How does Google Alerts Work and Why It Doesn’t


By Samyr Ahmad

How does Google Alerts Work and Why It Doesn’t

Learn about Google Alerts and why we need Google Alerts alternatives.

A Google alert is simple to set up – just search a keyword, click on ‘create alert’ and, – voila – we’ve got a new Google Alert. Google will start sending email alerts whenever it finds updates matching our keyword on the web. It is one of the most popular services for tracking the Internet. Most professionals use or have used it at some point.

However, it falls short of meeting the expectations of many professionals. Too often, it throws up unwanted results or misses out on important ones. Strangely, information missing in alerts can, sometimes, be found in a simple Google search. This makes organizations realize the need for a Google Alerts alternative.

The quality of our decisions depends on the information that we have. Therefore, it is necessary to understand how does google Alerts work and why it doesn’t in some cases. This understanding will help us to set our expectations right and to take corrective measures where Google Alerts falls short.

This post evaluates the current state of Google Alerts and attempts to understand it by looking at its life journey – from its birth until today. It is about understanding how important Google Alerts is for Google, why it misses information, what kind of information is missed, and how to create the market and competitive intelligence alerts that we deserve. Let me start by sharing some of my observations.

Is Google letting Google Alerts fail?

I have created many alerts, and after conceding to the barrage of information sent my way, had to delete them. For example, not long ago, I needed to learn more about search engine optimization (SEO). I created an alert for “SEO”. It turned out to be a mistake. Almost half of my alert was about Korean celebrities such as Park Seo and Danny Seo. I tried to clean my alert by adding these names as negative keywords, but they were too many. I removed Korea (“-korea”) and all the celebrities (“-celebrity”), but even that didn’t help. My alert still had those Korean celebrity news updates.

As I tried to learn about SEO, for some strange reasons, I found myself learning about Park Seo’s surprising French kiss. I heard myself saying, “Google, why don’t you treat my keywords as case-sensitive. I need information on SEO in all caps – not just any seo.” Maybe there is a way to create case-sensitive alerts that I don’t know of. But how would I? Google has never sent any instructions to me on how to use Google Alerts. Never have I received an email on best practices, no tips or tricks, no tutorials, absolutely no effort from Google to help me in using Google Alerts. I wonder why?

I wonder why the ‘Create Alert’ option is only available on Google News and not on other Google pages? Many people still think, incorrectly, that Google Alerts is only for News.

Further, why are all my alerts delivered at the same time? Why is the option to change the time hidden under some obscure settings? Why can’t I create two alerts with the same keyword but different options? For example, I cannot create a daily alert for my company (Contify) with ‘All results’ and a weekly alert with ‘Only the best results’. Why does the subject line of the alert have to be the search keyword itself? Why can’t I give meaningful subject lines, i.e., why can’t I name my alerts?

Google personalizes search results. For example, when I search Google for SEO, I don’t get any Korean celebrity news. Then why doesn’t it personalize Google Alerts in the same way? It seems that Google doesn’t want us to use the alerts.


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