How To: Streamline Your Surfing with Email Alerts

Alex Castle

If you spend a lot of time on the internet (and let’s be frank, if you’re reading maximumpc.com, you do) you’ve probably become intimately familiar with Google search. After all, the web’s a big place, and finding what you need can be pretty damn tough without the help of a search engine.

But you don’t need to be Googling as much as you are. A host of new web-based tools are becoming available which do the searching for you. They can keep track of subjects that interest you, as well as housing and job listings, product pricing and availability, and more. Best of all, you can have updates sent right to your email inbox, as often as you want. In this guide we’ll show you the best tools for keeping track of the changing web, and give you examples of how they can be effectively used.

Google Alerts


Sure, it may not have the pizzazz of Google Docs,  the raw flashiness of Google Earth, or even the tongue-in-cheek asininity of Gmail’s new Mail Goggles feature , but Google Alerts is still one of the most powerful and versatile features the company offers. With Google Alerts, you can tell Google to send you an email any time the top results of a certain search change. In other words, whenever a new page about a subject you’re interested in (say, oil immersion cooling ) hits the top 20 on the Google search results page, you’ll get an email letting you know.


If you don’t need to know the instant a new page hits the top 20, or you’re worried about your inbox being flooded with too much information, you can elect to have Google alerts keep track of changes and send you an aggregate email every day or every week. Also, you can use Google Alerts with different types of searches, like news, blog, video and group searches.
Sounds pretty useful, right? Sure it does. Here are some sample ways that you can use Google Alerts.

Stroke Your Ego

If you’re like us (and we feel very sorry for you if you are) then there’s nothing you like better than to have your name mentioned on the internet. By setting up a Google Blog Alert (or a Google News Alert, for the truly noteworthy) for your name, you can be notified whenever somebody writes something about you.

And it’s not just about vanity; there are plenty of reasons it’s important to know when your name echoes around the internet. If somebody’s slandering you in their blog, you can hop on over and give them a piece of your mind.  And if somebody says something nice about you, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to bask in the sickly glow of internet recognition. Ok, maybe that second one is vanity, but who’s keeping track?


Stroke Somebody Else’s Ego

Maybe you’ve got competitors you need to keep a tab on, or maybe you want to stay current on articles by your favorite columnist, or hell, maybe internet search is the only way you can observe your ex-girlfriend without breaking a court mandate. In any case, there’re plenty of reasons to set up Google Alerts for other people’s names. Just remember, if you’re setting up an alert, include any variations of the name that might occur, separated by the OR operator, as in “Alex Castle” OR “Castle, Alex.”

Power Your Blog

If you run a blog, you know that nothing’s more important than breaking stories before the competition. Set up some Google News alerts about topics germane to your blog and watch your inbox fill up with scoops.

You can also keep track of who’s linking to your site by setting up a Google Alert using Google’s “link:” keyword, as in the following picture:


Yotify

Sometimes you just want to monitor a single website, and not the entire web. When that’s the case, you should consider Yotify , a newly launched content monitoring service.

With a free Yotify account, you can send out “scouts” which function mostly like Google Alerts, except that they monitor searches within specific websites, rather than within the entire web. Because they’re more limited in scope, they can return a more specific set of results—for instance you can set up a scout that will alert you whenever tickets to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in San Francisco become available for less than $100 on eBay Tickets.


You can keep track of your scouts from your Yotify user page, and you can also see a preview of what results the scout will return as you set it up. This allows you to forgo a lot of the trial-and-error alert-crafting necessary to get the most out of Google Alerts.

Yotify’s single-site focus is also a limitation, though, as it prevents you from easily setting up scouts that search more than one site, or scouts for sites which aren’t monitored by Yotify (which is to say most sites). Fortunately, the list of sites that Yotify supports includes some pretty big guns; we’ll highlight two of our favorites below.

Craigslist

Craigslist is one of the most useful sites out there for finding local housing, jobs, and bargains, but it can be a chore to keep up with. Especially in big cities, Craigslist classifieds move fast, and good bargains can get snatched up even faster. Yotify allows you to set up scouts which spare you all the page-refreshes, sending ads which match your criteria straight to your inbox.

For instance, you can set it up so that Yotify emails you whenever a new two-bedroom in the Mission district hits the market, whenever someone posts that they’re looking to hire an accountant in Seattle, or whenever somebody offers a couch for less than 80 bucks in Boston.


Shopping.com

Yotify also monitors shopping.com, a price-comparison site which indexes pretty much all the major online retailers. You can set up scouts to tell you whenever a certain product—a copy of Fallout 3, for instance—falls below a certain price.


RSS FWD

So, suppose you want to receive email alerts about new updates on a certain site, but it’s not on Yotify. What are you to do? Some sites offer email update services of their own, but most don’t. However, most regularly updated sites will have an RSS feed, and with the help of rssfwd.com , you can turn that into Google alerts-style email notifications.

For example, suppose you want to receive an email whenever a new deal goes up on Woot . First, you’ll enter the address of the RSS feed you want to receive alerts about into RSS FWDs homepage. If you don’t know the address of the feed, you can enter a site’s URL and RSS FWD will find the default RSS feed.

Next, you’ll see a preview of what an alert will look like and be prompted to enter an email address and (optionally) create a password. After the first time, you can have the site remember your email address so you can skip this stage and go straight to the next step, where it asks you about whether you’d like to receive daily, weekly or real-time email updates, à la Google Alerts and Yotify. Hit submit, and you’re all done. You can manage your alerts at any time from the RSS FWD site.

So get out there and set up some alerts, already. It can take a little effort to get just the right amount of information flowing into your inbox, but once you get it set up, you’ll be surfing with a whole new level of efficiency.

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