Google Data Studio (GDS) is a visualization tool that we use every day. It is a fairly simple and intuitive tool for creating visualizations from linked data and has a number of advantages. In many cases, the biggest advantage is that the tool is free to use.
Thanks to being included in the Google family, there are many benefits – from easier integration with Analytics or Ads, to the ability to set different levels of report display rights (including public sharing).
What is Data Studio used for and what are its key features?
We approach Google Data Studio as a tool that provides personalized access to the actual data I need to see. There’s nothing easier than opening an updated report every morning, finding out the data that’s essential to me, and not having to click through Google Analytics or dozens of other systems to find what I need to see.
A big benefit is the ability to display multiple views – after all, a marketing manager needs to see different data than the business owner.
In Data Studio, we also link data very often – especially for smaller projects, we can visualize an overview with information from Google Analytics and campaigns from Facebook or Google Ads or classic Google Spreadsheets – all on one page. In addition to linking data, GDS also allows basic operations with metrics and working with strings – average / weighted average, percentages, etc. These operations are often easier to do afterward in the visualization.
Another benefit is the connection with BigQuery, which serves as an accelerating engine. There is a cache of data, which helps in the speed of loading compared to when the data is pulled directly from Analytics. More on that below.
Using a tool always carries certain risks – for example, the tool will stop being developed or even will be discontinued, and you will have to transfer the visualizations elsewhere. Data Studio is safe on this count- there are a lot of updates going on at the moment, there is a strong community around the tool (tutorial articles) and more connectors are being created all the time. And if you miss any of the connectors, you can write your own and get the data into Data Studio as well.
What can be visualized in Data Studio?
It can be said that basic visualization is the most common at the level of all Google services. But more or less everything can be visualized – you just need good input data and usage. There’s no point in visualizing something you can’t continue to work with in business. In addition to Google services, you can also connect Facebook, Sklik or even Marketing Miner via a connector.
In general, we would say that visualizations with a connection to Analytics can be done more in smaller or medium-sized companies. If you have, for example, 500,000 users per month on your website, Data Studio will be slow.
In addition to basic metrics such as the Source/Medium visits or the Ecommerce overview, reports can be prepared within the GDS directly to display it on the phone or “Bounceratecheck”. Bounceratecheck is a feature of ours with a rather internal name – within this report, we display a campaign table, where a weighted average of the immediate abandonment rate is made based on the source of the visit.
“Because we tailor all reports to the client’s needs, it’s very much about negotiation. For example, we solved the visualization of a funnel from events in Data Studio (now GA4 takes care of this, but there is no such option in classic Universal Analytics). The second specific solution was to connect and compare data from the e-shop on the backend (conversions recorded in the administration) and data in Google Analytics. Here we linked transaction IDs and tracked the performance of resources (mainly PPC campaigns) in more detail,” says Jirka Viták, the head of the visualization team.
Report interactivity and templates
The interactive journey in Data Studio becomes rather a difficult path. Data Studio is not built on fancy visualizations, rather it allows variable filtering or conditional filtering. It is possible to use various sliders (e.g. a span according to a selected numeric range) – but this is still more like filtering.
Data Studio is definitely not the most interactive tool, but it is functional and clear.
There are a number of pre-made templates for the tool, both free and paid. For the paid variants, you usually just need to change the data source to your own and everything works as it should. Within the paid templates, the data is often transformed a bit via custom dimensions or various other calculations to make the template not so easy to copy.
We do not use templates in Digital Archetix. We provide clients with solutions tailored to their needs – whether from customized data from many sources or for corporate workflow. Clients also receive reports in their corporate colors.
Our specialty is the preparation of documentation. Within each report, you will find links to the document where you will find full explanations and details of calculations, use of metrics or with additional links to follow-up reports, tables or tasks in internal systems.
Data transformation and using BigQuery
A few words have already been said here about the basic transformations. In Data Studio, you can bend and fit data in various ways and also work with regular expressions. You can also easily create your own field – metrics.
Problematic situations come with large amounts of input data. Data Studio, with its direct connection to Analytics and other services, loads everything in real time and does calculations for customized reports – generating a report can be a matter of tens of seconds, which makes life quite complicated for any continuous work.
This is where BigQuery comes in. Even though Analytics retrieves data from BigQuery, it’s faster to connect GDS directly.
And what if BigQuery is not enough? You must have a lot of data then – that’s a challenge. In this case, it’s better to preprocess the data somewhere else. Reducing the number of tables and charts within a single report will also help a bit.
Shortcomings of Google Data Studio
Finally, we must not forget the shortcomings of the tool. However, there are much fewer of them than the positives, so we plan to continue working with the tool.
- GDS is slow with larger data volumes
- limited manipulation of source data
- no view of the source data form – metrics and dimensions are listed, but the source table is no longer visible (as in PowerBI); for larger databases, there is a problem with nested fields
- limited interactivity of the report and design (for us, it is not such a significant minus)
GDS training courses
There are countless videos or publicly available courses to deepen your knowledge of Google Data Studio. At Archetix, we list training courses or do customized training from time to time – e.g. for companies.
We dare say that there is nothing in Google Data Studio that surprises us. We don’t use everything on a daily basis, but we can set up the almost impossible.