Google Data Studio

What Is Google Data Studio?

A beginner's guide to using Google Data Studio for both the technologically advanced and the technologically challenged.

With an increasing number of organizations and companies relying heavily on data - big and small - it becomes a challenge to find new and improved methods of transforming that data into useful information. Big data in particular can pose a challenge to work with, because, well, it’s big. This is where Google Data Studio comes in. 

Google’s data studio is a free business analytics tool that organizes data to make it functional. Google Data Studio is part of the Google Marketing Platform Toolkit which as a whole, supports the marketing of large and small companies alike. Arguably Google Data Studio’s most remarkable quality is it’s visualization capability. By allowing you to format your data into a visual image that is both aesthetically appealing and cleverly organized, data studio helps you present the information most valuable to you in the most effective way. 

Many users see their data transformed into beautiful and personalized dashboards which support their decision-making by making analysis easier, and strategy presentations smoother. As a result, you can achieve goals while avoiding risks. Beyond the visualization feature, Google Data Studio allows you to:

  • Build interactive dashboards
  • Access live data connection and over 220 connectors
  • customize reporting
  • Used advanced formulas such as calculated metrics and calculated fields
  • Compare performance over time
  • Share reports 
  • Use dynamic controls with report and page level filters
  • Gain valuable information about the market, customers, competitors, and your company

If you’re not fully sold on Google Data Studio yet, allow us to reiterate some key points. First and foremost, it’s free and includes features offered only by paid tools. Additionally, it will save you time in reporting. But, none of this is meaningful if you’re not able to navigate the platform. Luckily, you don’t need special knowledge or extensive training to create beautiful and extensive reports. 

Google Data Studio is exceptionally intuitive and easy to use and the learning curve is shorter than other platforms. If you are interested in getting to know some of the features of Google Data Studio better and learn how to use the platform, we will delve into that in this article.

Ecommerce PPC dashboard made with Google Data Studio
This is an example of one type of a report that Google Data Studio can produce. Click here to interact with it or use it as a template. Image courtesy of Rock Content.

Data Analysis

The primary purpose of Google Data Studio is for data analysis. The creation of reports and dashboards helps consolidate data from different sources to allow deeper analysis. You can manage and keep a close eye on  the growth of your competitors, engagement in social media, e-commerce sales, and website data, among other elements.

Data Integration 

The data integration feature allows you collect and consolidate data from a myriad of sources. These are all the data sources you can use. Some of them are:

-   Google Analytics

-   Google Ads

-   Google Search Console

-   Google Sheets

-   Google My Business

Full Range Customization Controls

Google Data Studio allows you to add pages, charts, and tables as needed and customize to your liking. However, there are some limitations with the specific customization of scorecards. Otherwise, you are free to use your customization ability to make the dashboard your company colors, or even your client’s colors.You can select a theme that has already been created or create a custom theme to your liking. 

There is also the option of extracting a theme from an image, if that suits you better.The layout can be customized including things like the page size and alignment and there are different types of data organization you can try out. For example, there is a wide array of charts and visuals, spanning from basic bar graphs and line charts to the more recently introduced Google Maps Visual.You can even use conditional formatting to show your path to goals and targets.

Dynamic Controls

The dynamic control feature lets you slice and dice your data without having to update the report itself. As you sort through the content, you can filter for dimension and date range selectors. If you want to filter some content on a page but not all of it, you can include or exclude specific content from a filter. This is handy if you’re looking at a specific portion of your data, but not all of it. 

Drill Down Hierarchy 

This nifty feature allows you to reveal more levels of detail within a chart.You can either “drill down” into a chart and receive more detailed information or you can “drill up” and go from more specific information to broader high level information. 

For example, if you want to report on sessions by country and sessions by city, instead of putting two charts in your report, you can use drill down with a single chart. You can drill down from country to city. Or, you can drill up from city to country

According to Google “adding drill-down charts to your reports can make them more interactive, reduce the number of separate charts required, and make it easier to find insights at various levels of detail in data.”

Optional Metrics

Optional metrics allows you to decide which metrics you display in charts and tables. 

This enables you to monitor performance metrics for your strategies as well as keep an eye on performance to boost results. You can do this swiftly and in real time as the data updates second by second.

Optional metrics also make your charts and tables more flexible. With optional metrics, you can choose which columns or fields you want to view without needing to edit the original chart configuration each time. However, the one caveat is that you are limited to 10 optional metrics per chart and they are not available for pivot charts, scatter charts, and Google maps.

Custom Bookmarks

If you’re loving these dynamic controls, and want to be able to reopen your report through a link that has all the parameters of your preferred view, you can use the custom bookmark feature  which does just that!

To enable custom bookmarks, select File > Report Settings. Under Custom Bookmark Links, click Enable Viewer Settings in Report Link

Calculated Fields

The calculated fields feature permits you to transform, categorize, and do math with your data. This lets you turn meaningless and confusing loose numbers into business intelligence. 

A calculated field performs a formula on one or more fields in your data source and displays the output for every row in charts that include the field. For example, you could create a calculated field called Total that multiplies a unit price by a quantity sold and displays the product of this multiplication formula on each row.

Case Statements

Case statements return the first matching expression from a list of conditional expressions. In other words, you can set conditions and return a result when the condition is met. It’s most often used to create new categories or groupings of data.

An example of how you might use CASE to create new categories or groupings of data is by grouping selected country values into a Sales Region dimension.

Limitations

To no surprise, as valuable as Google Data Studio is, there are a few features that are missing and which limit its use. 

Formatting

The formatting within the data studio is different from anything else, including Google sheets. So, you may have to learn to reformat your data. Otherwise, you assume your formatting correctly and you wind up running into issues with your data not working as expected.

For Google Data Studio to be able to interpret your data, formatting must happen in the original data source. Google Data Studio will format your dates for you if you are automatically connecting to one of Data Studio’s native connectors. Otherwise, in order to properly work with dates, your data source must have at least one dimension of type data (YYYYMMDD). This step is crucial if you're connecting with raw data like Google Sheets, Excel/CSVs, etc. 

Not Quite A Business Intelligence Tool

The top business intelligence tools currently on the market such as Tableau or Power BI, are out of Google Data Studio’s league in terms of analysis chops. These other tools allow you to slice and dice and analyze your data in a variety of ways, an area in which Google Data Studio – despite dynamic controls – is still limited.

Data Blending Feature Is Underdeveloped

The data blending feature was introduced to Google Data Studio in July 2018, but it still has a way to go. It helps provide integrated dashboards and more detailed reporting, as it allows you to combine data from different sources. Nevertheless, you are restricted to blending a maximum of 5 sources in a chart. Additionally, blending data only supports left outer join operations.

A Step-by-Step Tutorial on How to Use Google Data Studio

As we explore how to use Google Data Studio, you will quickly learn that it’s a tool for the techy and non-techy alike. Here’s how to get started: 

1. Accessing Google Data Studio 

To access Google Data Studio, you must have a Google account. Once you’ve logged in or created an account, you can head over to the Google Data Studio Website.

You should see a screen like this:

Google Data Studio website homepage

To navigate between reports you have recently opened or have been shared with you, use the menu on the left. To navigate between reports, data, and files from explorer use the menu on the top. 

Google Data Studio navigation menu

2. Adding Data Sources

Once you become familiar with the platform, you’ll want to know how to create a report. Before you do so, you’ll have to define the data source you want to work with.

To do this, click Create > Data Source

Adding a data source on Google Data Studio

On the next screen, select the data source that you would like to integrate with Google Data Studio. You can name your data source in the upper left-hand corner. 

Selecting your data source on Google Data Studio

 As an example, we have chosen Google Analytics. Click “Authorize” and Google Data Studio will connect to your Google Account. After, you can select any data or spreadsheets that you want to be collected. 

Connecting your Google account to Google Data Studio

Once you’ve authorized the connection, you will have a data source registered. Moving forward, you can make a report or scan the data in explorer. 

3. Creating A Report in Google Data Studio

Now that you’ve added your data source, you can click “Create Report” or go back to the Google Data Studio homepage. In the menu on the left, you click Create > Report. You can then pick a template from the gallery.

Creating a report in Google Data Studio

You should be met with a page like the one shown below. Here, you can customize your report by adding graphics, shapes, text, and modifying the layout, to name a few. Alternatively, you can use a template which will make your report more complete from the get-go. For some inspiration and guidance, check out a few templates that will make your report look like a masterpiece by clicking here.

personalizing your report on Google Data Studio

You will find several editing options in the reports menu. For instance, you can click “Add a chart” and it will give you several options to choose from. 

Chart options on Google Data Studio

 You can control how the user looking at the report is able to view it with the dynamic control option by clicking “add a control.”

Dynamic control options on Google Data Studio

For your general appearance preferences, you can find Theme and Layout options at the end of the menu. This allows you to format the report to your every wish and desire.

Theme and layout for personalized formatting options on Google Data Studio

Notice that at this point you are still able to edit the name of the report by clicking at the top menu when the name or “Untitled” is. As well, on the top right hand side, you will find a “Share” button which allows you to invite other users, send by email, copy the link, embed the report or download it in a PDF.

Options for sharing your report on Google Data Studio

4. Using Explorer

The purpose of Explorer is to experiment with data, make analyzes, and then go ahead with the final report. It is a rough draft if you will. Nonetheless, it can still generate powerful insights.

To use Explorer, go back to the Google Studio homepage and click Create > Explorer.

Using explorer on Google Data Studio

You will be taken to a blank page that prompts you to provide a data source.

Added data on explorer in Google Data Studio

Once you select your data (one or more), you will find chart options on the menu on the right along with dimensions, data, and styles.

Drag the dimensions and metrics you want to use from the Available Fields Panel to the filter bar at the top.

Available Fields Panel on Google Data Studio

You can then copy the chart to an existing report or create a new report from the explorer area. When you click the “Share” button, you will find all of your options for sharing the chart.

Now that you know how to get started with Google Data Studio, you too can create beautiful, customized reporting to organize and strategize. Have fun playing around with it!


March 24, 2022
by 
Hailey Nalitt
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