February 17, 2016

Google Alerts – what they are, why you might want one

Posted by Laura Guertin

I’ve been working with the Reference and Instruction Librarian on my campus to help students develop a range of search strategies as they are on the lookout for sources for their semester project. My students are required to use information that has been published in the past five years, so in addition to showing students how to navigate the library databases, she shows my students how to set up a Google Alert to have information come to them.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 10.17.32 AMIf you are not familiar with Google Alerts, it is a tool that sends you email notifications any time Google finds new results posted online for a particular search term or set of terms you define. For example, if you follow a particular sports team, you can set up an alert to receive announcements whenever something is published about the Boston Red Sox. (I’m curious about the development of a new minor league baseball team in Hartford, Connecticut, so I have a Google Alert for any new articles on the “Hartford Yard Goats” (seriously, that’s the new team name)). For my students this semester, they can set up alerts for the Earth science content they are focusing on for the semester for “as it happens,” “once a day,” or “once a week” – and then, they can promptly cancel the alert at the end of the course.

It is a simple URL, with a very simple interface to set up the alert: https://www.google.com/alerts The example I show above is for setting up an alert for any articles relating to the American Geophysical Union. The “Sources” can be selected to include blogs, news, web, videos, books, etc. To set up a Google Alert, wikiHow has step-by-step instructions with screenshots on how to complete the process. Additional information can be found on the Google Alerts Help page.

I would encourage faculty to set up an alert with their own name – I’ve been surprised a few times when my name has appeared in online articles that I was not aware would be published. You may want to establish an alert with your institution’s name. Someone on my campus had done just this – and this is how the campus found out our former Chancellor was applying for a job, as the state she applied in published her name as being part of the short list for that new position! You never know what you might learn from a Google Alert… certainly, the academic benefits of helping students keep on top of the news from Flint, Michigan, to ocean acidification are valid reasons to consider showing your students this search tool.



Additional sources for exploration

Gregory, A. (2010, September 7). How to Maximize Your Use of Google Alerts. Sitepoint. (available online)

Gregory, A. (2010, February 12). 10 Tips for Conducting a More Effective Google Search. Sitepoint. (available online)