Hello, my name is Vassy and I’m addicted to data. I love measuring results and answering questions with numbers. That’s why the launch of Google Data Studio was a big deal for me. The news that Data Studio is available to all users worldwide got me screaming with excitement like a kid hearing an ice cream truck coming down the street.
Why? Because Data Studio lets me get a more intuitive grasp of data. It’s also a great way of helping my colleagues make sense of all the stats and metrics we track. I build stories with data for a living. And now Data Studio is my canvas, paint, and paintbrush.
What is Data Studio?
Google Data Studio is a data visualization tool that connects with a bunch of different sources. It lets you present data in a clear and understandable manner. There’s literally no limit to how you build reports, what graphs, tables or scorecards you choose and how you customize them.
A lot of my colleagues find Google Analytics hard to use. Reports are not intuitive and there are so many menus to get lost in. All the metrics are there, but it’s like drinking from a firehose.
With Data Studio you can build simple and beautiful reports that just make sense.
Data Studio vs Dashboards
To some of you, this may sound a lot like the Custom Dashboards function that has been a part of Google Analytics for years. But Data Studio is like Dashboards on steroids:
You can build multi-page reports with as many stats as you like and you’re not limited to the 10 widgets of a Dashboard.
Dashboards look like something the 90s forgot online, and Data Studio is sleek and modern. It’s not just a question of aesthetics, it’s a question of usability and making data understandable.
Data Studio connects with many data sources – you’re not limited to Analytics, but can plug in AdWords, Search Console, even Twitter and Facebook ads (those don’t work natively, but read on for more).
Google themselves seem to acknowledge that Data Studio is the successor of Dashboards. They show a message prompting you to use Data Studio whenever they get the chance, both in Dashboards and Custom Reports.
Why I use Data Studio
It may be super slick and handy, but that’s no reason to use Data Studio. I generally use it in three specific situations:
No matter if you’re a social media specialist or an SEO expert, you can use Data Studio to create an automated report. You will make up for the setup time quickly when you use the reports on a regular basis. Especially if you have a bunch of clients who you provide similar services to – just duplicate a report, change the sources and the logo and you’re ready to go.
Internal stakeholder reports
Your CEO needs the big picture stuff and your content manager is specifically interested in how your blog is doing. And both of them are annoyed and confused when they have to pore over the bagillion reports in Analytics.
I use Data Studio to keep our teams in the know. There’s one report that covers retention and one that covers social media traffic, among others. The best way to go about this is to sit together with your teams and ask each member what are the questions they need answers to. Don’t focus on metrics just yet. People can rarely say what stats they need in a report, but they surely know what questions they need answered – that’s bugging them every day.
After you get that sorted out, then you can think about the metrics needed and create a first version of the report. Presenting people with a working draft they can improve on is pure magic. It gives them a tangible thing to improve on.
Personal use – the quick overview report
I can spend a whole day with Analytics and I know my way around, but I sometimes create Data Studio reports for myself. They give me quick access to key stats and I don’t need to go in three or four different places to get the data.
It’s also a nice way to build your “Analytics in 5 minutes a day” routine. You can check it first thing in the morning, but it leads to fewer cases of “let me look into that real quick” followed by an hour of data digging. The fact that there are no links between Data Studio and Analytics builds the discipline to spend time on analysis only when you’ve actually planned for it.
No matter which use case you find most intriguing, you’re obviously moving forward with the times and trying out Data Studio. How to get started?
Getting started with Data Studio
I’m going to go through the basics here, but if you already use Data Studio, feel free to scroll down to my blog’s report example.
How to access to Data Studio?
Data Studio is now completely free to use for everyone with a Google account. They’ve now grouped all measurement and reporting tools under one menu, so you can click straight from Analytics or just visit Data Studio’s landing page.
How to interact with the reports?
Once you log in, I’d suggest you check out the sample reports and data sources in the account. They’re prefixed with [Sample] and will help you get to know Data Studio without hooking up any of your accounts and messing up reports.
The best way to start is (as the name suggests) the report titled “Welcome to Data Studio! (Start here)” It’s an interactive walkthrough that will help you learn key concepts and interactions:
If you’re more of a visual person, jump straight to this video and learn the basics. The design and names of menus have changed a bit since the time it was recorded, but the key concepts are still there:
I think the two sources above will give you enough of the basics on how to set up data sources and basic visualizations, so I won’t cover it here in more depth. If you need more guidance, check this post from Search Engine Journal.
Data sources and more data sources
So, you’re ready to connect your data now. The main benefit of Data Studio is that it lets you add many different sources of information. Out of the box, those are mainly Google properties – AdWords, Attribution, DoubleClick and Search Console, to name a few.
But there’s the almighty option called “Google Sheets”. Essentially, this means you can link any source that can be exported in Google Sheets. Think ad networks, ERP data, SEO results, email marketing stats, whatever. For more complex custom platforms, you’ll have to rely on your developers for data collection scripts. Or you can simply copy and paste data from exports. That’s how I do it with revenue from Baremetrics I funnel into our monthly reports.
But there’s a bunch of sources like Facebook and Twitter ads you can import. Your partner in crime for this task is a tool called Supermetrics. It’s a data connector that lets you export data from a bunch of sources to Google Sheets. All of this is done automatically, which means you don’t need to go on a copy-pasting spree every time you need an up to date report.
Supermetrics has a free 30-day trial, and you can check this example report done with Facebook ads data they extract for you. Test it out for yourself and see how it goes. For me, the $49 monthly fee (65 EUR if you’re based in the EU) is a no-brainer of an investment.
Another cool thing Data Studio can do for you is introduce new metrics that are derived from your current data. For example, if you have the total revenue from new subscriptions to your SaaS product and the total number of trial users, you can easily get the new revenue per trial user. Then compare that against the cost per new trial user (say, Facebook costs divided by initiated trials through that channel). It’s a handy way to get reports with the data that you’ve only had in Excel. And since all reports work in real time, you can keep an eye on those without waiting for the monthly report to come.
Calculated metrics are easy to use. You click on the “Create new metric” button when adding the metrics to a visualization. Click the plus sign to add a metric, write in the name and the calculation formula. This can be super easy or a bit more complicated. Here’s a video that explains everything about creating Calculated Metrics:
Planning your report: alignment, size, and colors
Lastly, let’s look at the design side of things.
I’m making a point of including the visual stuff here. There’s a misconception that design doesn’t have a place in data reporting. Of course, it’s not true. No, sir! Making your report pretty has much more to do with usability than aesthetics. As the data person, it’s your job to guide the eye of the reader through the report and make sure they follow the path you intended.
A report with no proper sizing order and no set color palette ends up being confusing as hell because it’s not guiding the person examining it. There’s so much competing for your attention, so what to focus on first?
What I usually do is use a supplementing tool – good old-fashioned paper. I draw what my report would look like and think about the alignment and order of the information. Here are a couple of questions:
- What do I want the audience to focus on first?
- What’s the high-level data and what are the details?
- Does all content belong together or should I separate it somehow? Remember, Data Studio reports can span over multiple pages and this helps you plan big-picture overview pages and extra pages for deeper analysis.
Once that’s done, I start working in Data Studio, adding sources and visualizations as planned. You can change font size, colors, borders and all from the Style tab of each visualization. As I tend to be a bit OCD, I heavily rely on the Arrange menu. It lets you align and distribute visualizations – super handy for fine tuning your report’s look.
My blog’s Data Studio report
Lastly, I’ll share with you my current blog dashboard, to give you an idea what you can build with Data Studio. I use this report as a high-level overview that I can look at for 5 minutes while drinking my coffee, eating breakfast, and being assaulted by a teenage cat, all at the same time – multitasking like a veritable marketing goddess!
Step 1: Planning
First off, I sat down and thought what questions need answering. I’m doing an in-depth monthly analysis of my content, but now I needed something quick and dirty. The information I wanted could be split into three groups:
- What’s going on? – is the traffic up or down, are people generally engaged with the content, do they convert (in my case – subscribing to the newsletter)
- What’s interesting? – what content drives people to the blog, what are the most visited landing pages, which ones are engaging people more?
- Where do people come from? – what channels work for driving traffic, is this traffic of high quality (i.e. do people engage?)
Step 2: Building
I planned the layout, thought about graphs and separators, and finally came up with the report you see below. Let’s check how each visualization relates to the questions I posed.
What’s going on? The first focus point is the scorecards and timelines for the key metrics. Those required a bit of work and alignment magic. Then came the high-level channel split. It’s mainly a tool that helps me know if something’s out of the ordinary. Other than that, it rarely presents any surprises. If I’ve posted a new piece, social traffic would go up, and if not, the main sources would be referrals and organic.
What’s interesting? The lower part of the first page already goes into some detail. The landing page performance overview goes over sessions, engagement (avg. time and scroll rate) and conversions (newsletter subscriptions). That way I know what was the most interesting info during this specific period.
In the lower right corner you can see historical data from the start of the blog – so I know how interesting the content was relative to previous periods.
Where do people come from? The second page of the report is mainly focused on that question. You’ll see all sources split by day, as well as the physical location of readers. It’s good to know where your audience is and what channels they use.
Below, there’s the detailed source performance overview. Again, it’s important to see not just how much traffic sources brought, but how engaged were those readers and how well they converted. Then we dig deeper into those. I want to know what newsletter subscription forms bring more subscribers (conversions), and then I can also see which posts are read more thoroughly by following full scrolls of the page (engagement).
Step 3: Evolution
Building reports is not a “set it and forget it” kind of a deal. When doing my morning checkup, I’d put a mental note whenever I felt like I needed more information. When the same question arises too often, you change your report to give you the answer. That’s why, after several times when I wondered what’s the difference in behavior for new and returning visitors, I added a filter to access that data.
Other Data Studio reports
You can check the built-in templates in Data Studio, and there are other sites who share their reports.
- The measurement leaders LunaMetrics shared two cool templates for e-commerce sites – here and here.
- Christopher S. Penn recently shared an SEO report – but it is gated by email.
- Right Hook Digital shared this full overview report for demography, geos, and devices.
- Supermetrics have a Facebook Insights template you can use, provided that you have their tool.
Check them out and share any other useful sources in the comments!