Tracking Content with Google Alerts

google-alerts-logoIf you blog long enough, it is inevitable that your content is going to be copied and shared around the Internet, some of it to your benefit, some of it not.

But regardless about how you feel about how others use your content, it is important to track it and follow it the best that you can. Even if you have no plans on stopping any potential infringements, finding out where your content is appearing and what is being used can give you an idea of how your content is received, what is attracting the most attention and what topics you may want to focus on moving forward.

However one of the most common forms of copying comes from the RSS feed. Whether it is syndication through a service such as BlogBurst or unwanted copying from a spam blog, most blogs have their RSS republished on the Web at some point.

It can be difficult to search for content in your RSS feed as it changes constantly and many of the sites that might take your content, namely spam blogs, are likely to appear and disappear in the search engines regularly.

However, there is a very simple and powerful way to track your RSS-based content as it is copied around the Web, enabling to either study its use or, if appropriate, take action to stop it. Even better, all that’s required is a simple plugin for WordPress and a free tool from Google called Google Alerts.

Setting Up a Digital Fingerprint

A digital fingerprint is a string of characters that is unique to you and your blog. If you enter it into Google, no results should appear, typically such fingerprints are gibberish, a mix of letters and numbers and relatively random. An example would be:

mbr450pol23

Note: Do not use the fingerprint above as Google will eventually pick up this post and any copies of it that exist, hampering its usefulness.

Once you have selected such a fingerprint, you next need to insert it into your RSS feed in a way that causes it to appear at the footer (or in the header) of every entry. If you are skillful with WordPress, you can attempt to edit the RSS file directly, or you can use MaxPower’s Digitial Fingerprint Plugin or the Feed Footer Plugin from Joost De Valk.

Both of these plugins are compatible with FeedBurner.

After you’ve added the fingerprint, as well as any other attribution you wish to provide yourself with the Feed Footer Plugin, it should start appearing automatically on every post that you make, but only within the RSS feed.

Once you have confirmed that this is working, it’s time to set up Google Alerts.

Setting Up Google Alerts

google-alerts-boxGoogle Alerts is a free service provided by Google that sends search results directly to your email box or feed reader. With Google Alerts, you set up an alert for a keyword or phrase you wish to follow, in this case your fingerprint, and then are sent a message every time that term appears on the Web.

Many people use Google Alerts to track keywords related to their business, their name, corporate identity or anything else that they might want to be notified of when a page using the phrase is spidered by Google.

In this case, you’re going to use Google Alerts to email you when new instances of your digital fingerprint appear on the Web. To do so, take the following steps.

  1. In the box entitled “Search Term” type or paste in your digital fingerprint, it should not require quotes.
  2. Leave the “Type” dropdown to comprehensive as we want results from as many sources as possible.
  3. Select a “How Often” parameter that fits your needs. Most select once per day but others prefer weekly. “As It Happens” risks inundating you if there are a lot of matches.
  4. Use the “Deliver To” box to either type in your email address (if you are logged into Google it may be already selected) or you can choose the “feed” option, which allows you to subscribe to the results in RSS.

Once you’ve done that, your alert will be created and you can log in later to edit or delete it. If you chose to receive alerts via email, you should start seeing them shortly, unless your site is new and the content is not being scraped. Likewise, if you chose the feed option, alerts should start showing up in your feed reader as soon as the first results are located.

The End Result

If everything went according to plan, you should receive near-instant notifications in your email or RSS reader about when your digital fingerprint, and most likely your articles, appear on other sites. This gives you the freedom to monitor their use and, if needed, take action to stop any abuse.

How you use this tool is up to you, but the knowledge it provides can be invaluable for any number of reasons.

Considering that it is easy to set up and free to use, there is almost no reason not to take advantage of it.

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Disclosure: In full disclosure, it is safe to assume that the site owner is benefiting financially or otherwise from everything you click on, read, or look at while on my website. This is not to say that is the case with all content, as all publications on the site are original and written to provide value and references to our audience.

5 Comments

  1. Jared O'Toole January 8, 2009
  2. chuckiesd January 8, 2009
  3. Charly from Cookie D January 8, 2009
  4. Anthony January 9, 2009
  5. Rajeev Edmonds January 9, 2009