Are Google Alerts dying a slow death?

With Google Reader officially on death row, I'm starting to wonder if another widely used but rarely promoted Google content service might also be on its way to extinction.

Google Alerts

I'm talking about Google Alerts, a simple little product that lets you set up email alerts to monitor the Web for specific terms. You can create a Google Alert for your name or company name, for instance, and then get emails alerting you to every new mention of the term across the Internet each day.

Google Alerts are incredibly useful for anyone who needs to track discussion and coverage of an individual, company, product, or topic. But lately, they've been noticeably unreliable.

I use Google Alerts to watch for new mentions of my name, among other things. That lets me get a daily digest of blogs and news stories that reference me in some way (often, admittedly, with expletives attached).

For the last few months, I've noticed that my Google Alerts have been lacking in content. While I used to receive daily emails chock-full of results, I now get irregular deliveries with incomplete data -- usually only one or two results, frequently from stories or social media updates that I wrote myself. In many cases, I know for a fact that other mentions exist; all it takes is a direct Web search to confirm the presence of fresh content that Google Alerts neglected to find.

It turns out I'm not the only one who's noticed. The Financial Brand, a finance-oriented publication, posted "an open letter to Google" this week in which it declared that Google Alerts were "broken" and "now useless":

The volume of Alerts has decreased by at least 80 percent, dropping from 20 to 35 emails per day with four to 12 results each down to four to eight emails per day with one to three results each. And the results are crummier than ever.

The Financial Brand pointed to several other articles and forums discussing the issue, including a February 2013 story by Danny Sullvan at Search Engine Land. Sullivan posted an update today in response, confirming that nothing had changed on his end and that Alerts remained broken and ineffective for him as well.

A service being neglected is never a good sign, particularly in a time when Google is killing off products left and right in an effort to achieve better focus and prevent the company from becoming "spread too thin." Add in the fact that Google Alerts is an older service that falls well outside of the company's current social-centric focus -- a service that seems to fit in with Reader far more than it does with Google+ -- and it's hard not to question if its days are numbered.

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I've reached out to Google for a statement on the status of Google Alerts and will update this page if I learn anything new. In the meantime, if you rely on Alerts for information, now might be a good time to start looking at third-party alternatives.

Dead or alive, a service that doesn't work doesn't do anyone any good.

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