Google Alerts, Google Reader, Solar Energy WritersAs a copywriter, one of the challenges of working in the solar industry is that there is so much information out there – and it constantly changes.

New innovations, new regulations, new entrants, and yes, new bankruptcies.

And this is just in the US.  Many of my clients are in Europe and Asia, so the difficulties of staying current are enormous.

No one can keep track of all of these changes.  It’s impossible.  New solar content gets published way faster than any single individual could ever consume.

How to Handle Information Overload in the Solar Industry

There are a few approaches you can use to “try” to stay on top.  You could always learn to speed read.  There are some pretty cool online tools that can teach you how.

Of course you could always specialize and focus on just a tiny sliver of the larger solar industry.  Segment by technology, geography, or size.

My personal preference is to prioritize information.  I make selective and informed decisions about what I read.  It’s not a perfect system by any means, but prioritizing allows me to handle the mountain of data that exists and evolves.

There are a ton of tools you can use, free and paid.  My personal favorites, come courtesy of Google, and they’re both free.  This post deals with Google Alerts.  In the next installment, we’ll explore Google Reader.

Tool #1: Google Alerts for Intelligently Managing Solar Energy Information

I can’t say enough good things about Google Alerts.  The technology has been around for years – at least for as long as I’ve been copywriting professionally (almost 10 years).  I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them.

But what are they exactly?  How do Google Alerts work?

Basically, Google Alerts is a notification system that “alerts” you whenever new content goes online that fits a predetermine search term.

For example, you want to follow an upcoming IPO or new solar technology.  You tell Google Alerts:

Let me know as soon as someone blogs about the Acme Solar Z7H Inverter.”

Or

“Notify me whenever a journalist reports on the upcoming ZenithSolar IPO.”

That’s it.

You can now forget about these searches and move on with your life.  If and when either of these stories emerges online, you’ll receive an instant notification.  You never have to actively follow a story, person, or company again.

Configuring Google Alerts to Work for You

Google Alerts come with a whole range of options that you can customize.  After visiting http://www.google.com/alerts:

Step 1: Type in your search term (e.g. the name of your company, the name of a person, a particular news story, etc.).

By putting quotes around your search term, you can tell Google to only find exact matches of your search term.  For example, “Acme Solar Z7H” or “ZenithSolar IPO.”  Click here for a more detailed list of advanced search options.

Step 2: Use the Result Type pull-down menu to filter your results.  Maybe you only want news stories or perhaps you only want blogs.

Step 3: Tell Google the frequency with which you want to receive results.  Choose from Immediately, Once a Day, or Once a week.

Step 4: Have Google send you all matching results or only the best results.  I don’t know what kind of filtering it uses to distinguish between the two.  You should probably start with “all” and switch to “best” if you get overwhelmed with results.

Step 5: Select your preferred delivery method – email or RSS feed.  I prefer using email delivery because I receive notifications directly to my inbox without having to think about them.  But if your inbox is already cluttered, you can always opt for the RSS option (we’ll explore RSS in greater detail in the next installment: Staying Abreast of the Solar Industry as a Marketer or Copywriter, Pt. 2).

Click “Create Alert” and you’re done.

How I Use Google Alerts in My Solar Copywriting Business

You can use Google Alerts in any number of ways.  Below are some of my favorite uses:

1.  Following a Company or Client – Whenever I sign a new client, I create a Google Alert for the duration of the project.  That way, I stay up-to-date on nearly anything and everything written about the client (online).

If you handle marketing or PR for your solar firm, I highly recommend setting up a Google Alert for your company.  After all, you want to know what other people are saying about your firm – whether it’s good or bad.

2.  Keeping Tabs on My Name – This is more of a personal use than professional, but I maintain a Google Alert of my own name.  I want to know the instant my name appears online for whatever reason.

3.  Monitoring a Story or Trend – Whether it’s Chinese solar tariffs or new incentives on the horizon, there are any number of stories I like to follow.  They come to my inbox right away, saving me the hassle of actively searching for these stories online.

4.  Keeping an Eye on the Competition – There aren’t a ton of professional solar energy copywriters these days.  This is changing however, and I like to know whom I’m up against (or with whom I should collaborate).  Google Alerts make that easy.

You can do the same thing in your solar company.  Set up alerts for your closest competitors.  Or create Google Alerts for your most coveted SEO keywords.

Limitations and Benefits of Google Alerts

I’ll admit, Google Alerts is not a perfect system.  For example, you can’t really monitor offline content – i.e. articles published in hardcopy magazines.  In addition, Google Alerts only return results that have been indexed by Google Search.  Believe it or not, Google doesn’t index everything on the Web.

However, I think these limitations are minor.  The goal is to more intelligently digest the sea of information that exists online, and Google Alerts accomplish this beautifully.

Plus you have the added benefit of:

  • Instant notifications to your inbox or RSS feed
  • You can create up to 1,000 alerts – more than you’ll ever use
  • It’s entirely hands-off (after the initial set-up)
  • It’s 100% free

And the list goes on.

Tune in soon for my next installment on keeping your head above water in the solar industry.  We’ll be discussing another great tool – Google Reader.