Blogging

Are Google Alerts Having Memory Problems?

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Some bloggers use Google Alerts and other similar features to keep up with topics they blog about. But I’ve noticed something strange.

The first time I noticed the problem was a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t think much of it then, but I’ve noticed it again. The problem, it appears, is that Google Alerts, those little automated emails that will tip you off to new articles about topics you are interested in, seems to have suffered a problem.

For some reason, the system appears to have lost track of the calendar.

I received an email from Google on a grammar alert that I set up. The alert looks for specific keywords then sends me a daily or weekly email with a list of articles using those keywords. Sometimes, if it’s a particularly hot topic, the email will include several articles from different sources about the same story. Otherwise, I find a mix of stories that are all about the same keywords.

But the first alert article I received one day earlier this month was titled, “You’ll Never Guess What Oxford’s 2021 Word of the Year Is.” It seemed obvious to me that Oxford wouldn’t wait until August 2022 to name last year’s Word of the Year. In fact, they don’t even wait until the end of the current year to make their decision, which has always seemed a bit questionable to me.

The article, which can be found here at The Daily Beast, was dated Oct. 31, 2021.

The email from the Google Alert was dated Aug. 4, 2022.

Methinks something has gone awry here.

With a weekly check on the various keywords on the various subjects I might write about, the “most recent” article couldn’t possibly be 10 months old.

For the most part, no article in the alerts I have set up ever dates back more than two weeks at the absolute most. So to see a story in August from the previous October tells me that there’s a problem somewhere.

I would guess Google Alerts uses RSS feeds to monitor the keywords you specify. It’s possible that if The Daily Beast updated something and keyed something wrong. That error might fool its own RSS feed into thinking it was a newly-published story. That, in turn, could fool Google.

Software, after all, is only as good as its programming. To put it more succinctly, as they do in computer science classes, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

So here’s an important new step for bloggers who rely on Google Alerts

If you depend on Google Alerts to help you find possible topics for future blog posts, I recommend that you keep doing so. They can definitely harvest articles on your blog’s topic that you might have missed.

But given that over the past several weeks, there have been a mix of current and occasional older pieces, pay careful attention. You want to make sure you check the publish date on the article the alert links to. If there’s no date that you can find in the article, you may want to do a separate Google search on that particular story. That way, you may be able to verify that the story is at least new.

I think it’s just good practice not to rely on just one take of a story anyway, even if you only cite one in your blog for reference.

That one extra step of verification could prevent an embarrassing blunder of publishing old news as if it just happened!

Do you ever rely on Google Alerts for your blog? Have you noticed older stories cropping into the emails?

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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