Google. Just the name conjures up images of the search giant, or its project to scan millions of books, or its Android operating system for phones, or…
And that’s just the problem. Google continues to spread into more and more aspects of online life. It’s grown so that it’s difficult to keep up with all the projects, programs and pioneering work that the behemoth is involved with.
But Google has real value for any author or self-publisher. The most basic way authors use Google, of course, is the way we all use Google: to find things. For authors, the Google search bar has replaced the quiet of the library table, or the desk by the card catalog, or the seats at the microfiche readers as the place they burrow into the past, looking for sources, ideas, records, whatever their book needs.
But Google can equip quite a toolbox for any author or self-publisher, and I thought it would be worthwhile to run through just some of the capabilities available to us that you may not know about, and look at how they can be used for writing, publishing and marketing your books.
The Big World of Google Search
Here’s a list of the current tools Google provides for search:
- Alerts—Get email updates on the topics of your choice
- Blog Search—Find blogs on your favorite topics
- Books—Search the full text of books
- Custom Search—Create a customized search experience for your community
- Desktop—Search and personalize your computer
- Dictionary—Search for definitions of words and phrases
- Directory—Search the web, organized by topic or category
- Earth—Explore the world from your computer
- Finance—Business info, news and interactive charts
- GOOG-411—Find and connect for free with businesses from your phone
- Images—Search for images on the web
- Maps—View maps and directions
- News—Search thousands of news stories
- Patent Search—Search the full text of US Patents
- Product Search—Search for stuff to buy
- Scholar—Search scholarly papers
- Trends—Explore past and present search trends
- Videos—Search for videos on the web
- Web Search—Search billions of web pages
- Web Search Features—Find movies, music, stocks, books and more
This massive list shows just how far-reaching Google’s information gathering and organizing is. No matter what topic you are researching, no matter what era you need to find out about, what precoursors you want to explore in your genre, you will be turning to Google in one way or another.
And did you know Google’s search bar has lots of tricks built into it? There’s enough for a whole article, but just try this one: type any word into any Google search bar along with the word “definition.” Without having to click a link, the top result will give you a dictionary definition of the word.
Every author should certainly make use of Google Alerts, which use the power of the big search engine for your own searches. April L. Hamilton just wrote a terrific article, You Need Google Alerts, on using Alerts for authors, and I recommend it. This very powerful and flexible product allows you to specify search terms and have the Google search bots drop anything they find right into your inbox.
Using Google Alerts, in the last 24 hours I’ve received notifications of links to my website, articles that were reprinted from Article Directories, Tweets that mentioned an article on my blog, and over 25 mentions of the phrase “self-publishing” from around the web. If you play around with this tool I guarantee you’ll find some neat and useful ways to use it.
Still More Google Lists
Here’s a list of some of the products and services Google offers that can prove just as valuable as their search functions:
- Blogger—A free blogging platform used by millions
- Calendar—A way to organize your schedule and share events with friends
- Docs—Create, share and store documents online including word processing, presentations and spreadsheets. Docs also allows you to get a look at documents sent as attachments in email without leaving your browser, an incredible time saver once you start using it
- Groups—Create mailing lists and discussion groups, useful for advance readers, reviewers, and follower mailing lists
- Knol—A remarkable repository of user-generated articles on an incredible array of subjects
- Google Mail—Fast, searchable email that keeps evolving. I have email accounts with numerious providers, but Gmail is unique in at least one way: although I’m receiving 100-200 emails a day, I never receive any spam in my Gmail account. How do they do that?
- Picasa—The photo sharing website
- Reader—The easiest way to organize the feed from blogs and news feeds that you follow. As RSS feeds become more prevalent, tools like Reader will become more important.
- Sites—Create websites and secure group wikis, particularly good for group research projects
- SketchUp—Build 3D models quickly and easily, without having to buy any software
- Translate—The ever evolving utility that allows you to view web pages in other languages
- YouTube—Videos, your own video channel, a repository for book trailers, and so much more.
Personalization that Helps You Focus
We discover the real value of all these tools when we’re challenged to find a fact, a resource, or a new way of organizing our work. No one can make use equally of all these tools and resources. But having the power of Google and its labs at our disposal is certainly one of the greatest innovations that the web has brought to us.
But it’s equally important to stay focused on the challenges we face today. Here’s what’s in my Google toolbox, the tools I use the most from what Google has to offer:
- Gmail. Fast, searchable, and available at any computer anywhere in the world with an internet connection.
- Alerts. The best way to stay informed about subjects that directly affect me.
- Docs. Easily stores documents I may need at any location, and allows me to stash documents there on the fly no matter where I am.
- Images. I find myself using this search daily, either for research or to source images for various projects.
- Trends. This monitor of search volume consistently turns up interesting articles and trends I might otherwise miss.
- Reader. Organizes the 60+ feeds I monitor from bloggers, agents, editors, publishing industry commentators, designers and self-publishing sites.
- Profile. Every author trying to blog or attract a readership on the web should have a Google Profile. This gives you a Google-provided page for photos, links, text and more, that will show up at the bottom of the first page of search results when someone searches for your name. Here’s mine.
Well, that’s what’s in my Google Toolbox. What’s in yours?
Takeaway: It will pay big dividends if you learn the gamut of free and powerful programs provided by Google since we will be making more and more use of these resources every year.