Below is a very detailed Google Data Studio guide, with explanation screenshots and graphics. This Google Data Studio guide will kick start your reporting and will make it easier for you to navigate and understand the different components of Google Data Studio. This is a very lengthy content, use the table of contents to navigate to a specific section of the guide.
One of the things that amazes me about data reporting is the ability to turn something that is generally considered ugly and boring into something pretty and exciting and interesting.
After Google introduced Google Data Studio the tool added yet another meaning to pretty when it comes to data. Not only it will automate your reports, so you can spend time exploring and investigating rather than collecting numbers, it can also turn your monthly reports and dashboards into, quite honestly, a stunning design piece.
You can tell by now that I am a sucker for pretty data, data that tells a story, a visual journey into performance, whatever that might mean for you and the industry you are in.
Why Google Data Studio is so great?
It can be used to report on any sort of data for any industry and any need. It has a plethora of functions to be fully customized, offers options for styling and can pull data from almost any data source including Google Analytics, AdWords, Google Sheets and many more. With its ability to pull data from Google Sheets where you can build your very own set of data, Google Data Studio can build some pretty awesome dashboards.
So let’s explore it!
Google Data Studio Guide – The Basics
You need to be logged in to your Google Account to access Google Data Studio. Once logged in you are presented with your report library where you can see your previously created reports, start a new report or use available templates.
To start building a new report select the Blank option to open a blank new report builder, give it a name and select your data source if it is already connected.
If your data source is not currently connected you would need to click on the Create New Data Source button to connect it.
You have a number of options of built in data sources as well as a wide variety of community connectors to build your custom dashboards.
View/ Edit Mode
Once you start building a dashboard from scratch you are going to be in Edit mode, when you complete your report you can view it by switching to View mode at the top right corner.
When you login to the Google Data Studio dashboard you can select one of your already existing reports and by default you will be in View mode. If you want to start making changes to this report you’d have to switch to Edit mode.
Layout And Themes
When you start to build a new report or open an existing report in edit mode without selecting a widget in this report, you have the ability to select layout and theme options on the right hand side.
You can manipulate canvas size and orientation, navigation and header visibility.
In the Theme options you can choose a Simple or Simple Dark theme and select default chart color palettes, backgrounds, border and other effect.
All of these can be changed for each individual widget later as you are preparing your dashboard.
Google Data Studio connects to a large number of data sources to help you build your customized dashboard.
To use data from your Google Analytics Account you would need to select Google Analytics from the connectors’ options. Then you can select the account, property and view for which you will be building your report. Once you have added your data source to your report you will be directed back to start building it. This data connection would make all Google Analytics dimensions and metrics available to use in tables and graphs.
If your data source is not available to connect or the data you are building is heavily customized Google Sheets is a great way to enable building this data into a Data Studio report.
To connect a Google Sheet to Data Studio click on the Create New Data Source button and select the Google Sheet data connector from the connectors menu. You will then see an option to select the Google Sheet from your drive and then select the tab where your data is. Once you click Connect dimensions and metrics will be automatically selected.
If you are using a Google Sheet to import data into Data Studio you’d want Data Studio to recognize your dimensions and metrics correctly. The easiest way for this is to build a table where you use the row A for the name of the dimension and then use column A to enter your dimensions, use rows B and onwards to enter the name of the metrics and the respective column for the value of each metric.
In this video post I have used Google Sheets to report on rankings taken from a campaign in Moz.
Other Types of Data Sources
Your data sources options are not limited to Google Analytics or Google Sheets. Other sources include:
- YouTube Analytics
- Search Console
- My SQL
- Cloud SQL
A wide options of other connectors are also available from the community library
To add or change your data source click on the File menu and select Report Settings. Then you will have the option to create a new data source.
Get started with widgets
Google Data Studio widgets can be found at the top of your report. They allow you to visualize and manipulate your data. Data widgets are in the following order:
- Line chart
- Bar Chart
- Combo Chart
- Pie Chart
- Scatter Chart
- Bullet Chart
- Area Chart
- Pivot Table
- Rectangle Shape
- Circle Shape
- Date Range
- Filter Control
- Data Control
Later I cover in detail what each of these widget does and how to use it in your report.
To create a data visual or table, select your desired widget then drag and drop onto the dashboard. You can move the widget wherever you wish to place it on the dashboard, you can also stretch or narrow it if needed. There is a cool option to move your widget using the arrows on your keyboard when the widget is selected.
Have in mind:
- Only one advanced segment can be applied to each widget. But you can have different segments for your different widgets.
- You can apply different date ranges to each of your widgets. (see below Date Range to learn more about how Google Data Studio treats date ranges)
- You can apply multiple filters to your widgets.
Google Data Studio Menu
The menu in the Data Studio report consists of standard File, Edit and Insert options to open and save files, copy and paste data and insert widgets.
The Page menu allows you to add, duplicate, delete and move around the pages in your report.
The Arrange menu is where you can bring or send back and front certain widgets in your report that overlap.
There is also a cool option to align several widgets horizontally, left, right, center, or vertically top, bottom, middle. This is useful when you want your widget to perfectly align. To use this function, select one widget, then CTRL and click on all other widget you want to align. Then click Arrange menu and select our alignment.
With the Resources menu you can manage certain parts of your report like the data sources, segments used, filters and dimensions color.
With the manage data source function for this menu you can remove, change and add data sources.
The Help menu provides a number of ways to navigate through your Data Studio report and seek help if needed.
Dimensions and Metrics
There are two main components to any data widget you add, dimensions and metrics.
By default when you add a data widget, Google Data Studio will use Source for dimension and Sessions for metric.
You can change these or add more dimensions and metrics in the data options on the right hand side (I cover these options in the next part)
Click on the dimension or the metric to change them. You will see the dimension/metric picker to choose your own. The list will contain all the available dimensions and metrics from your selected data source. You can also create your own custom dimensions and metrics.
To add a dimension or metric click on one of the following:
You will then be able to add a dimension or metric from the list of your data source.
If you would like to change the way the dimension or metric name is displayed in your widget click on this little icon:
You then will be able to enter your own text.
Data Manipulation And Styling
Once you have created your data widget on the right hand side you would be presented with two options: Data and Style.
In the Data section is where you build your widget with your desired data and manipulate it to suit your reporting. You can:
- Change the widget if you have to
- Change the data source if you have to
- Add dimensions and metrics
- Choose how many rows to display (for tables)
- Show a summary row (for tables)
- Sort your data by desired dimension or metrics
- Change date range
- Add filters to your data
- Add advanced segments to your data
(I share examples later in the report)
In the Style section you can style your widgets in a way that suits your report:
- You can add headers for your table
- You can change colors for both tables and charts
- You can arrange left and right axis
- You can apply different colors to your series
- In a combo chart you can change which dimensions are shown as bars and which as lines
- For tables you can add row numbers and show or hide pagination
- You can assign fonts and font sizes
- For tables you can choose to use a heat map for a metric to highlight the highest metric
- You can choose compact number format for large numbers
- You can apply backgrounds, borders, shadows and other effects
(I share examples later in the report)
Date Range Defaults
By default Google Data Studio chooses a date range of the last 28 days. You can change that for any of your data widgets.
Have in mind:
- If you would like to include a date range control to your report and make it interactive so that the client can choose any date range they want you either have to leave the default date range for your widget or assign a date range from the date range control data menu.
- If you change the default date range to any custom date range of your choice within the data menu of the said widget the date range filter will not work and will not change your data. Use the date range function from the data menu of the widget for static dashboards that you would be exporting to pdfs or dashboard that will not include a date range control
(later in this guide I have other examples of date range settings)
Visualize your data
Google Data Studio offers a wide range of tools and functions to not only report on your data but to visualize it in pretty ways so you tell a compelling story.
You can insert a table using the table widget on the widget bar. By default the table will generate source for dimension and sessions for metric. You can customize your table in the way that suits your reporting by adding your own desired dimension and metric. You can also add multiple dimensions and metrics.
Add row numbers by choosing this option
You can also change colors for the entire table either by clicking on the single color option, or by choosing multiple colors. In either if these options you can select your own colors.
If you would like to highlight the metric values in your table by most sessions or highest conversion rate, select the heatmap option. Google Data Studio automatically will highlight the metrics by the highest number and you can assign your colors as well. (From experience I know this function works on numbers and percentage, it doesn’t seem to work on revenue metrics). This is useful in a table where you report on sessions and conversions and the table is sorted by sessions but you would like to highlight the highest conversions.
To sort your table by your desired metric or dimension simply choose from the sorting option and choose whether you want it ascending or descending.
In the date range section you have the option to compare your data with previous periods.
Types of charts
Google Data Studio offers several chart types to visualize your data:
- Time series chart
Time charts will always need a dimension with a date format and are great to visualize trend over time. To visualize traffic trend by channel, for example, select Dimension: Date and Default Channel Grouping. Then select metrics: Sessions. You can then apply a date range of the last 13 months, last 12 months or last 6 months.
- Bar chart
Bar charts are also great to show trends over time, especially if want to visualize the comparison of two metrics side by side. You can select a stacked bar chart if you would like to see those metrics stacked. You can also arrange your bar chart to be vertical or horizontal
- Combo chart (time series + bar)
This chart will include a trending line and bars for your specified metrics and is great if would like to visualize conversions with session over time
- Pie chart
This is a great chart to use when you want to break down a metric by specific dimension. For example sessions by county, sessions by device, users by browser technology, etc.
- Scatter chart and Area chart
I rarely use any of the above two charts but they are great to also visualize trends over time.
Like for tables, you can change and assign your own colors to your charts
Axis (left or right)
If you are working with two metrics that have significant margin, for example overall sessions and unique purchases, you might have to assign one metric for the left axis and the other for the right axis.
Scorecards are great to emphasize on a certain metric, they are great to use on top of your reports to highlight sessions, users, bounce rate, revenue or any other metric that is important for your data
If you are dealing with large numbers, in the thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions, Google Data Studio has the option to make your number compact
This function will add or remove .0 at the end of your numbers
No data or “0”
If a certain metric reports 0, you can choose to display 0 or No data
Metric name and value position
You can hide or show the name of the metric as well as align it left, right or center
Like any widget you can compare your scorecard metrics with previous periods.
Google Data Studio allows you to add pivot tables to your report. These are great when you’d like to compare several dimensions against one metric.
To insert a pivot table select the pivot table widget then click and drag on your dashboard. By default your pivot table will look at source per medium sessions.
In the data menu on the right hand side you can select your own row and column dimensions and metrics.
One example of a useful pivot table is to compare sessions per user type by channel, or how many return and how many new users came via Organic, Paid and other marketing channels. Choose Default Channel Grouping as your row dimension and User Type as your column dimension, then select session for metric.
Another way to add background to your widgets or to the entire dashboard is by adding shapes and images. You may want to apply a single background for a number of widgets, in case of scorecards.
To add shapes select the rectangular or circle widget from the widget line and draw over your dashboard. You can drag it to expand or narrow and you have the same options to style it on the right hand side. If you are using it as a background to scorecards, make sure you use the Arrange menu to send it back.
You can also use images as your background. Select the image widget and then select a file from your computer.
You can use images not only for background but as graphical enhancements of your data.
Titles and Texts
To insert a title to your dashboard or to assign a title to each widget you select the text widget, click and drag within your dashboard to insert a text box and enter your desired text. You have the style options to increase the font size for a main title, change the font, color, make it bold or italic, change the text alignment, and assign a background, border and other effects.
You might have a report that requires more than one page to tell the full story. In the widget bar you have an option to add a page or jump to a different page on your report. This options is located at the very front of the widget bar.
Date range and filters
If you are sharing your dashboard online you can make it interactive and insert date range and filter options. The date range will allow your client or director to select any date range they would like to see data for. To insert a date range control select the date range widget from the menu then click and drag on your dashboard. On the right hand side in the data menu you can apply your own custom date range that will be default for your report. Once you share the dashboard or go to View mode you can select any other date range from the date range control.
Another interactive options is to insert a filter control. Select the filter control widget then click and drag onto your dashboard.
This widget will need a data source, a dimension and metric by which to filter the data.
For example you might want to include sessions by country or sessions by device type filter in your Organic traffic dashboard to allow the client to see data for a specific segment.
Sharing Your Google Data Studio Dashboard
Once your dashboard is ready you can share it online by sending a link to an email address. With this sharing option the client will have access in real time to your dashboard, if it is interactive they will be able to change date range or apply filters.
Download as PDF
You can also download your dashboard as a PDF. To enable this option download the Chrome extension. Once you download the extension a button will appear next to the View/Edit toggle “Export to PDF”
Once you download as PDF you can send it to your client, they will not have access to it in real time and if you make any amends to it, you’d have to send it again.
Download as Excel table
If your report contains tables you can download them as CSV or Google Sheet. This is available in the View mode of Google Data Studio.
In an Edit mode you have some additional options to manipulate your data and your dashboard.
- Embed the report on your website
- View the report in full screen
- Refresh your data
- Make a copy of this report
If you love data visualization and would like to build pretty automated reports, Google Data Studio is a great tool to get you started. Once you navigate around and understand its different components you can create dashboards that really stand out.
I have a few of videos with Google Data Studio Examples of dashboards and graphs.