Google Alerts is a tool that allows you to set up automatic searches for new web content that interests you. Google scans the web for your entries and sends you an email when something new related to your search is posted on the web. I have set up a Google Alert for the name of my blog and some of my more interesting posts just to monitor if someone uses the content without my approval. But another great use of Google Alerts is to search for content about family names.
A couple of years ago I set up a Google Alert to search for the name: Roelker. Just last week I received a hit on the alert, sending me to a news article from Cortez, Colorado. Amazingly, the article was posted about a German community that the Roelkers helped to form in southwest Colorado. It gave details as to exactly where the family lived and now I have someone to reach out to for more information. I would have probably never come across this great article if it weren't for my Google Alert. In fact, I did a regular Google search for "Roelker" and the same article did not show up. I even helped the search by adding the city "Cortez" and still did not find the article.
Google is a powerful tool for searching for your ancestors and Google Alerts makes the work easy. You can set up as many alerts as you like and manage how many times a day Google alerts you with links relevant for your search. In order to not have your inbox explode with information I suggest narrowing down your alerts to more unique family names or locations.
Do you use Google Alerts? How have they helped (or hindered) your research?