How To Set Up A Simple Online Monitoring System

Whispered secretBefore your organization launches a blog, before you start playing with Facebook, before you even think about Twitter, you should be listening to what people are saying about you.

I did this recently for my last employer in preparation for a high-profile event and received a lot of questions afterwards about how I went about it. My answer: it’s not that hard.

In this post I’ll walk you through three simple steps to setting up a basic system to monitor your online world. Note: There are professional tools available to do all of this and more – Radian6 for example – which you may want to check out if you have the budget for it.

You’ll need six free tools (+1 more for a bonus) to mimic the setup I used:

There are three simple steps to setting-up your system (plus the bonus if you choose):

  1. Define your keywords
  2. Create your searches
  3. Plug the results into your RSS reader
  4. Bonus: Filter your searches through AideRSS

Step 1: Define your keywords

Before you even switch on your computer, think about the different words and phrases you want to track. These could be brands, executives, spokespeople, competitors, stakeholders, products, programs or whatever else you want to monitor.

Some of your terms may initially be a little broad; you may want to narrow them down by adding creating ‘boolean’ queries, for example:

  • Executive name AND company name
  • Competitor name OR competitor product name

Step 2: Create your searches

(Note: this step happens at the same time as step 3 – as you create each of your searches you’ll plug them into your RSS reader.)

I used five different search tools for my system:

  • Google News for mainstream news coverage
  • Google Blogsearch, Technorati and Blogpulse for blog searches
  • Summize for Twitter coverage (Tweetscan would also suffice)

Plug each of your keywords and phrases into each of these search engines.

A couple of pointers:

  • Google lets you use parentheses to structure your search, so you could do:
    (brand name OR product name OR executive name) AND company name
  • Use the advanced searches in Technorati and Blogpulse to give yourself more options

You don’t need to use all three blog search tools – I used all three to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks. If, however, you want to just use one tool, use Google Blogsearch as the ability to use parentheses in your searches can let you create one query for all your searches – much more manageable if you decide to use the bonus step later.

Step 3: Plug the results into your RSS reader

Each of the search engines I’ve mentioned here provides search results in RSS form. As you run the queries for each search term you came up with, click the “RSS” or “Subscribe” links on the results page and subscribe to the results in your RSS reader of choice.

Subscribe link in Technorati

 Subscribe link in Google Blogsearch
Note: Blogpulse can be a little flaky – you may need to try importing feeds from there a few times before it will work.

Bonus – Step 4: Filter your searches through AideRSS

AideRSS is a free online tool that helps you to filter through your RSS feeds and filter out “the noise,” leaving you able to focus on the important posts.

You may not need to use this if you don’t anticipate a lot of coverage. If, however, you expect to find a lot of online conversations about your organization, this may be worth exploring. It does take a little time to set up but it’s very easy to do so. What’s more, AideRSS’ technical support is superb – very responsive and helpful.

To run all of your searches through AideRSS, use your RSS reader to export an OPML file of your feeds

Google Reader - Export your subscriptions

Then go to and create a free account. Go to the ‘Settings’ tab and import your OPML file. Once the site has imported all of your feeds (this may take some time) you can set the level of filtering you want for each of them.

The last step is then to subscribe to the RSS feed that AideRSS creates for you, et voila! You have an RSS feed of your coverage, filtered for you!

(You can then unsubscribe from your original searches if you like, or archive them for future reference)


I used this approach to set up a quick and dirty monitoring service for a high-profile issue and provided an update & analysis every 90 minutes to executives. Still, this isn’t a comprehensive solution and it certainly doesn’t offer the functionality of a professional product. However, for those just starting out or those without the budget for a paid solution, it should suffice.

What do you think about this approach? What would you change here?