Reporting never seems to be an easy task.

In fact, the only thing that scares most marketers is the thought of it.

As customers continue to grow, so does the complexity of their reporting requirements.

If you're anything like me, you're probably fed up with spending hours updating the same tables every month.

Sometimes it takes more time to get a report than it does to deliver it actual insights.

In this case, we are doing our customers a disservice by spending more time “doing” and less time analyzing.

There has to be a better way, right?

Enter Google Data Studio reporting.

What is Google Data Studio?

Google Data Studio was originally launched in beta in mid-2016 and is a free data visualization tool.

Google Data Studio synchronizes all your data sources in one report.

Users can create informative and visual dashboards that are easy to interpret, share, and customize.

Google Data Studio has not been in beta since 2018, so every user can access its extensive functions.

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Top benefits of Google Data Studio

Here are some of the key benefits of the Google Data Studio platform:

  • Free to use. (Can't beat that, can it ?!)
  • Connect to (almost) any data source. (Think Google, Bing, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
    • A third-party connector is required to restrict connection properties outside of Google. Usually there are monthly fees (which are worthwhile). For reference, we'll use Supermetrics to pull in other platform data.
  • Fully customizable – the ability to modify reports for each customer's needs.
  • Consistent and brand-related.
  • Real-time data integration.
  • Saves time getting reports every month – which means you can focus on actionable insights.

Convinced to try Google Data Studio now?

Great!

Let's dive into the basics.

Get started with Google Data Studio

There are a few key areas to ensuring that your first Google Data Studio report is a success. These include:

  • Select template.
  • Connect data sources.
  • Select important metrics.
  • Share reports.

templates

The first thing you need to do is choose a template.

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Google Data Studio has a variety of templates to get you started.

If you are new to Data Studio, it is important to choose a template based on the type of data being presented.

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

With each template, you can customize elements and fonts to create a more consistent report.

The beauty of these reports is that multiple pages can be added.

You don't have to display your entire marketing story on one page!

I like to start with a blank report. It gives me an open canvas to depict the data story that needs to be told.

Every customer has different needs and their reporting shouldn't be different.

The most efficient way we've found as an agency is to create templates that are specific to SEO, PPC, and paid social networks.

With these as standard, we can then easily adapt them to individual customer needs.

Adding data sources

Connecting data sources is key to successful reporting!

There are endless connectors available in Google Data Studio.

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

By using the connectors, the manual tasks are taken over and all data is synchronized for you!

You can choose to add data sources when you start your report generation or to add them later.

You can find it by clicking "Add Data" on the toolbar.

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

As mentioned above, there are plenty of third party connectors that can pull in additional data like social data or CRM data.

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The only downside to third party connectors that I found are:

  • Additional costs.
  • Can slow down reports.
  • Metrics are sometimes out of date. It is therefore important to keep track of any changes to your report and recreate metrics as necessary.

Choosing metrics that matter

Speaking of metrics – they are important.

Let's face it, the worst part is when clients open reports and see a full data dump.

While Google Data Studio is fully customizable, it doesn't mean that it should show all of the available metrics.

Is your customer interested in ROAS? Make sure you include metrics like expenses and income.

How about general brand awareness? Add pre-click metrics such as impressions, clicks, click rate, view rate, etc.

By providing the right metrics and insights based on the goals, it will show the customer that you are listening to them. A win-win situation for everyone!

Share reports

When you're ready to share reports with customers, be sure to review the settings.

The following options are available for sharing:

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  • Invite by email (user must have a Google account linked to email).
    • Users can set View or Edit permissions.
  • Anyone with the report link can view.

Another cool feature that Google added after the beta ended was the options to restrict sharing in the following options:

  • Prevent editors from changing access and adding new people
  • Turn off downloading, printing, and copying for viewers

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

As an agency, we usually check these boxes.

This way we maintain control over report settings and the integrity of report changes.

How to create and edit a report

With the basics covered, it's time to create your first report!

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You can set the timeframe for each dashboard either individually or at the report level.

We'll get into that later.

Choosing the right graphic

The first step is to choose the data visualizations that you want to use.

When you navigate to Insert on the toolbar, you can choose from a wide variety.

These include (but are not limited to):

  • Time series
  • bar graph
  • Cake chart
  • Tables
  • Scoring lists

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

Let's take a look at this Google Ads template.

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I've labeled the following four sections to find out what these are and how to use them.

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

1. Scorecard

This data represents a single metric that came from a data source.

You can choose from many options based on the source.

In this case, the template shows three different scorecard metrics:

The above scorecard metrics also show comparative changes.

This is an option that you can include or exclude.

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Adjustment again for profit!

2. Time series

The visualization here shows the change in clicks and click rate over a specified period of time.

3. Table

This is a common visualization used in report dashboards.

Tables allow you to drill down on campaigns, ad groups, and more, and customize the metrics shown in the table.

4. Pie chart

Pie chart visualization is another great tool for presenting comparisons between data points.

This example uses three different pie charts to show differences in clicks, costs, and conversions.

All of these features allow you to customize the overall look of the report.

Edit data formats

The ability to choose how a report looks is critical to customers.

It gives a sense of consistency within a company.

To edit the format and style of a visualization, the chart (or scorecard, table, etc.) must be selected.

The Google Data Studio edit area is on the right.

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

In this example I have the option “Avg. CPC ”scorecard. The "Style" is selected on the right.

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Some ways to personalize this scorecard are:

  • Font and background color.
  • Change the colors of the comparison metric.
  • Text padding to align from left, center,
  • or right.

Pro tip: If you want to change all of the scorecards at the same time, just select them all at once.

The style changes apply to all selections. Another time saver!

Adding report filters

An efficient way to group multiple visualizations is to add report and page filters.

For example, if you want all tables and charts to change as you edit the date range, you can add a date range symbol and set it to "Report Level".

This means that if the report consists of multiple pages, every time the date range is updated, all the chart data next to it will be updated.

If you want to immerse yourself in the performance of the device type, there is a filter for that!

Simply navigate to Insert> Filter Control and add the Device dimension as a filter.

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The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

How about reviewing data by network type from Search, Ad, or YouTube?

You got it – there is a filter for that.

In this case, when adding a filter, simply select "Advertising channel type" as the dimension.

Example use cases

You have now seen the platform and learned how to customize any visualization to meet reporting needs.

Let's look at some use cases for common dashboards.

Website traffic overview

A common dashboard for clients is a traffic overview page.

Whether you only work with them in the PPC or SEO space, it is important to keep track of the health of the website.

Reviewing website traffic at a high level can provide additional insights that you may not have noticed.

The following example is a dashboard created with several visual elements.

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This helps us communicate:

  • Total traffic up or down.
  • Conversions on trend.
  • Trend in user behavior (time spent on site, etc.).
  • Traffic and conversions by device type.

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

Simple illustrations can go a long way in storytelling.

PPC campaign performance

At a high level, this Google Ads template efficiently shows the culmination of what matters most to the customer.

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

Search terms report

We like to delve deeply into the user behavior of our customers.

One way to share this information with them is to view a search term report.

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It was helpful for customers to understand How A user searches to trigger ads.

It can also help identify potential gaps for messaging, product marketing, etc.

The Beginner's Guide to Google Data Studio

Creating a custom report is not an easy task.

Initial setup can be time consuming, but the end result is well worth the effort.

Get started with Google Data Studio now

Hopefully, with this introduction to Google Data Studio, you can feel more confident about creating personalized reports for your customers and brands.

More resources:

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Photo credit

All screenshots by the author, August 2020

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