An Open Letter to Google: Google Alerts Broken, Now Useless To Financial Marketers

Dear Google,

Subscribe TodayFor years, you maintained one of the simplest, most powerful tools on the internet: Google Alerts. Anyone with a Google account could just sign in and create an email alert for any subject that interested them. All you had to do was type in a search term and enter your email address. From then on, whenever Google found new search results for that term, they would email you an alert. It was beautiful. It’s like RSS feeds; if you use them, you know how awesome they can be.

If, for instance, you wanted to monitor mentions of your company, or your competitors, or industry trends like “gamification” or “big data,” you could create Google Alerts and receive a steady stream of new articles, blog posts, websites, press releases, videos, etc. — right in your inbox. Granted, some of the results were junk, but there was plenty of gold as well.

Since The Financial Brand was launched back in 2008, the site has relied heavily on Google Alerts. The site maintains 50 Alerts for everything from “bank marketing” to “credit union Facebook promotion.” Hundreds upon hundreds of articles published on the site have been the direct result of leads that originated through Google Alerts. As much as 35% to 45% of the content shared on The Financial Brand’s website and social channels once stemmed from this service. (Note 1)

google_alerts

Three of the 50 Google Alerts that The Financial Brand once used. Google used to deliver results for these search terms via email, but The Financial Brand hasn’t seen anything for these three (and others) in months. Perform a regular Google search for these terms and you can find all kinds of new/current information.

But things have changed. Big time. Starting sometime last year, The Financial Brand started receiving fewer and fewer Google Alerts. And when the Alerts did arrive, they contained fewer and fewer results. It’s gone from lots of Alerts, to many, to some, to a few… down to a trickle. Users can forget about creating any new Alerts — those pretty much won’t work at all. Indeed the volume of Alerts has decreased by at least 80%, dropping from 20-35 emails per day with 4-12 results each down to 4-8 emails per day with 1-3 results each. And the results are crummier than ever.

Reports about Google Alerts breakdown are all over the place (here, here, here, here, and here for instance). How does Google respond? With trite, dismissive, evasive “customer service” crutches like, “Hi all, thanks for the update. We’re currently investigating this.” Phbbbt…

Google, you know your Alerts system is busted, so why won’t you fix it? Or is it your intent to slowly wean users off Google Alerts by deliberately making them less relevant, less frequent and less useful until one day you can just pull the plug entirely?

Bottom Line: The Financial Brand has frequently encouraged bank and credit union marketing executives around the world to use Google Alerts. This advice is now fully retracted. Google Alerts was once a very important and efficient tool to monitor mentions of your brand on the web. It is now so unreliable that it has been rendered effectively useless. (Note 2)

These are the kind of Google Alerts a bank or credit union might have ran in the past. But there’s no value in Google’s automated search service when the system fails to catch 95% of the relevant material. If you want to monitor your own brand on the web, you now have to remember to manually run a Google search on a regular basis.

Google has lost touch with its core business model: search. Searching the internet is what Google is was known for, it is was what Google (once) did better than everyone else. But Google has become distracted with “Shiny New Syndrome,” wasting tremendous amounts of time and energy (yours and ours) on ideas that fall way outside the search model. And yes, that does mean Google+.

So get back to your roots, focus on search, and please: get Google Alerts back up and running. Because if Google isn’t good for search, what’s it good for at all?

Sincerely,

Jeffry Pilcher, Publisher
The Financial Brand

Note 1: Since this post was published, it’s circulated far beyond the banking industry. Some newcomers to the site are mistakenly interpreting The Financial Brand’s use of Google Alerts as “lazy journalism” — that The Financial Brand simply publishes cut-and-paste press releases found in Google Alerts. Regular readers know that this is simply not the case. Google Alerts are used by The Financial Brand to identify material that can be incorporated into wholly original articles, such as financial institutions that just started using Facebook, checking account and loan promotions, banks and credit unions that are undertaking name changes or rebranding projects, etc.

Note 2: There are some people out who feel The Financial Brand has “unrealistic expectations of a free service that doesn’t include ads.” They have misinterpreted this open letter as a demand “to fix a free service.” That is not true in the slightest. The Financial Brand needs a service that works, and doesn’t care about paying for it. If Google needed to include ads or require payment in order to maintain its Alerts service, that would have been fine. What is not acceptable is Google’s handling and mismanagement of its Alert service — whether it’s free, ad-supported, pay-to-play or otherwise, it makes no difference: the service does not perform as advertised, nor does it perform like it used to. The fundamental issue is integrity (of service, of corporate character). If Google wanted to make changes to the service, phase it out, reduce costs or increase revenues, they should have communicated with their user base. Their coy response towards problems they know exist with Google Alerts’ is shameful.

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