Would you like to track press coverage of your latest product launch or PR campaign, or to impress potential investors, or to find out about customer comments or complaints?

Online tools can help streamline press coverage tracking, but the Internet offers more avenues. Thousands of e-zines -- and print publications -- publish information about companies.

The trouble with tracking online publications is their shelf life is extremely short. Articles are often archived after 24 hours.

Here are some methods you can use to track what's written about your company.

Search Strategically
Search sites are plentiful -- and free! But it's time-intensive to check each one. And some sites, such as the online version of The New York Times, charge for retrieving archived stories.

One solution is to use a meta search site, such as DogPile, MetaCrawler or Search.com. Meta search sites run your query against multiple search site indexes automatically, which means you don't have to visit each site individually.

Search sites don't allow you to view only new documents or provide access to archived pages. They re-index sites every six to 14 weeks, which means they miss the majority of daily news media articles. Search sites typically index only pages that are one or two clicks away from Web site home pages, which leaves out a lot of content. Even with meta search sites, manual searching can be tedious and can yield less-than-perfect results.

If you want to perform a targeted search, you can download freeware and shareware programs that let you perform searches from the desktop. Depending on the tool, enhancements include querying multiple sites, eliminating duplicate results and sending you automatic alerts of Web site changes.

ZDNet offers a variety of tools, and Search Engine Watch lists some that are designed to work with top search sites.

All the News That Fits
Free services help you track news. Consider Excite's NewsTracker, Individual.com and MyYahoo!. They monitor hundreds of nonsubscription business, financial, government, trade and industry news, and information sources to deliver stories on subjects you choose.

NewsTracker learns what you like by analyzing the articles you review and adjusting the weights assigned to the words and phrases used in your searches to reflect your interests.

The advantage of using news services: They're targeted; they primarily monitor news sources for articles and press releases. In contrast, search site queries are run against every imaginable kind of online information.

What Survives in the Archives
Electronic information retrieval services, such as Lexis-Nexis, Dialog and Dow Jones Interactive allow you to access information from a variety of publications -- usually print -- using a Web-based interface or CD-ROM. Lags for indexing new material range from one to six weeks, so these services' databases can quickly become outdated and most don't monitor Web publications.

The information in these services' databases is often available on the Internet; potentially, you can find it for free.

These services are best at researching archived information not for finding the latest company coverage.

Pricing varies widely and might include a setup fee plus monthly per-use subscription fees. Dow Jones Interactive starts at $69 (U.S.) per year, plus you pay for each article viewed. It offers a range of reports and services at extra cost. Lexis-Nexis doesn't post prices on its site. The company didn't respond to a telephone request.

Dialog's standard service plan starts at $295 for a setup fee and charges a minimum-use fee of $75 per month and an annual membership fee of $36 to $72. This makes it most appropriate for companies that do a lot of market research in addition to press monitoring.

Where Are the Scissors?
Clipping services, such as Burrelle's Information Services, Bacons.com and Luce Press Clippings employ researchers to monitor news publications for topics supplied by clients. You can choose the coverage you need. For example, Burrelle's offers a traditional press clipping service that monitors national, regional or international print publications. It also offers Web monitoring and separate services for monitoring online forums and Web-based publications.

The price for print clipping services is steep: $295 and higher per month, which might or might not include per-clip fees. Some clipping services, such as WebClipping.com, CyberScan and CyberAlert, monitor information from nonsubscription Web publications, electronic bulletin boards, Usenet newsgroups and online news sources. They use software that searches the Net using keywords you provide.

Be Selective
These services vary according to the sophistication of their software. Some are not robust enough to develop highly targeted search strings so they produce irrelevant clips. Usenet monitoring can be particularly problematic; innocent searches can result in pornographic material or other undesirable content.

Some clipping services promise to credit customers' accounts if they receive irrelevant clips, and they promise to modify their searches to deliver more pertinent clips next time. Others don't.

Prices start at $100 per month and vary according to coverage, search frequency and depth, as well as how often you receive reports and how they are delivered. Some services charge a setup fee.

About.com offers a list of clipping services. InternetPRGuide clipping services lists clipping and monitoring services.

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