, and key messages you can really prove the value of your efforts to the C-suite.

With Google Alerts, there are no analytics. None. Not even a smidgen. Which means, if you need any kind of tracking for your keywords or phrases, you’re going to need a fresh new tool. Nowadays, most brands use Google Alerts as a side dish to their media monitoring tool main courses. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

So there we have it. Out with the old and in with the new.