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This post was originally written by Seer Alumni and published on June 12, 2017.It was updated on June 30, 2020 by Aniqa Anwar.
Google Data Studio (GDS) is a great, free data visualization tool (note my use of the phrase data visualization tool, as opposed to business intelligence tool here) that lets you build interactive dashboards, and customized, beautiful reporting.
A majority of Data Studio’s features are easy to use, and it allows for easy sharing and scheduling of reports. We use Data Studio to track key KPI’s for clients, visualize trends and compare performance overtime.
Data Studio is basically a supercharged version of the ol’ Google Analytics dashboard, which is incredibly limited in terms of functionality (12 widgets per dashboard and can only connect to the data in the particular view the dashboard is in).
*Template linked in our blog post on Monitoring Regional Trends during Reopenings.
As you can see, the two are world’s apart.
Why is Google Data Studio so great, you ask? When using Data Studio you have access to the following key features, and we’ll be going more in-depth into each of these later on in the post:
Data Studio already has built-in connections to over 200+ data sources (full list of data sources linked here) eliminating the need to schedule periodic data refreshes for your reports. Having a live data source also means you’re not limited in terms of what date range you can look at. Depending on how far back your data goes, you can use any date range that satisfies your needs.
Data Studio gives you license to add pages, charts and tables as needed (although there are some limitations when it comes to scorecards specifically), and customize to your heart’s content. You can customize your dashboards with your company colors, or your client colors even.
One of the reasons our clients love Data Studio is because of the dynamic control feature, that gives them significant ability to slice and dice their data without having to update the report setup itself. With Data Studio, you can:
See below for examples from our Cross-Channel Regional Template:
Some additional features to call out:
Drill Down Hierarchy: This feature lets you explore additional details within a chart, you can access more detailed information as you “drill down” into a chart e.g. from Country to City, or “drill up” from more detailed information to more high level data.
As Google says, “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 the data.”
Optional Metrics: You can give the user an additional layer of control by selecting Optional Metrics they can access, and allow them to customize what they’re looking at without having to edit the original report.
To access optional metrics once you’ve selected a chart, in the properties panel under Metric, turn on Optional metrics. Then click +Add metric or drag the metric from the Available fields panel and into the chart as an optional metric. Users can now access optional metrics once they hover over the chart. See below for a visual of the feature:
Custom Bookmarks: All these dynamic controls are great, but what if you’re using the report on a regular basis and want to preserve your settings? Well, Data Studio has a custom bookmark feature that lets you do exactly that.
From Google “when you enable custom bookmark links for a report, the viewer’s filter settings are added as parameters to the report’s URL. This gives your viewers an easy way to get back to their preferred view of the data by bookmarking the link.”
To enable custom bookmarks, select File > Report Settings. Under Custom Bookmark Links, click Enable viewer settings in report link.
With advanced formulas, Google Data Studio goes from being a simple visualization tool to giving you the ability to transform your data as needed, and it allows you to paint a powerful picture with your data.
Calculated Fields: Use when your out of the box fields and metrics just aren’t cutting it. Calculated fields allow you to create new or custom metrics or dimensions in Google Data Studio from your existing data. You can perform calculations, create categories, or transform your data with calculated fields.
For more on this, click over to 10 Ways to Use Calculated Fields in Google Data Studio. In addition, I’ll dig into one of the most powerful uses of calculated fields below, in the form of case statements.
Case Statements: Return dimensions and metrics based on conditional expressions. CASE statement let you create new fields that use conditional logic to determine the field values.
CASE is most often used to create new categories or groupings of data. An example for how you’d use case statements might be to categorize your source/mediums into new Channel Groupings in Data Studio (that are retroactive, unlike Google Analytics’ Default Channel Groupings).
Like all tools, Data Studio comes with its own set of limitations.
Formatting in Data Studio is unique to data studio, meaning it doesn’t work the same way as Google Sheets etc. This means people often run into issues with their data working as expected, as they haven’t formatted their data correctly.
Data formatting has to happen in the original data source for GDS to be able to interpret it.
In order to work with dates properly, your data source must have at least one dimension of type Date (YYYYMMDD).
Data Studio’s analysis chops are not on par with the top business intelligence (BI) tools currently in the market (Tableau, Microsoft Power BI to name a few). While it effectively visualizes your data, it doesn’t allow you to slice and dice and analyze your data in nearly as many ways as those tools do.
In July 2018, Data Studio added a feature called Data Blending to it’s arsenal. You can use it to join data from different sources for better dashboards and more in depth reporting. However, you’re limited to blending up to 5 data sources in a chart, and blending data currently only supports left outer join operations.
Functionally, it can take a bit of effort playing around with formatting and the joins itself to get your joins working, but we only expect this feature to improve and get stronger.
Want to learn more about Data Studio? Refer to our some of our other blog posts below:
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