You Talkin’ ‘Bout Me?: Finding Replacements for Google Alerts

by Caren Gussoff

Caren GussoffI’ve had a Google Alert set up for my name (and some various popular misspellings) for years. Honestly, it hadn’t even dawned on me that I hadn’t seen a notification from any of them in months (save one, which informed me, in 2014, I’d been quoted in a book that came out in 2007!). I mean, I’m no household name. That’s cool. But now, with a new novel due to release in July, a tenth anniversary re-issue of my short story collection out, and a writing guide in the works for later in the summer, I realized it’d behoove me to make sure I was getting pinged so I knew, you know, if and when I was getting reviewed or mentioned or something — because, as you know, Bob, even those of you with books at the Big Dogs have to monitor and track your own mentions. Very few editors, bloggers, or reviewers contact writers directly to let them know they’ve been written about.

So, I went and kicked the tires on my Google Alerts. And I think it’s happened. There’s no official announcement or anything from corporate, but I’ve held a mirror beneath its nostrils and Google Alerts appears to be dead. 

And she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.

Cue a panicked realization that I’ve been so heavily Google-dependent. Then the hand-wringing and whinging.

And then, the testing of alternatives.

There are not many. There are more services that track mentions on social media sites specifically (useful, but provides, IMHO, a limited view, especially if you are searching for reviews).

Of course, you can DIY it by going directly to Google or your favorite search engine and entering in your name as the keywords, limiting the search by date to sort through the most recent postings. This is not difficult or particularly time-consuming, but most of the big search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) use cookies (small, harmless programs) or your accounts with them to track your location, past searches, and the like so they can serve you relevant advertisements. This often sections off the results, pushing sites that are geographically nearby or fit their profiling algorithm higher in your results. Therefore, it’s possible, mentions you’d want to see — if you were made aware of them — may be well hidden from you.

I wanted to find services that acted like Google Alerts did in its healthy heyday: rounding up every mention across the web, without guessing that mention’s possible relevance, and sending to me on a regular basis. 

I also wanted the service to be free.

I found two services which fit these criteria: TalkWalker and Mention.

TalkWalker is really hot to replace Google Alerts. Their support and FAQ pages include a whole section on why they are as great, or greater, that Google Alerts ever was. I signed up for a few alerts (my name, my name with my married name added, a few common misspellings of my name I see often). The sign-up was easy. All the service wanted was to know the keywords to search; whether I wanted it to search everything, everywhere, or just specific areas, countries, and the like, how often I wanted be notified, and how to notify me. Then I waited. And…got nothing. Nada. Zip.

I was, initially, neither disappointed nor surprised, because, as I said, I’m far from famous. Until, that is, I tried Mention.

Mention, although it only allows one single keyword search for free (I went with my name, straight up), immediately found multiple recent appearances of my name — including my first novel, which is definitely not in the public domain, being pirated as a PDF in some UK site. It also located one or two sources in which my name was slightly misspelled, although I’m unsure if the mention search is just that powerful or my name was spelled correctly somewhere else on that same site.

It has, since I launched the search, found at least one new mention, somewhere, daily, since then, and sends me one email per day with a clear summary of its results. TalkWalker has not found a single one of the appearances that mention has.

Mention is the way to go. I’d still toss a few searches at TalkWalker, since you can ask for multiple queries for free, and save mention for the search that will have the most value for you (name, book title, press name, etc.). Or, even, go big and pay the monthly fee for 2 – 10 alerts if you can. If the free accounts are any indication of its value, I’d feel comfortable giving them money.

And with that, I can say, with calmness, Google Alerts is dead, long live Google Alerts. I’m off to try and figure out what this one site (in Finnish, maybe? Icelandic?) is saying about me. 

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Science fiction writer Caren Gussoff lives in the Pacific Northwest with two cats and an artist. Her third novel, a post-pandemic apocalyptic little story, actually has a car chase. Publications, awards and mutterings are available at www.spitkitten.com

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