Learning Search

Tips for Angelina Jolie: How to Set Up a Google News Alert on a Famous Person

My Google Alerts were filled this morning with the rumor that actress Angelina Jolie has a Google Alert set for estranged husband Brad Pitt.

My knowledge of popular culture is pretty woeful after the 1970s: I know both these people are actors and that their marriage broke up. And I feel bad for them both because I wouldn’t be a Hollywood actor for all the money in the world. Still, the idea of trying to set up a Google Alert on Brad Pitt is kind of intriguing; for all my ignorance he is popular and well-known. How could you set up a Google Alert for him and not get a lot of junk results?

Whether you’re trying to set up a Google Alert on Brad Pitt, an elected official,  or some other popular figure who gets a lot of news, there are some tricks you can use to get your alerts from Google News to a manageable level.

  1. Limit Your Alert to the Headline. Google’s Web search has an intitle: operator that lets you restrict your search to the title of a Web page. You can do the same thing with the news search. Compare the number of search results for a basic news search on “Brad Pitt”:

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    Over 3 million results. Now try the search again using intitle:”Brad Pitt”:

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This search went from over three million results to less than sixty thousand. Imagine how fewer Google Alerts you’d get doing this same thing. And with a famous person, I very much doubt you’re going to miss a lot of news since everything they do gets covered nine different ways.

2. Limit the Location if It Makes Sense. Google News lets you limit your search by location using (surprise!) the location: operator. This doesn’t always make sense to use, but you’ve got an alert on a famous person who is mostly in one place or who works in an industry that is mostly covered in one state, it can be useful. Let’s try “brad pitt” location:California:

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62,000 results and I didn’t even limit “Brad Pitt” to the headline! What happens when I do?

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Less than 3000 results. You’re getting a nice selection of Brad Pitt news without being overwhelmed by a tsunami.

But let’s try a different example. Say you want to monitor your elected senator in California, but you want news about her from both DC and California. You don’t have to set up two Google News alerts. Instead, use the | operator (it’s called, among other things, a “pipe”) to specify that you want news from either location. For example: “Dianne Feinstein” (location:dc | location:california)

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3. Add Relevant But Obscure Keywords. If I found that limiting my Brad Pitt search to the title of news stories didn’t work, and that a location search was too limiting, I’d try adding relevant vocabulary. This can really, really cut down your search results, as you’re about to see, so do this cautiously.

Brad Pitt is rich and famous, and he’s an actor. So it’s a good bet he has a spokesman. You can try adding that word to your news searches, using a * as a proximity indicator, like this:

“Brad Pitt’s spokesman” | “Spokesman for Brad Pitt” | “Brad Pitt * spokesman”

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Note this gives you a grand total of FIVE results. Do not try this unless you do a lot of testing, but if it works, adding in specialized vocabulary can winnow down your results as a last resort. For a politician, maybe try a bill name / number or an issue with which they’re closely associated. For an entertainer, you might try the work that made them famous – a particular song or television show, for example.

4. Let Google Alerts Do the Filtering. When you set up a Google Alert, Google offers you a few options to lessen the number of results you get. I tend not to use these options because the subjects I’m monitoring for are either obscure or handled with one of the first three tips in this article. But I can see how they’d come in handy when monitoring the news for a famous person who’s going to have a lot of duplicate articles written about them.

The first option you’ll want to check is the Sources option:

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You can pick from some of these sources or use automatic, which covers all of them. Limiting your Alert to News is a good first step but what about news and video? Or, for an elected official, news and finance? Or, for someone outside your country, news and video? Blogs and discussions are also a possibility, but in those cases you’re potentially moving away from credible sources.

Google Alerts also offers a “How Many” option:

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Again, this isn’t something I’d normally use because my more obscure Google Alerts are not going to flood me with duplicates. But for famous people and elected officials, it could be a very efficient filter.

If you’re trying to set up a Google Alert for a famous person, you can find the initial number of results overwhelming and intimidating. Don’t resign yourself to slogging through jillions of results. Instead, experiment with the tips I’ve given you, and I bet you’ll find yourself with a functional, not-too-large pipeline of results.

PS: Divorce is sad and unsettling, even if you’re famous and have truckloads of money. I hope everything ends up okay for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and all their family.

7 replies »

  1. Tara, over a year ago, I set up a systemic alert cluster for a group of people we wanted to follow – there are over 90 names on the list. Google Alert is seriously broken – these are common names here in Quebec and Canada, actors, filmmakers, directors and for many I’ve never gotten any alert, not a single one, even if they are headlines news in the papers, findeable with Google Search/News. Does it work better in the US ? Possibly.

      • Tara, yes, I need to rework these alerts. I set them up real quickly and maybe I did not apply all the proper / possible filters. I would be curious if results vary, from outside the USA. I am thinking, what might have an impact, is that there are way fewer media outlets in Canada… and common names in the theatre world (say) would be printed in about 15 newspapers (French Québec).. and these might be less important to Google indexing tools.

        Yes, we could exchange on this via email. I can’t publicly.

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