If you use Google Alerts, whether to track content on your site, follow mentions of your name or simply follow topics you are interested in, you may have gotten an email earlier this week informing you of some changes to the service.
In short, Google has gotten rid of the “Web” alerts and replaced them with searches for “Everything”. Previously Web alerts focused on sites that were not in News, Discussions, Video or other Google Alerts searches but still tracked keywords found on the majority of the Web.
The difference certainly is not a profound one, Google admits it only made the change after it realized that very few of Google Alerts users even set up Web searches and the results were already available in ones for Everything. Still, Leena Rao, the author of the TechCrunch article above, hinted that it might be the beginning of the end for Google Alerts as a service.
However, that seems to be a wildly unfounded statement, instead, the move seems to be bringing Google Alerts in line with the rest of the changes Google has made and, for all intents and purposes, seems to be going very strong as a service.
The Bigger Picture
Google has been making a series of very drastic changes to its search engine over the past few months. Most publicly, Google added the side bar to its search results, which is where it introduced the concept of “Everything”. Behind the scenes, it also made changed to the way it indexes pages, introducing Caffeine, a new system of indexing content in chunks.
In addition to dropping the Web filter in Google Alerts, Google has been making other tweaks to the system, including improving the accuracy of the service and allowing users to select the length of the emails they want to receive. These two changes go a long way to making the service more useful, especially for those with very active alerts set up.
Granted, these are the first major changes since the addition of RSS in 2008, but it is still proof that Google Alerts has not been abandoned by Google.
The More Likely Explanation
While it is true that Google Alerts has not gotten a great deal of attention from Google over the years, that’s because it hasn’t been necessary. Google Alerts is a very small portion of the bigger picture for Google and is only updated when necessary, for example, when Google changes wording on its main search product and doesn’t want to create confusion.
Combine that with the fact that the Web search was, almost certainly, heavily underused because of the minimal distinction between it and the “Everything” option, it’s easy to see why Google decided to drop it. It eliminates inconsistency with the existing navigation/marketing and eliminates a largely superfluous option that was unused and could have caused confusion.
In short, it was the right move to make for Google and it doesn’t herald the beginning of the end for Google Alerts, just a change in the options offered to bring them in line with other Google offerings.
What to Do If You Are Affected
If you are one of the ones who had your alerts changed by this move, your best bet is to simply try out the new alert for a while and see if it works. If there is too much noise, you may be able to refine it.
Given, however, that the vast Everything is comprised almost entirely of results that were in the Web filter, there is little reason to assume that there would be a huge uptick in the amount of results. The only way it should be a problem is if you were specifically using the Web filter to leave out results for videos or images.
In the end, this doesn’t seem likely to be the death knell for Google Alerts. Far from it. Though the service certainly isn’t the darling of the Google enterprise, it is still going strong, receiving updates and getting attention.
All in all, it is doing fine and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Though one can never really predict what Google is going to do with the products it has, it doesn’t seem like Alerts is in the crosshairs so to speak. In contrast, the fact it is valuable to update to their current presentation indicates that Google is thinking about it and working on it, if only behind the scenes.