If you’re in marketing or communications, you’re almost certainly familiar with Google Alerts. It’s the free tool that sends email updates whenever your keywords are used online.

And even though Google itself declared the tool “broken,” they’re still immensely popular:

google trends alerts

Source: Google Trends

So yes, they peaked in popularity during the first Obama administration. But they’re still the go-to tool for people who want to know what’s said about them without shelling big money.

It makes sense. Google is one of the biggest companies in the world, and it’s synonymous with web use. When you think of online, you think of Google.

But Google Alerts are simply not the best tool for the job. They may be free, but there are better free options available. And the paid options make them look silly and quaint.

In this post, we’re going to see why Google Alerts are no longer enough for your business, and what your options are should you choose to move away from them.

But first, why are Google Alerts still so popular?

Why people like Google Alerts

Despite the overall argument of this point, Google Alerts are pretty cool. You can find out any time your brand is mentioned online, without going looking yourself. What a great service!

On top of that, these alerts are:

  • Quick to set up, because these days nobody has spare time to waste.
  • Easy to use. Provided you choose a good keyword, it’s not hard to figure out how to get results.
  • At the frequency you choose. They can be delivered as a mention happens, once a day, or once a week.
  • Free!

Plus, for many people, they haven’t heard of any other options. Google is a household name, after all.

So it’s easy to see why they caught on. But why would you want to monitor keywords in the first place?

Key monitoring goals

There are plenty of good reasons to monitor keywords online. If you’re a content marketer, you might use them to see where your posts and quotes have been picked up. If you’re in communications, you may be watching for damaging stories that could spiral and cause damage.

People use Google Alerts to find out what’s been said about:

And you’ll have your own, unique reasons to monitor things. But you do need to know what you’re trying to achieve, otherwise you’re not going to have much luck.

And no matter which of these goals you choose, we’re confident that Google Alerts are not the best option. Here are five good reasons why.

1. They’re just not that accurate

golf-google-alerts-mention

We were warned that Google Alerts was dying back in 2013. It was updated in 2014, but the same warnings were sounded in 2015, and they’ve never really stopped.

We’re not just talking about the fact that the search options are limited – we’re going to talk more about this shortly. The issue is that, even for a simple, precise keyword, you won’t receive every news story or blog update you’d expect.

Mention clients tell us the same thing. They keep their Google Alerts running alongside their Mention accounts. “For every 10 mentions on Mention, I receive one Google Alert,” says Azendoo’s Frederique Castagnac.

Leading PR professionals now see Google Alerts as merely “a backup” to their chosen media monitoring tool. That’s exactly how we recommend you use them, too. And while no tool is 100% accurate, Google Alerts really isn’t all that close.

A quick test

It’s easy enough for us to say that Google Alerts are failing. Obviously we think Mention is superior. So to prove that you risk missing key brand mentions with Google Alerts, we created one for ourselves:

google alerts amtrak

Then we did the same with Mention.

As of writing, the Google Alert has returned 119 results in a little less than 24 hours. That’s quite a lot, and we intentionally chose a well-known brand like Amtrak for good results.

In the same timespan, Mention has returned 442 news mentions alone. Plus more than 250 combined for blog and web sources:

google alerts sources mention

Any one of those missed mentions could prove to be costly. Perhaps it’s from a high profile blog in your industry, saying something positive. Or perhaps it’s a news site spreading only one half of the story.

The point is, you’re tracking brand mentions because you want to know what’s said about you.  That doesn’t work if you can’t be sure that you’ve seen them all.

And there’s another small matter that we haven’t talked about yet. What about social media mentions?

2. They’re limited to web sources

As discussed above, people often use Google Alerts for its “unmatched data set.” It’s a huge company, it controls an awful lot of internet data, and it makes sense that you want some of that data.

But Google alerts is limited to sources that Google tracks – mostly web news and blogs:

google alerts sources

While that’s good for tracking major news articles about your brand, it leaves off a lot of conversations.

The obvious source missing is social media. While you may not think of social as a “high value” source, it has quickly become the most direct channel of interaction between brands and customers.

social-media-google-alerts-mention

Take another quick look at our Amtrak test:

google alerts sources mention 1

The leading source of Amtrak mentions is Twitter, and Facebook comes in third. Even if you believe that plenty of social media mentions are fluff (who could blame you), there are still very good reasons to pay attention to what’s said on social.

By tracking social media, you’ll see:

  • Honest, immediate thoughts from your customers
  • Quick reviews and first impressions of your products
  • Questions and comments from people needing your help
  • Social influencers and power users who can help you build brand awareness

And these days, social media updates are usually the first source of news. Even the major newspapers post quick updates on social before publishing the full story.

If you want comprehensive, insightful, and fast media updates, you need to monitor social media.

3. They don’t help your customer support

It’s great to know what news sites and blogs say about your brand. This gives you your brand image on a large scale.

But isn’t it more interesting to see what your customers (and prospects) are saying? They’re the ones who actually use your product, hand over money, and leave reviews. And now that 90% of Americans read reviews before making a purchase, tracking your customers’ views is essential.

By contrast, a social listening tool shows you what your customers say on social media in real time. So you can see immediately who’s unhappy with your product, or who needs help to get the most from it.

google-alerts-customer-support

Remember, around 30% of company mentions don’t include the “@” symbol. So you may have customers talking about you directly, but you’ll have no way of knowing. No notification, nothing.

Track your brand with a social listening tool, and you’ll be in a far better position to offer winning customer service whenever necessary.

4. There are no analytics

This is probably the biggest difference between Google Alerts and a more comprehensive social listening or media monitoring tool. If you want to move beyond simple alerts for keywords or phrases, you’re going to need a different tool.

For marketers, entrepreneurs, and agencies, tracking mentions can be very important. You might be looking for:

  • An increase in mention volume over time. As your brand grows, you want to know that more people are talking about you. This is a key way to measure brand awareness.
  • Your share of voice online. You want to see an increasing percentage of conversations about your brand, compared with your competitors.
  • The influence of people talking about you. Not all mentions are equal. It’s great to know that more and more valuable influencers are talking about you.
  • Demographic information about your audience. Do your mentions come from different countries, and in different languages? This helps you identify new markets.
  • Sentiment of mentions. Is a news story, blog post, or social comment positive or negative? And how does the proportion of positive vs negative change over time?

These are just a few key metrics that good media monitoring tools let you measure. And the best part is that it’s all taken care of for you. No building graphs, no manual manipulation of data. The tools do all the heavy lifting.

google alerts analytics

By contrast, Google Alerts don’t come with any analytics capabilities at all. It’s just not what they were created for. Your alerts will simply tell you what was said, by whom, and when.

If you’re a tech wizard, you could store your alerts you receive in a spreadsheet, and use that to measure the volume over time. But even that would require a lot of manual labor that just isn’t worth it.

5. They’re hard to use for reporting

Let’s suppose you’re launching a marketing campaign for a new product. You’ve sent out press releases, published countless social media updates, and emailed everyone in your network. You want to track what’s said about your campaign to see whether it was successful.

You can do this to some extent with Google Alerts. Certainly you’ll find mentions of your campaign if it’s been picked up online. (Although it won’t include social media, and it probably won’t be comprehensive, as we’ve seen).

But all of these mentions will appear in your inbox in separate email alerts. How can you turn these into useful reports to share with your agency’s clients or the CEO?

If you stick with Google Alerts, you’ll have to take each of these mentions and add them to a PDF or spreadsheet one by one. There’s no automatic way to import them all into your reporting tool of choice.

That’s where newer media monitoring tools really win out. These let you automate reporting in only a couple of clicks. You can choose to have a full (or filtered) list of all your mentions for the week or month, delivered to anyone you choose. Or you could make a PDF report out of those analytics we saw above, to show the increase in volume over time or any other metric you prefer:

The big value here is the time it saves. If you’ve ever spent the last day of the month copying data into your reporting spreadsheet, you’ll know what a drag that is. You can actually automate almost all of the work, and have your custom report delivered at the same time each week, whenever you choose.

Are Google Alerts right for you?

I don’t want this to sound like Google Alerts aren’t valuable. It’s a very convenient, free tool, used all over the world.

You might be perfectly happy with your Google Alerts, especially if you’re a new business or solopreneur that:

  • Doesn’t receive a lot of mentions
  • Only cares about big news sites and blogs
  • Can afford to miss some mentions here and there
  • Isn’t worried about social media

I just want to show you that there are other Google Alerts alternatives available. The free ones already give you more data than Google will. And the paid options are light years ahead.

In fact, the best test is to try both. Here’s what you need to know to monitor your brand with Mention:

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Patrick Whatman is Head of Content at Mention. He lives in Paris, loves music, and writes his own brand of cultural criticism for fun. Tweet him @mrwhatman where he mainly talks digital marketing, American sports and New Zealand trivia.

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