Updated: November 27, 2022.

In this blog post, you will learn how to use Google Search Console for keyword research to start creating content that your target audience is looking for.

How to use Google Search Console for keyword research

Google Search Console, by definition, is not a keyword research tool.

However, if your site has some organic traffic and some meaningful Google Search Console data from the last 3-6 months, you can definitely use GSC for keyword research.

Keyword research done with Google Search Console will be different from the regular KR process. It is also likely to produce keywords that are super relevant to your site.

That is because we are not looking into your competition or trying to find completely new keywords you may target.

Instead, we are focusing on analyzing your current rankings in Google’s search results and capitalizing on what Google already thinks you are an expert at.

Ready? Let’s jump in.

Note this before using Google Search Console for keyword research

As noted above, keyword research with Google Search Console is different from a regular keyword research process and cannot/should not replace one.

However, if used strategically and intelligently, it can help you get more organic search traffic.

Google Search Console is not a dedicated keyword research tool, so keep this in mind.

Here are things you should be aware of before we start:

  • This guide won’t work for a brand-new site that does not even have a Google Search Console account or the GSC account has just been set up.

    In that case, you should follow a standard keyword research process with a variety of tools, such as Semrush, Ahrefs, Answer The Public, Also Asked, etc.

  • The purpose of this guide is to show you how to use Google Search Console for keyword research.

    I won’t be using any other tools except for a Chrome extension (Keywords Everywhere) that allows me to see keyword metrics from Google Keyword Planner directly in GSC.

  • If your site has little or no traffic, you won’t get much value from this guide. Wait until you have at least 50 or more clicks per day.

  • You need to understand all the basics of SEO and the purpose of keyword research. You need to know how to use Google Search Console.

    Terms like search queries or metrics like clicks, impressions, average ranking position, average CTR etc. should be obvious to you.

gsc metrics
  • If you are a beginner, remember that Google Search Console is – first and foremost – an essential technical SEO tool that lets you:

    • monitor your site’s performance in Google’s search results thanks to the SEO performance data like average CTR, average position, or the number of clicks,

    • check the status of Google’s index (the Indexing report),

    • monitor the performance of structured data that can produce rich results (the Enhancements report),

    • monitor external links (the linking sites) and internal links (and, for example, the top linked pages) with the Links report,

    • monitor your page experience and Core Web Vitals (the Experience report),

    • check the index status and rendering of a specific page with the help of the URL Inspection Tool,

    • check whether you are gaining or losing organic traffic,

    • and more.

In this guide, however, I am showing you how to do keyword research using Google Search Console only.

TIP: I recommend you have the Domain Property in your GSC account. This allows you to see the traffic across all the main domain and all the subdomains.

The purpose of keyword research with Google Search Console

Of course, this seems obvious, we want to find new keywords.

However, this process is always part of an SEO strategy either for my own website or the websites of my clients.

You won’t hit a target you cannot see, so let’s define the purpose of this GSC exercise:

  • To identify new keyword opportunities

  • To find your quick win keywords

  • To find your page one ranking keywords

  • To learn what your organic search visitors are looking for on your website

  • To get a better understanding of the Google Search Console Performance report (we will be using this report only)

  • To improve your Google rankings

  • To improve your SEO game big time

Install this Google Chrome extension to have keyword metrics displayed directly in Google Search Console

There are a few ways of getting Keyword Planner data (volume, CPC, competition, keyword trend) displayed directly in Google Search Console.

I don’t do PPC and don’t really use Google Keyword Planner so I use the Keywords Everywhere Chrome extension to do that for me.

Go to the website of Keywords Everywhere to get detailed instructions on how to set it up.

Once you install and set up Keywords Everywhere, your keyword data in Google Search Console will be a bit richer as in the screenshot below.

Keyword volume data in Google Search Console

A note on keyword volume

Keep the following points in mind too:

  • This is not a must as keyword volume data is a bit skewed metric. I don’t recommend making any important SEO strategy decisions solely based on keyword volume data but use it as a reference.

  • Many of the keywords we will be uncovering will be long tail, question, or branded keywords that often tend to have fewer searches.

    This, however, does not make them less useful for us. It is to the contrary, I would say.

A note on keyword research in general

And, finally, before we dive into the ways and strategies I’ve prepared for you, don’t treat keywords just like keywords.

I use the term “keyword” hundreds of times in this guide. However, I want you to keep in mind that:

  • Keywords treated as words or queries without giving any thought to their meaning or context is an obsolete and no longer effective approach.

  • When thinking about keywords, you should always think about their semantics.

  • Google is an entity search engine. Always think about what entities your keywords refer to/talk about.

  • You should never optimize a page just for one keyword. Always think about related searches and related keywords. Your pages will be ranking for many keywords and keyword variations.

  • I strongly recommend you familiarize yourself with Google Natural Language AI.

How to use Google Search Console for keyword research (in 6 simple ways)

Okay, I am done with all the disclaimers, notes, and extra tips.

Below I’m sharing with you 6 different ways of how to use Google Search Console for keyword research.

0: Analyze what’s in Google’s Search results

I am sorry but I need to do yet another short note (I forgot to do it earlier):

When making a choice about your target keywords, always check what sites are ranking on the first page and what the first page looks like.

Check how much real estate top positions actually get.

You remember that the times of ten blue links are long gone, don’t you?

Type “Google in 1998” if you don’t remember the ten blue links.

Ten blue links in Google in 1998

You have probably noticed that today’s SERPs look totally different.

That’s why I want you to always look at them and focus on the actual real estate a given position has.

1: Use Google Search Console to check what people are looking for in relation to your brand

Whether you get some meaningful keywords from this step depends on how well-known and well-established your brand is.

The stronger the brand, the more clues you will be able to get from analyzing branded keywords.

Here is what you can do:

  • Navigate to Performance > Search results.

  • Select the date range to be the last 6 months to see more data.

The Search results performance report in Google Search Console
  • Click on + New and select Query.

The Search results performance report in Google Search Console with a Query filter
  • Under Queries containing, type your brand name and hit APPLY.

The Search results performance report in Google Search Console with a filter for branded keywords

Here are the branded queries for my website.

How to do keyword research for branded keywords in Google Search Console
  • To look for multiple variations of your brand name, use regex, i.e., when in Performance > Search results, go to + New and under FILTER select Custom (regex).

Using regex in Google Search Console to filter branded queries
  • You can use | to look for different variations of your brand name. I typed seosly|olga to look for queries either with my name or the name of my website.

regex gsc

2: Use Google Search Console to find your quick win target keywords

Quick win keywords are keywords for which your pages already rank relatively highly.

In most cases, with just a few optimizations here and there, you will be able to improve your rankings in search results for those quick win keywords.

Position ranges to find quick win keywords

I like to look for quick win keywords within these three ranges:

  1. Keywords ranking on the top of page two (position 11-14). You can potentially try to move your pages to page one of the search results.

  2. Keywords ranking on the bottom of page one (6-19). You can potentially move your page to the top of the Google search engine results (positions 1-5) for these specific keywords.

  3. Keywords that rank in top positions (2-3) of the search results. Your aim here will be to move your site to position one for those specific keywords and potentially win a featured snippet (also previously called the zero position) where you get the most real estate and visibility.

Here is how to filter keywords according to their average position:

  • Go to Performance > Search results and scroll down to the table with queries and pages tab.

How to do keyword research using Google Search Console
  • Click on filter rows and check Position.

Filtering keywords by position in Google Search Console
  • Set different ranges and see what comes up.

Filtering keywords by position in Google Search Console

Once you choose the high-ranking keywords for further optimization, always look at the SERPs.

What is actually there? Who is ranking in top positions? How high on the page are the top positions?

Remember to treat the average position in Google Search Console with a pinch of salt.

Beginner users can be easily misled by this metric. This is just a tip that it MAY be a potentially valuable keyword.

Here is what you can read about the average position in Google Search Console:

Average position is the average position of your site in search results, based on its highest position whenever it appeared in a search. Individual page position is available in the table below the chart. Position determination can be complicated by features such as carousels or Knowledge Panels. 

3: Use Google Search Console to find specific keywords you can target in your existing content

This step will let you identify potential content gaps in your existing articles.

If the specific keywords you identify make sense for you (yes, always use your common SEO sense), you may target them in your existing articles by:

  1. Adding those keywords in strategic SEO places, assuming that you are already covering this specific topic but you have been failing to use that keyword variation in your article.

  2. Extending your articles with entire sections and paragraphs about this topic, assuming that your specific page has not been speaking about that topic from that specific angle.

Here is what you can do:

  • Like in the step above, navigate to Performance > Search results and scroll down to the QUERIES tab and PAGES tab.

  • Filter pages by position greater than 20. Play with different filters like greater than 30 or 35 and review as many keywords as possible.

Google Search Console keyword research

This will potentially show you keywords for which your pages rank but Google does not think that you are the best answer to that query.

Possible reasons your keyword ranking may be lower

  • Your page is quite new and simply did not get a chance to move to the first page of Google. Pages usually need 6 months before they can realize their full SEO potential.

    In this is the case, you should give your article more time.

  • This is a navigational keyword people type to find a specific business or tool which is not yours. People are not looking for you so in most cases it is not worth trying to rank for such a keyword.

    In the case of my site, such a keyword is “Mobile-Friendly Test”. People want Google’s tool, not my article about how to check if a site is mobile-friendly.

  • This is an incredibly competitive keyword/topic and you may not be able to get to the first page of Google. Trying to get there may not be worth your time and effort.

    In this case, I don’t recommend pursuing such keywords but instead becoming very patient and realizing that it will take you a lot of time to get there.

    One such keyword for my site is “SEO auditing services” whose average ranking position is 30.4. In this case, I am definitely not giving up on this one!

    However, this is also the keyword “Semrush review” which is so competitive (Semrush has a nice affiliate program) that it may not be worth my time to keep trying to get to page one.

    My time will be better spent if I keep creating new content.

Keywords on positions greater than 30 in Google Search Console
  • You are not exhausting this topic fully because your article is about a slightly different thing, or you are only touching upon this topic. This is what we are looking for in this step.

    This is your opportunity to update your article and increase its visibility. In the case of my site, I am seeing the following keywords as potential candidates to use to update and extend my existing article:

The Queries report in Google Search Console

I can make sure to add an extra section in my article that more specifically talks about how to search on YouTube or I can slightly repurpose my article to be mostly about how to search on YouTube instead of focusing mainly on YouTube search operators.

This will potentially increase its overall search performance.

Note that I am only sharing ideas here as I write. The final determination requires a detailed analysis of your article, what is ranking in top positions, and what SERPs look like (search appearance).

4: Use Google Search Console to identify new SEO opportunities

In this step, you will be looking for the keywords (or – rather – topics) you have not covered in your content yet.

Your site may be ranking for these keywords because they are related searches or because you are touching upon this topic in one of the paragraphs.

However, none of your articles is specifically about this topic. Therefore, you can use this topic as an idea for your new page.

In many cases, these will be the queries with an average position greater than 30. However, make sure to play with different position filters (as shown in the steps above).

In the case of my site, a potential candidate for a new article is the keyword “technical SEO checklist”.

Keyword research with Google Search Console

I have a very in-depth article on how to do an SEO audit. However, I don’t have a strictly technical SEO checklist.

What to do with a potentially good keyword to target in a new blog post or web page

What would be my plan if I were to select that topic?

  1. Check what is currently ranking for this keyword. Are these super highly competitive sites? Do checklists or rather in-depth full SEO audits rank in top positions?

  2. Decide if the keyword is worth pursuing and if it is a good idea to create a separate article about it. If it is, create an absolutely stellar article that goes above and beyond of what’s already ranking.

  3. Publish the article and use internal links to link it from the article that is currently ranking for this keyword.

  4. Use the anchor text of that exact keyword. In the case of my site, I would link a new article from my existing in-depth SEO guide using the anchor text of “technical SEO checklist”. Of course, I would also add more internal links from other articles.

5: Use Google Search Console to look for question keywords

This step will teach you how to find question keywords your site is ranking for.

By answering these questions in your specific pages or articles, you will be better at meeting the needs of your target audience and making them happy that they have found what they had been looking for in Google’s search results.

How to use regex to find question keywords

To find these search queries, you will have to use regex. Here is what you need to do:

  • Go to Performance > Search results > + NEW > Query > Custom (regex) and type what|when|why|how|where to look for question queries

Using regex in Googl eSearch Console to find question keywords
  • Now I see all the questions people type into Google (QUERIES tab) and my landing pages (tab PAGES).

  • Now analyze what pages actually rank for these keywords and if they actually provide the answer to these questions.

    Be mindful of whether there is a featured snippet and if you have a chance of winning it (you need to get to position one to be displayed in this way).

How to do keyword research with Google Search Console

In that case, my next move should be to optimize and possibly update my existing article on how to find the sitemap of a website.

As you can see, I am displayed highly for “how to find sitemap of a website” and there is a featured snippet to be won. I can actually benefit from this keyword ranking on position one.

Featured snippet in SERPs

How to find the sitemap of a website is the entire topic of this article.

However, you may also be able to find specific questions that you can answer with one or two paragraphs in existing articles that are a bit broader.

For example, my article about how to add and remove users in Google Search Console is ranking for “how to remove a verified owner from Google Search Console”.

google search console question keywords regex examples of keywords

In this case, I may add a separate paragraph talking specifically about how to remove a verified owner from GSC (assuming that I am not doing it already).

I hope you get the idea.

6: Use Google Search Console to look for keywords your web pages rank in Google image search results

Whether you find useful keywords here depends on how visual your site is and how many images you use.

If your site mostly uses stock photos and you don’t provide your own original photos or screenshots, then you probably won’t find anything meaningful in this step.

If you do have original photos or screenshots like I do, you definitely want to check the image search performance of your site.

How to analyze your Google Image keyword rankings

A lot of people are totally neglecting this report. Here is what you need to do:

  • Navigate to Performance > Search results and under Search type, select Image.

Image search filter in Google Search Console
  • I am now seeing the queries my target audience types in the Google Image Search and land on my site.

Queries from Image Search in Google Search Console

Note that positions in the case of images are counted differently as you are not limited to 10 results on the first page.

In the case of my site, these queries do not make a ton of sense and I probably won’t be spending time optimizing for them.

However, if you have an affiliate site and you have photos of the products you review, then Google Image Search may be super valuable for you. A lot of people look for products using Image Search.

Of course, the most basic SEO optimization of images includes using a descriptive ALT text or – if possible – a descriptive file name, adding captions and titles to images, and – most of all – using your own original images.

Bonus: Use Google Search Console to do content pruning

In some cases, the best SEO optimization you can do is to find pages that are not doing any good for you. I am quite brutal in that respect, and I usually like to delete pages that:

  • are obsolete and basically dead (no traffic, few impressions for irrelevant queries)

  • are low quality and are not in line with the entire website (some old guest posts)

  • are not factually correct or factually verified

  • pages that have been there for years but do not have any high keyword rankings or whose search performance is poor at best

Actually, I was able to give one lawyer site a new life after I removed 1500+ blog posts that were many years old, that had never been optimized, and that ranked for nonsense keywords.

I removed all the nonsense and kept only the blog posts and web pages that actually (in my opinion) were worth optimizing and targeting at specific keywords.

I returned 404 or 410 for everything else.

Results after content pruning on a lawyer site

Of course, you need to be extremely careful and strategic if you decided to remove pages. If you don’t know what you are doing, you may kill your website.

Keep in mind this recent post from John Mueller:

What to do with web pages selected for pruning

However, if you are 100% certain that you have identified the pages that should be pruned, I recommend doing one of the following:

  • Delete those pages and return status 404 or 410

  • Create a new page that actually exhausts the topic and publish it either on the same URL or on a new URL with a 301 redirection from the old one (if the old one has some high-quality relevant backlinks)

  • If you are not 100% positive about whether to keep or kill a given blog post or web page, keep it!

Final words of wisdom on using Google Search Console for keyword research

I hope that you really learned a lot from this blog post.

The takeaway for you is that you can and should be using Google Search Console for a variety of SEO tasks.

Of course, Google Search Console is the tool to go when it comes to all the nitty gritty tech SEO stuff like your site’s indexing, XML sitemap, structured data, page experience, etc.

However, if you are using GSC only as a purely technical SEO tool, you are missing out on a lot.

My articles and guides on Google Search Console

You probably know that I write a lot about SEO audits and Google Search Console. These are my two favorite areas of SEO.

That’s why I invite you to check my following guides on Google Search Console:

Of course, I also strongly recommend you check Google’s official documentation on Google Search Console.

Olga Zarr is an SEO consultant with 10+ years of experience. She has been doing SEO for both the biggest brands in the world and small businesses. She has done 200+ SEO audits so far. Olga has completed SEO courses and degrees at universities, such as UC Davis, University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins University. She also completed Moz Academy! And, of course, has Google certifications. She keeps learning SEO and loves it. Olga is also a Google Product Expert specializing in areas, such as Google Search and Google Webmasters.