Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
This article was last updated Aug. 29, 2022.
Tucked away in a little corner of the internet is a powerful tool, provided by a mighty company, at the best price ever.
The company is Google, the tool is Google Alerts, and the price is $0.
Google Alerts are one of the fundamental tools of reputation management and monitoring. Given that success in a business like real estate sales relies largely on one’s reputation, monitoring the internet for mentions of you and your brand is a necessary and critical task.
As useful as it is for reputation monitoring, agents can also use it for many other things that could help navigate the sometimes rough waters of running a real estate business.
Before we dive into ways to use Google Alerts, let’s take a quick look at how to set them up. Fear not — it’s quite simple. You’ll be up and running in no time.
Setting up Google Alerts
A Google Alert will notify you when keywords you select are used on the internet. For example, if you set up an Alert for your name, Google will notify you any time your name is mentioned on the internet. Well, some of the internet. There are parts of the internet that Google can’t “see,” primarily inside some social media sites such as most Facebook Groups.
But the all-knowing and powerful Google can see quite a bit, and getting a notice when keywords you’re interested in show up can be quite useful.
Setting up alerts is quite simple.
Go to Google Alerts.
1. Enter a topic you want to follow in the box at the top. (Put quote marks around phrases. For example:
- “my town real estate”
- “first name last name”
- “Thompson’s Realty”
2. To change your settings, click “Show options.” You can change:
- How often you get notifications
- The types of sites you’ll see (Suggestion: Select “Automatic”)
- Your language
- Where you want info from
- How many notification results you want to see (Suggestion: Select “All results”)
- What accounts get the alert
3. Click “Create Alert.” That’s it. You’ll get emails whenever Google finds matching search results.
You are allowed to create up to 1,000 alerts per Google account. That should be more than enough to last a lifetime.
Monitoring mentions of your name is a pretty obvious use of Google Alerts. What are some other terms and keywords you should monitor?
Alerts for you and your business
Always set up an Alert for your name. If you use a nickname (like “Jay”) and your legal name is different (like “James”), you should set up an Alert for each version of your name.
If you have a common name (like “Jay/James Thompson”), you may find yourself inundated with meaningless Google Alerts. Believe me; it’s a little discomforting to get an Alert notification that says, “Jay Thompson’s Obituary.” If you happen to share a name with a world-class surfer in Australia, you’ll also get annoyed with alerts like, “Jay Thompson wins again at the Hawaii Surfing Open.”
You can use advanced Google operators in alerts. The most useful for this is the minus sign (-). Putting a minus sign in front of a word will exclude it, and you won’t get notices using that word.
For example, the alert for my nickname, Jay Thompson, looks like this:
“Jay Thompson” -obituary -surfing -surfer
With this, I get notices when my name is mentioned, unless those notices contain the words “obituary,” “surfing” or “surfer.” (You can also use a plus (+) to include specific terms.)
Set up Google Alerts for:
If you’re a broker or a team leader, set up a name alert for each of your agents or team members.
Sadly, scammers abound. Some like to take that listing of yours and post it on the internet as a rental. Set up alerts for your listing addresses. It’s also good practice to set up alerts for common misspellings of the street name, as well as alerts with the address using “ST, “AVE,” “Place,” and “Court” as spammers often change these in attempts to escape detection.
Your brokerage name
Set up an Alert for the name of your brokerage. The specific brokerage name, not just the franchise. You’ll get buried in notifications if you make an Alert for “Keller Williams.” An Alert for “Keller Williams Integrity First” +Phoenix will narrow alerts down to your specific brokerage.
You are always keeping an eye out for what your competition is doing, right? Why not set up alerts for their name and brokerage? You’ll get notified when someone is talking about them and when they are talking about themselves.
If you want to keep tabs on big announcements from competing brokerages but not get buried in notifications with every single mention, set up an alert like “Keller Williams” +press release.
You know that super-star agent across town who’s always doing innovative things? That little marketing firm across the state (or country) that always posts cool tips and techniques? Set up alerts for it, so you don’t miss its next innovation or tip.
If they post its tips on a specific site or blog, set up an Alert using a site-specific operator like: “marketing” +tips +site:CoolMarketingAgency.com
That will limit your alerts to that specific website.
Monitoring discussion sites
One of the best ways to spread the word of your expertise is to answer questions posed by consumers on popular Q&A and discussion websites such as Quora or Reddit. Be careful, though. If you just wade into those websites, you can get sucked into a giant time vortex and not get spit out until hours later.
To avoid that, you could go directly to those sites and use their search function to find topics to engage with. Or you could just set up Google Alerts to notify you when relevant questions are asked.
- “Real estate” +site:Quora.com
- “Buying home” +Phoenix +site: Reddit.com
- “First time homebuyer” +site:quora.com OR site:reddit.com
The sky is the limit
Google Alerts is a powerful, free tool. You can use them any way you’d use a search engine such as Google.
If you wrote a terrific blog post and want to make sure no one steals your content, you can find a unique phrase in that post and set up an Alert for it. You’ll get a notice any time that phrase shows up on the internet.
I’d strongly encourage you to learn to use Google search operators. They allow you to greatly refine Google Alerts and your search experience on Google itself.
If you find yourself inundated with notifications, you can use operators to reduce the returned alerts or reduce the alert’s notification frequency.
Go ahead, dive in. Test out a few alerts. You can always delete, edit and add new ones to fine-tune the information you receive. And don’t forget to act and do something with that information. After all, information is power — but only if you use it.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.