How to use Google Data Studio: A beginner’s guide with examples

How to use Google Data Studio: A beginner’s guide with examples

Image: Google

Google Data Studio helps you transform data into an image. As a free, browser-based tool, all you need to use Google Data Studio is an account, a data source and the desire to create a data visualization.

What can you do with Google Data Studio?

Google Data Studio can handle huge quantities of data and produce compelling charts, but a well-crafted chart requires both accurate data and an appropriate chart type choice. Inaccurate data won’t produce a chart that shows the truth no matter how you display it. Good data put into a poorly chosen chart type can confuse people.

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For most people, a picture conveys meaning in a way that raw data doesn’t. In a business, for example, you might use it to analyze sales, costs or survey data. A website manager might use Google Data Studio to help understand site visitor behavior, purchase patterns or ad performance. A social media manager could use Data Studio to show reach, engagement or conversions.

With reliable data displayed in a meaningful chart, Google Data Studio takes things further and offers interactive controls as well as several distinct share methods. Controls let people change various chart content, so that a viewer might filter out certain fields or narrow the chart to display data in a selected date range. And you may not only collaborate on Data Studio reports, much as you might collaborate in a Google Sheet, but also schedule reports to be regularly emailed to people.

To get started with Google Data Studio, open https://datastudio.google.com in your browser. Then follow the process below to connect a data source, create a chart, refine the display, optionally add interactive control and then share your report.

How to get started with Google Data Studio

Connect to data

First, you need data. In Data Studio, when you select Create | Report, the system prompts you to select a data source (Figure A). You may choose to add data with any of the more than 20 Google-provided Connectors, which include sources such as Google Analytics, Google Sheets, BigQuery, YouTube Analytics, Tables by Area 120, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL or a .csv file you upload.

Figure A

Select a data source to connect. Options include Google Sheets, Google Analytics, .CSV files or hundreds of other sources.

You might also select any of the more than 630 Partner Connectors to add data sources that range from app, advertising, social media and website analytics to accounting, CRM, real estate and time tracking. After you choose a connector, you may need to sign in to the source then select the specific data set you desire.

Whichever data source you choose, make sure that the underlying data is as reliable as possible. For example, when you connect a Google Sheet that contains data, you might review at least a few screens of data fields to understand the range of data in various fields. For numeric data, you might sort a column to review the low and high numbers to identify data that might be out-of-range and may need to be reviewed, adjusted or discarded. Reliable data is required in order to create a truthful chart.

Choose a chart type

Next, select a chart type to use to display the data. The more than 35 types (Figure B) listed include tables, time series, bar, column, line, area, pie, donut, scatter, bubble, pivot tables, scorecard, treemap, gauge and maps. After you select a chart type, you may drag-and-drop data fields from the right side of the screen in the the area below the Chart title, then customize and configure options and sliders as desired.

Figure B

Select from a wide range of chart types.

Consider the data and the message you wish to convey when you select a chart type. Does the chart type selected emphasize your intent without explanation? If a person unfamiliar with your intent views the chart, what do they initially understand your intent to be? Don’t try to make a chart accomplish multiple messages. Instead, try to convey a single concept with a chart — and convey it with the simplest chart possible.

Refine the display

While Data Studio offers a highly usable set of themes and default design choices, in many cases a few refinements might help reinforce both the content and intent of your chart. In addition to labels and chart grid lines, you may add an image, text, lines or shapes to a page, and adjust the chart fonts, text colors, background and borders.

As you adjust items, you might make changes that reinforce understanding of the data. For example, in the chart that displays both maximum and minimum temperatures, I changed the line colors to red and blue respectively (Figure C). These refer to the common cultural association in the U.S. of the color red with hot and the color blue with cold.

Figure C

Adjust various chart style settings to emphasize your point.

Add controls

Data Studio lets you place controls that allow people who access your page to adjust settings. This adds an interactive element that helps people filter and experiment with various settings, which, one might hope will lead to better understanding of the data and chart content.

Available controls include a drop-down list, slider, checkbox and data range (Figure D). Each of these may be placed anywhere on the page, but make sure that your placement of a control doesn’t obscure your chart. Remember, when selections change, various chart elements will change.

Figure D

Add controls to give people the ability to change the chart display in various ways.

Share with people

Just as you may collaborate with people on a Google Doc, you also may add people to collaborate on Data Studio charts with the Share button (Figure E). Select Share | Invite people, then add email addresses and choose whether to give people View or Edit access.

Figure E

Collaborate, download, link to, embed or schedule your report to be sent via email regularly.

If you prefer, you also may manage link sharing when you want to make a Data Studio document available to a broader set of people. The Share menu also offers options to download a report or obtain embed code, which lets you embed Data Studio charts elsewhere on the web, such as on a Google Site.

The Share | Schedule email delivery option, however, may be one of the more interesting and useful ways to share reports. This allows you to schedule regular delivery of a Data Studio chart to people at recurring dates and times. When you have connected a chart to a data source that changes, this option allows you to schedule and send selected report pages to people regularly.

What’s your experience with Data Studio?

If you use Google Data Studio, what chart types do you use most often? What data do your Data Studio reports depict? If you include controls, what types of filters or adjustments do people who interact with your charts find most helpful? Have you tried using Google Data Studio to send scheduled reports to people via email? Mention or message me on Twitter (@awolber) to let me know how you use Google Data Studio.