There’s a lot of hype in the social media realm over the dozens of new tools and dashboards that help you keep an eye on what people are saying about your company. Indeed, online reputation monitoring and management is quickly becoming a must-have for your marketing strategy. It is every business owner’s dream to be able to keep tabs on their brand name. Now, they can swoop in and clean up after a dirty situation. Likewise, they can reward or thank people for good mentions.
Social media is growing at an enormous rate, but it still makes up only a relatively small portion of the Internet. There are billions of websites and blogs that also like to talk about things. Many of those sites have a reach comparable to or larger than the social mentions that are happening around your brand. Reputation monitoring goes beyond social media: you should be monitoring the whole Internet.
Before you spend money on expensive tools and dashboards for reputation management, consider this: who has the largest, most up-to-date database of the Internet? That’s easy – Google! Why would you want to rely on anyone else to find people talking about your brand name online? Lucky for us, Google likes developing free tools, and they have one that does a great job for reputation monitoring.

Enter Google Alerts

If you have never heard of Google Alerts, it’s time to check it out. Google Alerts works just like Google search. You type in your query and it finds all of the latest results for that search phrase. As new results are created and then discovered by Google, they send you an E-mail to let you know about it. There are options to receive these E-mails as they arrive: once a day or once a week.
The real beauty of Google Alerts is that you can set the updates to alert you only about new mentions in the news, in blogs, videos, discussions, real-time, or in everything. Yes: that means this free service can help you out even with your social media monitoring. Discussions generally cover forums and Q&A websites, while real-time is largely a Twitter feed of your search phrase.

What If I Have a Generic Brand Name?

This is a problem many businesses will have when monitoring their online reputation. Not everyone has a name as easily identifiable or unique as “Google” or “Yahoo.” A quick search for “Smith Welding” brings up more than 10 different companies just on the first page of Google. This gets even uglier if you are a consultant and don’t use a company name. There are a lot of, say, “Mary Johnsons” in the country. (White Pages says around 17000!)
Since Alerts are powered by Google Search, you can use some advanced search features to help narrow down the results. The first Alert that comes up right now for Mary Johnson is an obituary – probably not what Mary had in mind for monitoring her reputation!

Setting Up the Right Alert

Tip #1: Use quotation marks. Google search generally finds your query on a broad match: meaning, if you search for “Mary Johnson” without the quotes around it, you’ll receive results that mention both Mary and Johnson – even if they are not in that order or listed together. Results where they are mentioned in order are usually given preference, but it will still bring up results that mention, say, both Mary Smith and Bob Johnson. Putting quotes around a phrase forces it to find exact matches: in this case, only those that mention Mary Johnson in order.

Search: “mary johnson”

Tip #2: Use location modifiers. If Mary does business only around the Chicago area, people in Kansas City are probably talking about a different Mary Johnson. Add a location modifier after your brand name to narrow it down to results that mention that area. This might mean you miss a few – if a Chicago blogger doesn’t specifically say “Chicago” somewhere on the page it won’t bring that up. If you’re also targeting the Lake Forest suburb this can get complicated, and you might want to move on to tip #3.

Search: “mary johnson” Chicago

Tip #3: Use industry modifiers. Mary Johnson is a doctor in Chicago. (Although at least one exists, ours is completely fictional, of course.) Our current search mentions another Mary Johnson who we aren’t interested in. Chances are, anyone who talks about Mary is discussing their visit to see her in the hospital. They probably even mention that she’s a doctor. Why not limit it further?

Search: “mary johnson” chicago doctor

Tip #4: Use AND/OR. Google allows us do some pretty powerful searches that most people don’t know about. If you type ‘AND’ between two words it forces the results to have both of those words. If you type ‘OR’, it must contain one or the other. Note that they must be capitalized – or it won’t work. Sometimes people call Mary a ‘doctor’, other times they just refer to her as a ‘Dr.’ We can work with that.

Search: “mary johnson” chicago doctor OR dr

Google search is powerful – much more so than the average user realizes. These advanced search utilities can become very valuable if you are setting up Alerts to monitor your reputation. And if you are familiar with and prefer an RSS feed, Google Alerts gives you the option to receive notifications that way instead of via E-mail. This could even form the beginnings of a completely free social media dashboard.
The important thing is to begin monitoring how your brand reputation is reflected on social networks – and the Internet as a whole.
About the author: Matthias Hager owns and operates the Albany, NY-based online business solution company, 2HelixTech. He has been involved in the Internet for over 10 years and is continually learning new things – and ultimately writing about them. Find him on Twitter @matthiaswh and strike up a conversation. You can find more of his writings at