Information is published online at a mind-numbingly fast pace. Each millisecond a new article, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, is posted from somewhere in the world. This rapid growth of content presents a lot of opportunity, but where branding is concerned, it also presents a challenge.

By the time information that represents your brand, a product you market or anything relevant to your industry comes to your attention, it may be too late to respond, or, your competition may have already beaten you to it, taking advantage of an opportunity that could have been yours.

Fortunately, online tools can alert you to information that can be used to increase traffic, online presence and conversions while better engaging potential customers and raising awareness in general. One of the most practical tools is Google Alerts. Not only is Google Alerts free, but it’s powerful in an array of tactics.

What Are Alerts?

Google Alerts are emails that are sent to you when Google finds new results that match a pre-specified search term. These results include web pages, scholarly articles, newspaper stories, blog posts or anything else published online. They can be used to:

  • Find out when a specific company or product is mentioned
  • Monitor a developing news story pertaining to a specific topic
  • Keep up to date on an industry development or competitor
  • Follow celebrities or sports teams
  • Find out what’s being said about yourself, or any other topic of interest

Setting Up a Google Alert

To set up a Google Alert, follow these simple steps.

Sign in if you already have a Google account; if not, create a new one.

Click on the “Create a New Alert” button — it’s red. If you’re unsure of which terms to start with, check out Google’s free tool, Search Operators, for inspiration. This allows you to learn about how to narrow down search terms or to look for specific types of information.

got alert

Select which result types you’re interested in, the language the information should be published in, a region (if demographic location matters) and choose how often you’d like the information to be sent.

From there, select if you’d like to have results sent to your email address or to a feed. By selecting “feed,” you’ll be able to read results from an online reader, instead of your e-mail. If results are sent to your e-mail and you’re a standard smartphone user, you may be able to stay updated on-the-go. This is a matter of preference.

As long as your alerts have been set up properly, you should begin receiving information at the frequency of your choosing.

Alerts can be especially useful if you’re covering a hot topic that many publications are covering. For this example, I noticed a lot of articles in the SEO industry mentioning Matt Cutts and search penalties, so I created an alert for it. This is the type of email we’ll receive for  a timely keyword, such as ‘google search penalty’:

google search penalty

The initial criteria for this search is a daily update, highlighted in the green box, but we can always change to be immediate by selecting ‘as-it-happens’:

alert update

Looking for Opportunities

For a company to make splashes in the digital realm, it must create content that is relevant to a targeted audience, especially on social media sites. This is why social branding matters now more than ever before. Below are a few ways to monitor and increase your social branding opportunities.

> Stay on the Bleeding Edge of Your Industry with Proper Keyword Alerts

Set up individual alerts for various terms that relate to your business — your website URL, your brand name, any short form or abbreviation of your name, the names of any products you sell or market and anything else that could be relevant. If there’s room for a response to anything related to your brand, you don’t want to miss a single opportunity.

The speed of social makes it a challenge to follow-up with every branding opportunity, but it’s really a test of endurance. Furthermore, it’s a demonstration of presence. Active brands encourage people to engage. Ghost-town twitters and facebooks make people bounce to a place with actual lifeforms (not automated feed/RSS posts).

> Check Out the Competition

Successful and strategic businesses have a keen eye out for their competitors.

If you are unsure of what actions they’re taking or the direction they’re headed in, you can’t properly position your own brand ahead of theirs. Set up alerts that relate to your competition with the same terms as you would search for your own. This gives you a head’s up in case anything changes that you should be aware of. It also alerts you to possible opportunities in the future.

Some markets are very cut-throat. If you’re monitoring a competitor and notice a PR crisis unfolding, you can respond with a timely and tailored PR campaign of your own to snatch up some of their customer base. This tactic is widely used in the form of advertising, marketing, and works especially well with humor – such as the competitive image from FedEx below:

fed ex competetive ad

> Look for Ways to Become a Resource

The very nature of internet is sustainable because people are curious, information-seekers and media sponges.

Monitoring industry-specific questions and answering them efficiently lets potential customers see your brand up as a trusted source of information that could lead to conversions.

To set up an alert for a search term, use a question word such as “what,” “how,” or “when” followed by the * symbol and your term: brand name, product name, relevant topic and so on. This sets up an alert that will locate specific questions asked by searchers. If a question shows up frequently, it may be worth addressing in a blog post or somewhere on your site to increase search traffic. For example, as a recovery center, 12 Keys must demonstrate expertise in areas such as addiction and rehabilitation. By setting up Google Alerts for terms that append “recovery” or “rehabilitation” with common drug terms or alcohol:

By filtering results as “discussions” we can easily jump in and offer insights, education, and unconditional help. This is a subtle yet powerful part of social branding.

> Be Alerted When Opportunities Arise

Guest blogging is a popular way to increase social branding reach. Alerts can make the process as simple as possible by making you aware of opportunities as they arise. Think about the topic you would like to write about, something relevant to your industry, such as food, home products, pets or otherwise.

From there, set up an alert with phrases like “write for us,” “guest blogging opportunities,” “bloggers wanted,” “become a contributor,” and other relevant terms, followed by your preferred topic. These alerts will make the search for a guest posting opportunity simple. By writing for sites with an audience that matches your target audience criteria, you can expand reach, influence, and business.

Social branding is not a sub-par priority, often thought of as social media aggregation. To make the most of online opportunities, take the time to learn about Google Alerts and start social monitoring today.