Google Search Console (GSC) is a free service provided by Google to monitor your own websites.
It is different from other dedicated rank trackers in several ways.
Limitations of GSC as a Rank Tracker.
Firstly, it is using Google’s own dataset so one could argue that it is the most accurate source of data about keyword rankings.
However, the data is sampled, which means that keyword positions that are reported are averaged out over several search queries. So, for example, you could have your keyword appear in position 5 for the first 100 searches and position 7 for the next 100 searches and GSC would report the keyword as being at position 6 even though it has never appeared in that exact position in reality.
GSC can only be used to track your own verified domains, so you are unable to view your competitors rankings, for example. Also, data can only be filtered to country-level – you cannot view rankings at state, county, or region level. And, of course, GSC only gives you information on searches carried out on the Google search engine.
Another limitation is that positions will not be checked for keywords that only receive a few impressions/clicks – this is to ensure the security of personal data because low-volume data could potentially be used to identify a particular user.
In addition, only 1000 rows/keywords are returned ordered by number of clicks, so for larger sites longer-tail keywords will not be included in the dataset. However, this limitation can be extended to 25,000 rows/keywords if you use the GSC API – this sort of implementation can be achieved by developing your own solution or using third-party software, including Google offerings such as Looker Studio and Sheets.
Finally, GSC only stores data for 16 months, after which time it is deleted. Therefore, data has to be exported if you want to track keywords over the longer term.
The GSC Dashboard
The GSC dashboard displays a line chart that shows the number of impressions (in the SERPs), the number of clicks, the average click-through rate, and the average of positions of all keywords on your website.
Below the chart is a table of the top 1000 keywords for the website sorted by number of clicks.
Whilst this data may be useful as a general overview of your website, it does not tell you anything specific. To get more precise information, GSC provides several ways to filter your data.
As you can see in the image above, GSC gives you options to filter the data by date, search type, query, page, country, device, and search appearance.
As well as having preset time periods, the date filter also allows you to view data over a custom time period. By default, the search type is set to web, which is the normal Google search engine, however you can also see how your keywords perform in Google’s image, video, and news search results.
When you filter by query, you can see the data for an exact keyword, all keywords that contain particular text, or all keywords that do not contain particular text. You can also use custom regex expressions.
The image above shows the performance of a single keyword over a two-month period. The orange line indicates how the average position in the SERPs has changed over this time.
Similarly, you can filter page to show all the keywords that a particular page on your website ranks for.
You can also filter by country and device(desktop, tablet or mobile). The search appearance filter allows you to which keywords appear in Google’s SERP features, such as review snippets or translated results.
From the keyword table (below the chart) you can sort keywords by number of impressions, number of clicks, average click-through rate, and average position. In the screenshot below, keywords have been sorted by average position.
Data can also be exported from GSC in CSV, Google Sheets or Excel formats.
GSC also provides a whole host of other features for optimising your website for Google’s search results, including:
- Backlinks (again, this list is sampled and incomplete)
- Crawling (check/submit the crawl status of a webpage)
- Page Experience and Core Web Vitals
- Submit sitemaps
- Security issues and manual actions (penalties that stop your website being shown in Google’s SERPs)
As mentioned previously, GSC also provides access to an API, which allows you to programmatically access the data that Google has stored for your website.
Personally, GSC is what I use to track the ranking on my own websites.
Not only is it free, but I feel the sampled data provides a more accurate picture of a keyword’s performance in the SERPs.
Rankings are in a state of constant flux and depend on several factors, including the searcher’s location and search history, and time of day.
Google also regularly mixes up the SERPs – for example to test a newly published webpage, or a webpage that has recently received a lot of backlinks.
By taking the average position across several searches, it is less likely that an outlier will skew the data, which can happen with other rank trackers that programmatically scrape the SERPs for your current position at one particular moment in time.
When I first started working in SEO, I couldn’t afford to buy a dedicated rank tracker, so I used GSC (or Google Webmaster Tools as it was known back then). I did move on to using paid rank tracking tools and they do have their advantages, but over the last five years, I’ve moved back to GSC and developed my own rank tracking app using the GSC API.
My own particular needs do not require me to be able to filter data to a local level (country-level is fine). I also do not track my rankings in any search engine other than Google because right now Google is still the dominant leader in search – I can understand why some people may consider this short-sighted but that is a debate for another time.
So, I would highly recommend GSC for somebody that is first getting started in SEO. Intermediate users will have some idea of what they need from rank tracking software and will be able to use my comparison table to filter for products that meet their specific needs. More advanced users should consider using an API to create their own bespoke solution, and the GSC API is one way to do this.