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Google Alerts – A Quick and Easy Way to Help Identify Your Audience

google-alerts-1362748933Google Alerts are emails sent to you when Google finds new results that match your search term. They are a simple way to monitor anything on the web. They automatically notify you when new content from news, web, blogs, video and/or discussion groups match your search term.

They can be used to monitor when your statistical publications or key phases linked to your statistics are being used in Google. They are a really good way to find out more information about how the statistics that you produce are being used.

How to set up Google Alerts

Setting up Google alerts is simple and the whole process takes under 5 minutes. Here’s a brief summary of how to do it and an example of how statisticians in NHS England currently use them.

Step by Step Guide

Visit the Google Alerts home page:

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Follow these guidelines:

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Google alerts in practice: NHS England

A senior analytical lead in NHS England Anthony Harris has recently used Google Alerts to understand more about the use of his main Official Statistic publication, the NHS Friends and Family Test (FFT). This is a relatively new high profile release that receives regular media coverage.

Anthony identified the following benefits for his team of using Google Alerts:

  •  Access to local media coverage they’d never normally see. This enables them to spot common misunderstandings of the statistics and adjust their publication content / monthly media briefings accordingly.
  • Fast media monitoring. The traditional route for media monitoring is slow (external media monitoring alert to press team, who contact a policy team who then speak to an analyst) and this can result in “we need you to check the numbers in the next 5 minutes so we can send a rebuttal”. Google alerts can allow the analysts / statisticians to have an early warning and more time to give a considered response.
  •  It’s encouraging to see the full use of the data on which they’re working. Alerts help provide a way to show the true amount of use of their statistics.

Overall Anthony says…

“For a new statistic, it has been really interesting to see the full breadth of the online media coverage and be able to learn from it”.

Two words of warning:

1)    There are limitations to the Google algorithms as they are essentially a text search. For example, Anthony occasionally gets irrelevant articles flagged e.g. “Christmas is one of those times when friends and family test your patience”. Although these are quite rare, they will obviously vary depending on how many common alternative uses there are for the search phrase.

2)    Acronyms can be problematic. “FFT” is also used by “Fantasy Football Today”, an American football show on the US TV network CBS and this can cause havoc with Anthony’s monitoring! Although this is less of a problem for Google Alerts (where newspapers normally write out the title in full) it does affect Twitter monitoring. To get around the problem NHS England encourage the use of #NHSFFT rather than #FFT, and this has been successful in moving a lot of the online discussion to a hashtag which is about hospitals rather than touchdowns.