You’ve probably heard of Google Alerts, which sends email alerts about any topic you want. Most people monitor their names and their business, but did you know Google Alerts is quite possibly the most powerful marketing tool in your arsenal and it’s free? Today we’re talking search tips to improve the accuracy of your Alerts, then I’m sharing super-sleuth strategies to maximize your Alerts and take your marketing strategy to a whole new level. It’s easy to get started on Google Alerts; all you need is an email address. Go to www.google.com/alerts. You’ll see five boxes: Search Query (what you’re looking for), Result Type (“Everything” is a great place to start), How Often (“Once a day” is fine), How Many (start with “All results”), and Deliver To (your email address.) You can set up to 1,000 Alerts, so it’s basically limitless. OK, now that you’ve learned how to search, let’s talk about what to search: 1. Set up Alerts on you, your team and your business. You’ll want Alerts for yourself, key team members, business name, domain name, and top employees. Why? To fully monitor what people are saying about you, your employees, and your business. Bonus tip: Set up Alerts on the names of your top partners and customers—and send them congratulatory messages when they make the news. 2. Set up Alerts on keywords relevant to your industry. A great way to stay on top of the trends in your industry. Also, set up Alerts on keywords relevant to your clients and prospects. You’ll better understand their marketplace and their needs. Bonus tip: Change your Result Type from “Everything” to “Discussion” to find forums where your topic is being discussed. It’s a great way to assess the market and even join the conversation. 3. Set up Alerts on your top clients. Not only their name, but also topics that might interest them. When you find an article that’s perfect for your top customers, email them a link or, better yet, print it out and send with a personalized card. It’s a great way to demonstrate expertise and personal attention. 4. Set up Alerts on your dream clients and influential people in your industry. Stay up to date about their activities, so you’re perfectly prepped when you’re ready to pitch them. It’s also a great opportunity to reach out with personal emails and cards. (See No. 3.) 5. Set up Alerts on your competition. Not only their name, but also domain name, and names of their top team members. Do exactly as we discussed in No. 1, but for your top competitors instead. Pay attention to what their customers are saying; observe how you can serve them better. Bonus tip: Change your “Result Type” from “Everything” to “Discussions” or even “Blogs” to really discover what their customers are saying and maybe join the discussion. 6. Set up Alerts to monitor plagiarism. Choose a unique phrase from your site or publication, put it in quotes, and learn if someone uses it without giving you credit.
7. Set up Alerts for fun stuff like sales and Craigslist. Google Alerts are fun, too. Set up Alerts for “sales” site:nameofyourfavoritestore.com to get sweet deals with your favorite retailers. When I’m in the market for a sewing machine on Craigslist, my search query is “sewing machine” site:craigslist.com and I’m notified when they become available. Bonus tip: Set a budget with “..” – ex: “Sewing Machine” site:craigslist $300..$500. Emily Worden is a Boston-based entrepreneur and small business strategist. Read more from her at EmilyWorden.com and follow her on Twitter @eMakeItHappen. A version of this story originally appeared on the She Owns It blog.