Practical 101s: Google Reader And Persistent Search

As a public relations professional, it is your responsibility to be aware of the coverage your projects are getting. This applies whether you work on the agency side, the corporate side or in government.

One of the easiest ways to keep track of this is through persistent searches.

What is persistent search?

Persistent search allows you to enter a search term once and receive real-time updates whenever there’s a new result for that term, saving you time and ensuring you’re always on the pulse of what’s going on.

You should have persistent searches set for each client for whom you work.

You can set up persistent searches, via Google Alerts, to email you new results, but for today I’m going to focus on using an RSS reader to aggregate your searches in one place.

Your toolkit

This post uses two free tools to accomplish its goal:

For a little more on Google Reader, check out this video from Common Craft:

Four steps to enlightenment

There are four steps to this process:

  1. Set up a free Google account
  2. Search for your terms
  3. Find the RSS feed for your search results and plug it into Google Reader
  4. Organize your results

Step 1: Set up a free Google account

(Note: If you have a different preferred RSS reader then (a) you probably already know everything in this post, and (b) you don’t need the Google account)

If you don’t already have one, it’s easy to sign-up for a Google account:

  1. Go to (or .ca in Canada)
  2. Click ‘Sign in’ at the top-right of the screen
  3. Click ‘Create an account now’ at the bottom-left of the screen
  4. Fill-in the form on the next screen
  5. Check the email address you provided for the form, and click the link provided in the confirmation email to finalize your account
  6. Once your overall Google account is activated, your Google Reader account is created automatically (along with a host of other free services)

Step 2: Search for your terms

You’re now ready to conduct your searches. We’ll use two different (though related) tools to make sure we capture both mainstream media articles and posts from the blogosphere.

  1. Go to Google News
  2. Enter your search term (if it’s more than one word, enter it in quotes). You’ll likely want to search for client names, but you may also want to consider spokesperson names, executives, brands, specific products, slogans and/or competitors
  3. In a different window or tab, go to Google Blog Search and repeat step 2

Step 3: Find the RSS feed and plug it into Google Reader

Now that you have your search results, you need to find the RSS feeds for them and drop them into Google Reader.

If you want more information on RSS feeds, check out my “What is RSS?” post from a while back.

In both Google News and Google Blog Search, you can find the RSS feed for your search results at the bottom of the left-hand column on the results page.

Google Blog Search - RSS feed position

  1. Click the “RSS” link at the bottom of the left-hand column
  2. Choose “Add to Google Reader” from the two options presented

Step 4: Organize your RSS feeds

You’re almost there (and it really hasn’t been that hard so far, right?)! The last step is to organize your feeds so they don’t get really confusing when you have a few.

If you only have one or two searches to set up, you’re probably ok leaving them unorganized in the short term. From a long-term perspective, though, or if you have more than a few, I strongly advise organizing them.

Fortunately, it’s really easy to organize your results. Google Reader does it by organizing your RSS feeds into ‘folders.’ Personally I have one folder set up for each client (rather than grouping all of my client searches together) – so I have a few searches

  1. Select the feed you want to organize, in the left-hand column of Google Reader
  2. Click the grey drop-down ‘Feed settings…’ box near the top-right of the screen
  3. If you’ve already created the folder into which you want to put the feed, select it from the “Change folders…” list
  4. If you haven’t already created the folder, select “New folder…” from the list and enter the new folder name into the box that appears
  5. If this is a new folder name, you’ll see it appear in Google Reader’s left-hand column

There are a couple of other ways you can (but don’t have to) go about this:

  • If the folder already exists, you can drag feeds into it in the left-hand column
  • You can organize multiple feeds at once by clicking ‘Manage subscriptions’ at the bottom of the left-hand column. There, you can select multiple feeds by checking the boxes at the left of each row, and select the folders for them to go in via the drop-down box at the top of the screen. Note: In this view, “folders” are referred to as “tags.”


That’s it! You now have easily-accessible, real-time search results for your clients. You can check them at any time by going to Google Reader, although I personally prefer to leave it open in my browser all day so I can easily check the latest results regularly.

As you get more comfortable with RSS and searches for your clients, especially if you’re doing work in the social media arena, you may want to branch out into other searches. For more information on how to do this, check out my earlier post on “How to set up a simple online monitoring system.”

Was this helpful for you? What other topics would you like to get a practical introduction to?

This is the first in what I expect to become an ongoing series of ‘practical 101’ posts on public relations and social media topics. For other, similar advice, check out the ‘practical 101’ series. If you’d like to suggest a topic for the series, let me know in the comments!