Has someone mentioned you on the web?

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It is not vanity to want to know when your name is mentioned somewhere on a web page. It is also not difficult to find out as it happens and be alerted in your email box.

Google’s search engine has many little tricks under the sparse front page that serves as its metaphorical bonnet. Find out simply when someone uses your name (or refers, perhaps, to someone identically named). If you are John Smith, expect many false alarms.

Google calls its monitoring service Google Alerts and it is very easy to use.

To set up alerts on Google, head to: www.google.com/alerts

It’s a simple process. Google waits for you to enter a search term or phrase. As you enter it, the screen beneath the form begins to gather links to pages that use your term. Enter the search term, add an email to receive the alerts and you are done. You don’t need a Google account, it accepts email addresses other than  Gmail.

Beneath the term you enter, Google suggests alerts that you can add by clicking the plus sign beside each. Where it gets these from is anybody’s guess. It suggested that I might like to be alerted each time a pop singer whose name sounds suspiciously like ‘stupid name syndrome’ to me gets a mention. Beyonce? I’ll pass on that, thanks all the same, Google. Ditto the boy band beneath her.

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Don’t limit alerts to your name. I have one alert for the street address at which I grew up in the event the house comes up for sale so I can look through its display pictures. I have others for the names of ancestors in case someone advertises that they’re researching them, businesses in which I’ve worked – in fact anything that I think might be interesting.

Be slap-happy about what you want to look for. With experience and perhaps after a dozen alerts for something that has been poorly or too loosely written you can edit your search term to refine it to reduce the frequency of the alerts and remove irrelevant hits. You can also limit the mention to websites in specific geographical regions.

Here’s one I set up for a former work colleague who wrote a novel and published it on Amazon. It’s a good read and I want to see if she receives positive reviews or even a mention. Google will flick this to my mail box each time her name is written somewhere on a web page, anywhere in the world.

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The web hosts billions, maybe trillions of pages of information, too much ever to monitor effectively without an automated crawler such as Google. It’s free to use and it is very effective.