An introduction to Google Search Console

Written by Sunny Matharu. Updated on 30, May 2022

Formally known as Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console (est. 2015) is a gateway into the world of your website(s) from the perspective of Google. It's free to use and is one of the go-to tools for SEOs, website managers, content creators and more. In this guide, I’m going to show you what’s the purpose of the tool, what it can give you and what you can do with the information, to hopefully help you in your quest to drive more traffic to your website.

This article makes up part of our Google Search Console tutorials and training section, make sure to check the others out.

What is Google Search Console

Powered by Google, Search Console (once enabled) will give you endless amounts of data. It can show you:

  • what keywords/phrases/questions drive clicks to your website
  • where they rank (search position in Google)
  • what click-through rate (CTR) they achieve
  • how your website appears in search
  • any problems Google has with pages and much more

Look at it as a tool that speaks from the horse's mouth; Google. This first-party data isn’t available anywhere else, including Google Analytics. Google was kind many years ago and provided some of the keyword data in Analytics, but now it’s (Not provided) so Search Console is now your centre of truth.

So, let’s break down the tool. There are 6 key areas to which I’d recommend paying close attention to:

  • Performance: See what keywords are driving traffic/clicks to your website, what the click-through rate is and more
  • Index: Analyse what pages are indexed, which are not.
  • Coverage: Inspect potential problems with pages on your website
  • Experience: Understand Page Experience performance; core web vitals & mobile usability
  • Messages from Google
  • Links: Seeing which links are coming to your site from other websites

Naturally, some of the areas in Search Console will be used much more than others, but before I dive into what they do, Search Console must be verified.

How to set up Search Console

Search Console is a web-based platform meaning you don’t need to download or install it on your device, but instead, you will need to add verification to your website which gives the signal to Search Console to start recording information.

You can verify your website at the domain or URL prefix level. At the domain level, Google will combine all versions of your domain it finds in results; subdomains, http, https etc. It’s much more efficient if you can run a domain property as if you all of a sudden found a subdomain being indexed in Google (and it’s not meant to be eg a staging/testing server), you would see it in the domain property and be able to see when it started ranking and also when/if it eventually disappears (after you’ve removed it from search). If you didn’t have Search Console setup at domain level, in this scenario you would have to set up another property at the URL Prefix level and begin gathering data from that date onwards (no historic data is gathered unfortunately).

The choice is obviously yours, but I’d recommend trying to think long term and verify at the domain level.

Search Console select property type

Verification methods:

Here are the ways in which you can verify your website:

  • HTML File
    • This requires access to the server where your website is hosted as you will need to upload a file downloaded from Search Console onto your website root
  • HTML Tag
    • This requires the ability to edit the <head> section of your homepage
  • Google Analytics
    • Google Analytics tracking code must already be on your website
  • Google Tag Manager
    • Similar to the above, but with Google Tag Manager
  • Domain Name Provider
    • Can be the most complicated way to verify as it can require DNS changes to be made. It is the only way to verify a domain property 

There are pros and cons for each method, so my advice is to verify your property with 2 types of verification if you're verifying at the URL-prefix level. That means if one fails, the other one will still work.

Search Console verify ownership

The instructions Search Console gives for verification are very clear and you shouldn’t have any problems. But if you do run into any issues, be sure to read Google’s help section on this topic

Once you’re verified, Search Console will confirm tracking is now working and the data will begin to gather. Let's move on to what you can do with the data.

Finding your way around Search Console

The most pondered question about websites and search engines tend to be around “what keywords does my site rank for?” So with that, the first place I will jump into is the Performance report.

Performance report; understand how your website performs in Google results

When you log into Search Console, in the Overview area, you will be shown a top-level view of Performance. I like this as at a glance, you can spot trends, or any sudden drops in clicks, without yet diving into the detail. 

For the purpose of this guide, I will be showing screenshots from SEOTesting’s Search Console data.

Search Console performance graph

When you click into Performance to dive into the detail, there are several things you now look at:

  • Type of search; Web, Image, Video or News
  • Date: You can go back as long as tracking was enabled, to a maximum of 16 months
  • Query: Filter to find queries (keywords), questions and more that are driving clicks to your website
  • Pages: See how individual pages are ranking and how many impressions they are driving plus more.
  • Country: Specify what country you want to show data for
  • Device: Narrow down by Desktop, Tablet or Mobile

Let's look at some use cases for the Performance section and show you how you can answer specific questions with the data.

Case 1: “What keywords are driving clicks to my homepage from Google search?”

First, set your country. You’d be surprised how even if you have a website, some keywords will rank in other countries. If you don’t filter these out, they will alter your averages for CTR and average position.

Search Console performance filters

In the same area, select “Page” to define the homepage. Here make sure “Exact URL” is selected and type in your homepage:

Search Console page filter

Now, Search Console will show you a list of keywords that are ranking for the homepage

Search Console query data

In the results, you can see that it also shows Clicks, Impressions, Click-Through Rate (CTR) and Position. Let's break down what they all mean:

  • Clicks: The number of clicks during the data period you have selected for a given page or query
  • Impressions: The number of times a page on your website appears to a user (not clicked) in the search results
  • CTR: The number of clicks a page/query has appeared for / the number of times the page has been seen in search results ((clicks / impressions) * 100)
  • Position: The average position for a given query or a page. If a query appears in position 5 and also position 3 the average position would be 4 ((5+3)/2) 

Search Console gives you a lot of data and you have various ways in which you can dive into it. You might want to:

  • Look at the performance of a group of selected pages
  • Compare 2 pages and/or terms against each (especially good for cannibalisation worries)
  • Find keywords/phrases containing a certain word, such as “what”, “can” or a buying term
  • See how your website ranks for non-branded keywords i.e. removing your brand name and seeing the rest of the keywords which come to your website

Later in this guide I will be showing some other use cases. For now, let's move on to the next area of Search Console.

URL Inspection tool; What does this do?

The URL inspection tool gives you an insight into a URL whether it's indexed in Google, or if it has any problems and Google has chosen not to index it. It will also show you any errors for your page if you are using any structured data. It’s a really powerful tool and was a new addition to Search Console following its transformation from “Webmaster tools”.

So how to use it and what the data will tell you?

Search Console inspect any URL

Right at the top of the dashboard, you will see “Inspect any URL:...” and also “URL Inspection” on the left-hand navigation. You can access it through either. Simply write the exact URL you would like to check the status of. Let's take an example of the homepage for, so the address would be “

Google will fetch the information from its index to give an update

Search Console URL inspection results

In this instance, Search Console has given a green tick, meaning the URL is in Google's Index, so it can be found through Google search. This of course is ideally what you want to see. 

The results will give you an opportunity to find a bit more information, not just that the “URL is on Google” 

View Crawled Page

You can find out so much information here, including the ability to see if Google is or isnt rendering your page correctly. It will show you exactly what Google has outputted following its crawl of your page in both a HTML output and also a visual output.

Search Console view crawled page

If you see the rendered output not showing how you anticipated it to, there might be a couple of reasons for it:

  1. Some of the page's elements might be blocked from Googlebot
  2. Problems with javascript timeouts or errors

Search Console makes it a little easier to dissect problems via the “More info” tab. It will show you if resources are blocked or if there are issues with JavaScirpt. 

If you made a page design change recently and are not seeing the change, there is a chance the page has not yet been re-crawled. To fix this use the “Request Indexing” link and your page will be sent to Google for it to be crawled. There is no time limit to this, so be patient and re-check the html and rendered output later.


The coverage section will break down a few elements of a page. It will show you how the page was found (Discovery), Google bot's decision on indexing and some details around it (Crawl) and finally what has been indexed (Indexing)

Search Console coverage report

If you have noticed an issue with a page, perhaps not seen it appear in Google, this is a good place to start to investigate the possible reason(s) why. You might see a few different scenarios here:

  • Page not appearing, or has suddenly dropped out of the search results
  • When a page was last crawled
  • A different page ranking (Google chose a different canonical page) 
  • If the page was found in sitemaps or not

Some of the issues are very simple, but others will require a bit of a deep dive, but at least here, you will know first hand if there is an issue or not with a given page.


The last part of the URL inspection tool will show you other information about your page such as if your page is mobile-friendly, what schema has been used and if there are any issues. It might not show up for all pages, but if it does, pay attention to any issues of concern.

Index; What pages Google has found for your website and any problems it might have

The index section is a much broader view of your website showing all of the pages which Google has found, which have been indexed and ready for search results and which have been not. It’s a really insightful section to help explain why Google has made certain decisions regarding your pages. Here is an example:

Search Console index coverage

For SEOTesting, there is a steady growth of excluded pages (in grey) whilst the valid pages remain stable (in green). It’s important to understand why there might be an increase in the excluded pages. Search Console will show the pages and reasons for exclusion:

Search Console coverage summary

Let’s quickly dive into one of the issues. Some won’t be a surprise; Excluded by noindex tag for example, but others might need some further thought, such as “Duplicate, submitted URL not selected as canonical”. If we click here it will show us which pages fall into this warning

Search Console coverage examples

Looking at the results, there is a pattern; no trailing slashes, so my gut feeling would suggest the declared canonical on these pages are with a trailing slash. We can quickly find this out by now clicking on a URL and selecting “inspect URL” which conveniently puts that URL into the URL inspection tool

Search Console inspection results

First it will show the URL is not in Google (which we already know), but further down, it will explain why:

Search Console URL inspection issue

Now this is where it becomes clear. Working from the top down, Google has shown us it’s found the page from the /blog/feed and furthermore, it confirms the indexing issue is that a canonical has been declared with a trailing slash. So now we can make an action here to remove the problematic URL from the /blog/feed/ so that Google won’t waste any more time crawling this page.

The example above is fairly straightforward but there will be times when a URL won’t be indexed and there won’t be any obvious reasons for it. Hopefully, you won’t get many of these but if you do, we have a blog article coming up that talks through steps you can take in trying to discover issues with unknowns.


The sitemaps area is where you can submit a sitemap and also see the index coverage of it specifically, so a bit like the coverage section above, but this hones in specifically on the URLS within a sitemap.

If you do have a sitemap, I highly recommend you submit it to Search Console as it gives a steer to Google to come and look at the pages you have supplied in it

Search Console add sitemap

Once submitted, Google Search Console will then let you know once it’s been successfully added.


Search Console gives you the ability to temporarily remove pages or directories from search results. This does not mean it’s removed from Google index permanently but instead it becomes temporarily removed from results. In some situations, you might find a staging site indexed, or a page you didn’t want live is showing in results. If you find these, this is the area to remove it temporarily, whilst then in the background, you can then put in the appropriate steps to remove it permanently (through no index tags etc.)

Search Console removal request

Google gives clear instructions on what to do here. The only thing I’d suggest is to treat this with caution, and only use it if absolutely needed.

Experience; An overview of user experience for everyone coming to your website

Core Web Vitals was one of the hottest topics of discussion of 2021; big debates on how much influence it has on tangible ranking movements. My advice here is to look at it from a user's point of view; keep your website fast and loading correctly so users don’t get frustrated. The performance section here will give you the information on where a page might be slow, and what’s causing it to be slow and also if elements are loading incorrectly. 

The dashboard will give you an overview of performance. Pay attention to anything which is not “good”.

Search Console page experience overview

Search Console will show you what pages need improvements and why. In the example screenshot above, it’s showing that the LCP (largest contentful paint) is taking longer than 2.5 seconds to load across 30 URLs. This is where I would recommend passing this information to your developer to investigate. It can be a little tricky improving individual page elements and I’d advise against a simple plugin to try and rectify.

Once you have implemented changes, you can ask Google to come and check the scores of these pages again

Search Console page experience issue

As you can see, validation has already started as fixes have been put in place to correct issues, but be patient as the validation will take 28 days.

There are a few good resources I’d recommend reading about core web vitals as it’s not as straightforward as you’d imagine:

Enhancements; How much-structured data is helping your website and any issues Google might have with it

If you use any structured data, Google Search Console will show you if there are any issues with the way in which it’s been implemented. Let’s quickly discuss.

Structured data is another way in which you can explain elements of your pages to Google. For example, you might want to give company information, how-to steps for a recipe or even FAQs. These can all be shown to Google through your website through specific code, also known as schema which is often written in JSON. When this is in place, you have a chance in appearing for other elements of search e.g. your recipe might be shown in a recipe carousel at the top of Google search, or your page FAQs might appear underneath your organic listing. There are a lot of different opportunities here.

In a similar fashion to how Search Console shows errors in pages being indexed, when you click into the “enhancements” via the left hand navigation, Search Console will also show you if there are any issues with Schema across your website

Search Console enhancements overview

If there are issues, it will be displayed here. Don’t forget, if you do use Schema, you can always validate your code through;

Use cases; Common issues websites face in Google and how to diagnose them

Now that I’ve covered the basics with Search Console, I’m going to discuss some use cases.

Find questions that people might be asking in Google to get to your website

If you are looking for content ideas or looking to see if people have questions about your product or services, you can look in Search Console to find the questions that they are typing to reach your website. 

Go to the performance section and set your date and country appropriately (at least 3 months of data). Click on “+ New” and select “Query”. When the dialogue box opens up, you will need to make sure Custom (regex) is selected along with “Matches regex”:

Search Console regex filters

You are basically telling Search Console that you are going to use Regex language to find something and you’d like Search Console to show the results matching the query.

Now, think about how questions start. What, why, when, can, is it etc. These just need to be added, telling Google to search for either or of the variables. So the regex would look like:

What|why|when|can|is it

From another website (which I’ve had to sensor information), using that search query has shown results for 1,000 keywords, with combined clicks of over 52,000 and 616,000 impressions in just 3 months:

Search Console regex query examples

For more examples of regex searches to use in Google Search Console, check out our guide to using Regex in Search Console.

If you see different pages appearing for the same search term (keyword cannibalisation)

You might hear the term “cannibalisation” flying around a lot amongst SEO’s and generally, it mostly means that 2 (or more) pages are competing for the same term(s), often due to similar content appearing on both pages. So how do you find cannibalisation issues? It isn’t quick, unfortunately, and it does take time in Search Console, as there is no “cannibalisation” section How do you know if you have cannibalisation issues for your website? Here are some typical circumstances which might provoke investigation:

  • Your site ranks really well generally, but some pages are not ranking great, despite them being published a long time ago 
  • You’ve googled your own keywords and see 2 pages appealing from your site for the same term
  • You’re using a keyword tracking tool which has reported multiple URLs for the same keyword, or URLs swapping in and out regularly for the same keyword.

If any of them relate to you, you might want to start looking for possible cannibalisation. One of the ways you can start is to type in the keyword into the query filter:

Search Console filters to check cannibalization

Once the results populate, click on the Pages filter to see a list of pages which the keyword ranks for:

Search Console pages tab

If there is cannibalisation, you should see something like this:

Search Console results showing potential cannibalization

There looks to be a slight issue; there is impression share between the top 2 pages and they are both generating some searches. To investigate this a bit more, now add the 2 pages in a “compare” mode within your existing filter, so that you can visually see how the page is swapping in and out in a graph

Click on “+ New” and select “Page” and choose the compare option with the 2 culprit URLs. Make sure “Exact URL” is chosen. 

Search Console compare pages

Now seeing this visually is raising some alarm bells and a definite issue with cannibalisation. You can see a page which ranks very low is sometimes appearing, and over certain long periods (yellow highlight), there is a significant time where both URLs are appearing. This for me, in my opinion, is a typical case of cannibalisation.

The next step here would be to look at the page's content, internal links (anchors used) and anything else which could trigger Google to think that a page is relevant for a term, along with another page on your site.

To be able to check for cannibalisation issues at scale using Search Console data, checkout the Cannibalization report in SEOTesting.

See how you appear in Google search for different countries

If you are a multinational website, Search Console can also let you know your website's performance in each country. 

To get started, go into the performance section of Search Console and select “Countries” from the table filter:

Search Console filter by country

It’s best to start here so you can see which country you’d like to deep-dive and find more information.

You will now see a list of countries:

Search Console country specific data

Now you can select a country from the table and Search Console will update to show all keywords and pages related to the country you have selected. You will notice the top filter will update to show the country which you have selected

Search Console country specific results

How SEOTesting can help you save time

SEOtesting has a range of reports that I find really useful, especially in some of the use cases I’ve mentioned above. It can take minutes to find issues.

In the reports section, SEOTesting has a range of pre-defined configurations which will show you various issues which might need investigating.

SEOTesting report

As you can see, there are reports for “Keyword cannibization” and also “Questions To Answer”. I showed earlier how to manually find the data through Search Console and as you could see, it does take some time. Not with SEOTesting however. 

When you click on the “Keyword Cannibalization” report, SEOTesting will show you which queries are competing across various different pages:

SEOTesting keyword cannibalization report

As you can see, the terms (blanked out) are showing the number of pages with which they are competing across. If you then click into a term, it will show you what pages and the number of impressions across each term. A lot of time saved!

The second example of time being saved is in the report “Questions to Answer”. I showed earlier how through a regex function, you can find questions in Search Console which people are searching for and arriving on your website. Well instead of using regex and compiling queries, SEOTesting has this all covered! By clicking on the report, you will be shown everything.

SEOTesting questions to answer report

From the question, to the number of clicks, impressions, CTR and average position. You can then take the necessary steps to identify if you need to adapt or create a new piece of content.

The opportunities are endless in both Search Console and SEOTesting to improve your SEO efforts, and hopefully this guide will give you enough of a foundation to get your started.