Google Alerts has been around for ages, forgotten by many and overlooked by many more. That's a shame, because it's still one of the Web's best ways to keep tabs on any person, place, or thing.
Specifically, Google Alerts sends you an e-mail digest of new Web content related to any Google search. So, for example, if you're following the Sochi Olympics and want all the luge-related news you can get, you could set up an alert for that. Want to know when your favorite band starts touring or releases a new album? Set up an alert for that. Looking for anything and everything from your favorite blogger? Create an alert for his byline.
Alerts are pretty easy to set up, but in case you need a little help understanding the various options, take a look at this step-by-step guide.
Step one: Enter your search query. This would be exactly what you'd type into a Google Search box. And you can use the same search operators, too. So, for example, if you want to get an alert every time CNET writes about a new robot vacuum, you'd use this query:
site:cnet.com "robot vacuum"
As you type, you'll immediately see a preview of the results, which can help you custom-tailor the query to get exactly the kind of info you want.
Step two: Choose the kind of results you want. By default, Google Alerts will give you "Everything," but you can also narrow the search to blogs, books, discussions (within Google Groups), news, and video.
Step three: Decide how often you want to receive this particular alert. Google can send you notifications once per day or once per week, but if you're tracking a particularly important topic, you can choose "As-it-happens." Be warned that this can result in a flood of e-mails. Fortunately, you can easily edit an Alert to reduce the frequency.
Step four: Choose between "all results" and "only the best results," the latter giving you what Google thinks are the best matches to your query (kind of an expanded "I Feel Lucky"). Again, if one setting isn't providing the kind of results you want, you can easily toggle to the other.
Step five: By default, Alerts will arrive via e-mail, but if you use an RSS reader, you can also choose Feed, then copy that feed to your reader.
With all your choices made, click Create Alert. You'll immediately land at your Alert-management page, where you can edit or delete alerts as needed.
By the way, Google recently overhauled the look of e-mail alerts, with bolder headlines and one-click sharing buttons for Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. And if a particular result seems out of place, you can click "flag as irrelevant."