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Google Alerts Power Primer: 50 Tips, Techniques & Workarounds

By Adam Green “Mr. Google Alerts”

Google Alerts Power Primer © 2009 by Adam Green The copyright of this work belongs to the author, who is solely responsible for the content. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit Creative Commons or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA. AlertRank is not affiliated with Google™, its services or any of its subsidiaries. The cover image and images within this eBook are from iStockphoto®. About the Author Adam Green is the CEO of, an online blog relationship management application. He blogs at Please feel free to contact Adam with any questions or comments you might have about this eBook. His email address is Share this eBook You have the unlimited right to distribute and share this eBook. You can email it, print it, and copy it to your website. You may not alter it or charge for it. Subscribe Sign up for our free email newsletter to receive daily Google Alerts tips from Adam.

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Google Alerts Power Primer

Google Alerts setup You don’t have to use a Google email address or even have a Google account to use Google Alerts. You can just type your search terms as you would for a normal Google search, enter an email address to receive the alerts, and click Create Alert. You can create up to 1,000 alerts in this way for a single email address.

Google will send you a verification email with a link that you need to click to have the alerts start. This prevents someone from directing alerts to you without your approval. The default type of alert is Comprehensive, which covers 5 different Google search services. You can choose a specific source, such as news.

You can also specify the frequency of email delivery. The default is once a day, but if you want to be able to respond quickly to mentions of something like your company’s name, you can have the alert sent as soon as Google finds it. For less time-critical searches, you can select once a week emails.

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Google Alerts Power Primer

If you create alerts while logged into a Google account, they will be collected into a single page that lets you manage them.

From this page you can edit the query, or change the alert source and frequency. You can also create new alerts and delete existing alerts. One convenience of creating alerts while logged in is that Google won’t send you emails to verify each new alert. Google Alerts never gives you an error message when you create a new alert. It just accepts your query, even if it makes no sense. So you should test all your alert queries with a normal Google search first. This will let you see if you are likely to find the type of items that you’d expect. It will also tell you if anything can be found. It’s easy to be overwhelmed if you create lots of alerts. One way of coping with this is to create a separate Gmail account just for your alerts. If you are an active Google Alerts user, you should try out AlertRank, our Google Alerts add-on. It has many features that make it easier to manage large numbers of alerts.

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Google Alerts Power Primer

#1: Single word search The simplest alert is based on a single word: book Google looks for this word, and common variants, such as plurals. Looking for book will also find books.The automatic search for variations is called stemming. A common example of stemming is adding ing to verbs, so searching for swim will also find swimming.

#2: Single word without stemming You can turn off stemming by preceding a word with the + sign: +book This will only find book, but not books or booking. The + sign must be placed before a word without any spaces in between. Turning off stemming is useful when searching for brand names, since it makes sure you only see mentions of the exact word you are looking for.

#3: Turning off stemming with quotes Another way of finding exact matches without stemming is to surround it with quotes: “book”

#4: Multiple word search An alert with multiple words will search for items that contain all of these words: book shop Google will apply stemming to each of these words, and will find the words in any order. The words don’t have to be next to each other. In this example, book and shop can be anywhere in the found item. Google will also look for combinations of these words. Combinations can result in different results, depending on the word order in the alert. For example, an alert for book shop will also find bookshop. An alert for shop book won’t find bookshop, but it will find book shop.

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Google Alerts Power Primer

#5: Multiple words without stemming You can turn off stemming in a multiple word alert by using the + sign with each word: +book +shop This will keep variations like book shopping from being found. It will also block word combinations, so bookshop won’t be found either. You can apply the + sign to one or more of the words in the alert, such as book +shop to block book shopping from being found.

#6: AND is ignored Some search engines allow you to combine search words with AND as a way of specifying that all the words must be found. Google ignores AND in alerts, since it already assumes that all the words you enter must be found. In effect a space between words is used as an and by Google. Database people call this an implcit and. An alert for pizza beer means a search for both pizza and beer.

#7: Finding any of the search terms The common alternative to AND is OR, which means that items with any of the words should be found. OR is recognized by Google: pizza OR beer This will find either word in the results. You can combine several words with OR, such as pizza OR beer OR burgers, to find any of these words. The OR must be in upper case. Using or instead will be ignored by Google.

#8: Alternative for OR A more geeky way of specifying an OR search is the | character, which is commonly called a bar: pizza | beer This will find the same items as pizza OR beer.

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#9: Grouping search words You can group a series of words separated with OR by surrounding them with parenthesis. For example: pizza (beer OR wine) This results in a search for pizza and beer, or pizza and wine. The same search can also be written as pizza (beer | wine).

#10: Searching for phrases You can search for an exact phrase by putting the words in quotes: “book shop” This will only find items where the words are next to each other, in the same order as in the search phrase, and without any stemming. It will also prevent your finding combinations of the words as a single world. In this example, bookshop won’t be found. If you are looking for a product or company name that contains multiple words, it is best to put the words in quotes.

#11: Finding stop words Google ignores extremely common words, especially words of only a few characters, such as the and if. These are called stop words. For example, if you search for book in a month, you are going to find matches for just book and month. There are two solutions for this problem. If you want your search to include stop words, but don’t care about the order, or whether they are next to each other, you can put a + sign in front of the stop word. This basically means that the word must be included: book +in +a month If you want all the words to be found as a complete phrase, you can put them all in quotes: “book in a month”

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Google Alerts Power Primer

#12: Blocking words The opposite of a + sign in front a word is the - sign: book month -of This means that you don’t want to see results that include this word. This example will let you find results for book and month, but will weed out all the matches for book of the month.

#13: Finding related words Placing a tilde (~) in front of a word will find items that contain related words as well: ~food Searching for ~food also finds matches for cook, cuisine, nutrition, restaurant, and recipe. This is based on Google’s awareness of common synonyms, so it makes an interesting way of broadening a search to find common groups of words. It also provides insights into what Google thinks are popular usage patterns. For example, Google thinks that new is a synonym of cool, but not vice-versa. If you search for ~cool, you will also get matches for new, but searching for ~new doesn’t find cool. ~new does find latest, however, and ~latest finds live and current.

#14: Searches are limited to 32 words Not that you are likely to reach this limit, but it is good to know exactly how many words you can enter in an alert.

#15: Searching for a range of numbers You can specify a range of numbers by separating the starting and ending numbers with two periods (..). The entire range must be written with no spaces: super bowl 1990..1999 This query will find all entries that mention Super Bowls from 1990 to 1999. Don’t be misled into thinking that Google is being smart about dates. It is just looking for the numbers 1990 through 1999. The number range will also work within quotes. If you create an alert for “super bowl 1990..1999”, you will only see items where the number follows immediately after the word bowl.

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Google Alerts Power Primer

#16: Wildcard search Sometimes you want to create an alert for a phrase, but you need to see variations on some of the words. This can be done by substituting the word that could change with an asterisk: happily * after This will show you all the variations of the common expression happily ever after. What if you want to only see variations of this phrase that don’t use the word ever? Easy, just add –ever at the end: happily * after -ever

#17: Searching in the page title You can use intitle: as a way of narrowing down alerts to items that contain keywords within the title of a Web page, blog post, group message or news item: intitle:pizza There can’t be any spaces between intitle: and the keyword you are searching for.

#18: Searching for multiple words in a title If you want to find multiple words in a title, you can use intitle: for each word: intitle:pizza intitle:beer If you separate the intitle: keywords with spaces, all of them must be in the title. OR can be used instead to find any of the words: intitle:pizza OR intitle:beer Sometimes certain keywords dominate the results. These words can be blocked from the titles of results by preceding them with the – sign: intitle:pizza -intitle:dominos

#19: List of words in a title Instead of using intitle: with each word in a list, allintitle: is a shortcut that will search for a series of words in the title: allintitle:pizza beer wine

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Google Alerts Power Primer Allintitle: will also accept a phrase in quotes, if you need all the words to be together, and want to turn off stemming: allintitle:”book shop”

#20: Searching in page text You can use intext: to narrow down alerts to items that contain keywords within the text of a Web page, blog post, group message or news item: intext:pizza There can’t be any spaces between intext: and the keyword you are searching for.

#21: Multiple words in page text If you want to find multiple words in the text area, you can use intext: for each word: intext:pizza intext:beer If you separate the intext: keywords with spaces, all of them must be in the text. OR can be used instead to find any of the words: intext:pizza OR intext:beer Words can be blocked from the text of results by preceding them with the – sign: intext:pizza -intext:dominos

#22: List of words in page text Allintext: is a shortcut that will search for a series of words in the text: allintext:pizza beer wine Allintext: will also accept a phrase in quotes, if you need all the words to be together, and want to turn off stemming: allintext:”book shop”

#23: Searching within a URL Inurl: searches for keywords within a URL, which is one of the most descriptive parts of a page: inurl:library

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Google Alerts Power Primer Stemming is not used with inurl:. For example, searching for just library will find libraries as well, but inurl:library doesn’t find URLs that contain libraries. You have to use multiple searches combined with OR, if you want to find multiple variations of a word: Inurl:library OR inurl:libraries

#24: Matching complete words in a URL Inurl: has an odd way of dealing with matching part of a URL. It will find words that are part of a URL, but it won’t find parts of words. This is easier to explain with a few examples. If you set up an alert for inurl:cook, you will find URLs that contain cook as part of a larger URL, such as cookmedical, or cookcounty. If you try searching for inurl:coo, you won’t find either of these URLs, but you will find coocooclub. The basic rule seems to be that Google treats the characters you put after inurl: as a complete word, and only finds matches for that word.

#25: Searching for US state sites State sites generally have URLs that use the state abbreviation followed by either .gov, .org, or .us. You can set up an alert for pages from a specific state with the pattern inurl:state.(gov OR org OR us): inurl:il.(gov OR org OR us) This can be also be extended to search for multiple states: inurl:(il OR ma).(gov OR org OR us)

#26: Searching for financial sites An interesting trick for finding items from financial sites is to use inurl: with a stock symbol: inurl:goog If you search for the stock symbol without inurl:, you will find lots of items about that stock’s company, but generally the URL only contains the symbol if it is a site focusing on financial issues.

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Google Alerts Power Primer

#27: Searching for multiple words in a URL If you want to find multiple words in a URL, you can use inurl: for each word: inurl:pizza inurl:beer If you separate the inurl: keywords with spaces, all of them must be in the text. OR can be used instead to find any of the words: inurl:pizza OR inurl:beer Words can be blocked from the text of results by preceding them with the – sign: inurl:cook -intext:county

#28: List of words in a URL Allinurl: will search for a series of words in the URL of a page: allinurl:pizza beer wine Allinurl: will also accept a phrase in quotes, if you need all the words to be together: allinurl:”book shop” Even though the words in quotes must be next to each other in the URL, they can be separated by punctuation, such as a dash, period, or + sign, all of which are commonly used in URLs to make the individual words more readable.

#29: Searching inbound link text All of the queries we have seen so far are based on the contents of online pages. You can also find items by looking for keywords in links on other pages. There are two parts to a link, the URL it is pointing to, and the text that you click on, which is called an anchor. Inanchor: finds pages that have been linked to with specific keywords: inanchor:pizza To be clear, if a page on the NY Times website links to a restaurant site and uses the word pizza in the text of the link, inanchor:pizza will show you the restaurant’s page, not the page on the NY Times site. Inanchor: is especially useful for Google Alerts, because it will tell you whenever a new link to a page is published, even if the page being linked to has already been online for a long time.

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Google Alerts Power Primer

#30: Multiple words in inbound link text If you want to find multiple words in the link anchor, you can use inanchor: for each word: inanchor:pizza inanchor:beer If you separate the inanchor: keywords with spaces, all of them must be in the anchor text. OR can be used instead to find any of the words: inanchor:pizza OR inanchor:beer Words can be blocked from the anchor text by preceding them with the – sign: inanchor:pizza -inanchor:dominos

#31: List of words in inbound link text Allinanchor: is a shortcut that will search for a series of words in the anchor text: allinanchor:pizza beer wine Allinanchor: will also accept a phrase in quotes, if you need all the words to be together: allinanchor:”book shop”

#32: Searching for outbound links Links have two ends. The page that contains the link is the source, and the page being linked to is the target. Link: lets you find sources of links to a specific target: This search will find pages that contain links to It also finds links to This type of alert is a great way to keep track of anyone linking to one of your sites or competing sites. You don’t have to include http:// at the beginning of the URL, but it will also work if you do. If you search for a domain name, it will find links to any page on that site. If you narrow down the URL to a specific page, you will only find pages that link to that specific URL.

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Google Alerts Power Primer For example, finds links to any page on the site, but only finds pages that have links to this about page.

#33: Searching for URLs anywhere in a page Link: only shows you pages that have a URL in a hyperlink. You might also want to find pages that mention a URL without using it in a link. If you use a URL in an alert, you will find items that contain the part of the URL before the first period. A search for, will find pages that just have the word pizza. To find the exact URL, you must put it in quotes: “” This restriction is not necessary when you use intitle: or intext:. You can search for or without using quotes, and you will find matches for the full URL.

#34: Searching for URLs in blogs Alerts for bogs have their own problem when searching for URLs. Google automatically converts a blog search for a URL into a link: search. An alert for ends up being treated as The solution is again to use quotes around the URL: “”

#35: Searching within a single site A URL can be used with the site: operator to only search pages on a specific site. If you use site: with a URL as the entire search, you will receive alerts whenever a new page is added to that site: You can also search for pages on a site with additional keywords, so you will only see alerts if the site publishes a page containing those words: google Multiple words can be used with OR to see pages on that site with any of the search terms: (google OR apple)

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#36: Searching within the URL on a single site Site: can be used with a URL that includes a subdirectory: This will only find pages that are in that specific subdirectory. If you want to find any page on a site that contains a keyword in the URL, you should combine site: and inurl: in the same query: inurl:layoff This finds any page on with the word layoff anywhere in the URL.

#37: Searching within multiple sites If you want to search multiple sites, you can’t use multiple copies of site: in the same search: google Google will interpret this as looking for a page that is on all the sites at the same time. Since this is impossible, nothing is found. You need to combine site: with OR to search any number of sites at the same time: google ( OR OR

#38: Searching top level domains An important difference between inurl: and site: is that site: is intelligent about searching for top level domains. A top level domain or TLD is the last part of a URL, such as .com or .edu. If you create an alert with inurl:edu, it will find pages with edu anywhere in the URL, not just domain names ending in .edu. You need to use site:edu, if you want to find pages only in educational domains: social media site:edu

#39: Searching specialized domains Site: allows you to create alerts for more specialized domains. The Wikipedia list of top level domains contains some interesting choices for use with site:, such as .museum for sites run by museums: picasso site:museum

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Google Alerts Power Primer Along with searching within pages for these TLDs, you can also set up an alert for the TLD itself. This will notify you whenever a new page is published by any site with the TLD: site:mil This search will alert you if a new page is published by the US military.

#40: Searching for specific countries Site: can also be used to narrow down alerts to specific countries. The Wikipedia list of country code TLDs shows you all of the available options. social media site:de There is no guarantee that the pages you find are actually on sites from those countries, since it is possible to buy a domain name for any country. Some country TLDs are also used for domain names by Web 2.0 companies in a search for cool URLs.

#41: Searching for multiple TLDs The rules for including multiple site: searches for top level domains is the same as searching for multiple domain names. You must separate each with OR: social media (site:de OR site:uk OR site:mil)

#42: Excluding sites or TLDs You can use –site to block results from specific sites or top level domains: social media –site:edu social media – Multiple exclusions can be combined with OR: social media (–site:com OR –site:edu)

#43: Excluding internal links A common use of –site: is to combine it with link: to exclude internal links: –

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Google Alerts Power Primer This makes sure that you will only see new links to a site from other sites. If you just search for, you will also find links from within itself.

#44: Related sites One of the more interesting search operators for Google Alerts is related:, which shows you sites that Google thinks are similar to a specified URL: This will create alerts for new sites that have a similar linking and text profile to This is a great alert to create for tracking new competitors. You can create a related: alert for your own site, or one the URL of you major competitors. You’ll be notified as soon as Google thinks that another site is similar.

#45: Summary of URL based searches There are so many ways to create alerts based on URLs, I thought it would be useful to summarize them before we move on. inurl: - Pages that contain a keyword in the URL. allinurl: - Pages that contain a series of keywords in the URL. link: - Pages that link to a specific URL. site: - Pages with a full domain name or just the top level domain. related: - Pages that Google thinks are similar to a specific URL.

#46: News alerts for a single location Queries for news alerts can include a location: operator, which lets you specify a city, country, or US state as the origin of the news item. You can create an alert with just a location: location:moscow Or you can include keywords with the location: red sox location:ma For US states, you can use the full name or the standard US postal abbreviation. For countries you can also use the full name or the abbreviation as found in the standard Internet top level domain country code.

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#47: News alerts for cities When creating an alert for a specific city, you should test the query first with a Google search. The location: operator doesn’t allow you to include a state or country along with the city name. This means that Google has to make an assumption about which version of that city you mean. For example, location:boston find news stories in Boston, Massachusetts, but location:cambridge finds news from Cambridge, England. As a resident of Lexington, Mass., I find it disturbing that Google thinks that location:lexington means Lexington, Kentucky. When you want to use a city name with multiple words, you must separate the words with an underscore (_), and don’t assume that common city abbreviations will work. Location:la gives you news for Louisiana, so you must use location:los_angeles if you want news from that city.

#48: Multiple locations aren’t allowed The Google documentation doesn’t say anything about this, but from my tests multiple uses of location: in a single search doesn’t seem to work. The standard Google syntax would imply that you can search for location:ny OR location:ca, but when this is tested with Google News, it only returns results from the state of New York. In each test I’ve done, only the first location: seems to be used. Another way of seeing that multiple locations are ignored is that the total count of possible results is the same for a single location or multiple locations.

#49: News alerts for a single source News alerts can be limited with the source: operator, which lets you name the news provider. You can create an alert with a source: by itself to see all news from that provider: source:ha'aretz Or you can include keywords with the source. Multiple words in the source’s title must be separated with an underscore (_).: theater source:new_york_times Just as with location:, using multiple copies of source: separated with OR is ignored, and only the first source: is used.

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#50: Finding comments on Google News stories Google News publishes comments from experts on some of its news stories., and you can request alerts for these comments by using the special source of google_news: source:google_news You can also combine this with keywords to see expert comments on specific subjects: obama source:google_news

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Share this eBook This eBook is distributed with a Creative Commons license to encourage you to share it freely. Email it to a friend. Post it on your blog. Make copies for your clients. Give it to your boss.

Try our product The information in this eBook was collected while developing and testing our Google Alerts add-on Our goal is to make the Google Alerts as useful as possible.

Subscribe to my blog You’ll find daily posts with more Google Alerts tips and techniques on my blog. You can subscribe to the feed or get it as a daily email.

Free Google Alerts E-Course If you found this ebook useful, you might also want to try out my free 10-day email course. You can sign up to receive this course on my blog.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Please let me know if you have any questions or comments on the material in this book. I love talking to people about how they are using Google Alerts to increase their productivity. Adam Green “Mr. Google Alerts” 781-879-2960

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Google Power Primer