By Benjamin Estes
Google Data Studio is a communication tool. It brings together data you store in several places so you can visualize it on one screen. The goal of using Data Studio is to become a data communicator, not a data plumber.
There are several Data Studio beginner’s guides in the wild. I’ve created this one to get you thinking in Data Studio terms. It’s a proper tutorial, taking you through things step-by-step. Where there’s too much to say about a feature, I’ll link to relevant documentation or other blog posts. And of course, this guide is for you — please ask questions and leave feedback so that we can improve it!
The compelling reason to choose Data Studio is the sources from which it can pull data. With it, you can use almost any data available from Google. That includes Google Analytics, AdWords, Search Console, BigQuery, and more.
Data Studio is also easier to learn and teach than the alternatives. In particular, querying the Google Analytics API requires learning a complete vocabulary of dimensions and metrics (“Page” → “ga:pagePath”) and operators (“Match Regex” → “=~”). Data Studio renders that obsolete for many use cases.
Finally, the fact that Data Studio makes all these data sources available lets you juxtapose charts from many sources in one report. For instance, you might want to chart both organic traffic from Google Analytics and clicks from Search Console in the same report. With Data Studio, you can!
Data Studio is a free product. The only way to incur expense is if there are fees associated with accessing your data source. For instance, BigQuery charges for some requests. That won’t happen in this tutorial.
All you need to get started is a Google Account. If you have personal data to work with, experimenting will be much more fun — but it isn’t required.
Note that you may have to accept some terms and conditions before creating your first report. For some reason, this process can be a bit finicky. If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.
The next thing you’ll see is the central Data Studio interface. Data Studio is part of Google Drive — like Docs, Sheets, or Slides. The interface of Data Studio is similar to docs.google.com. The interface lists only Data Studio documents. You’re meant to do organizing within Google Drive as opposed to Data Studio itself. That’s why you can’t make folders on this screen.
One difference worth noting is that instead of a single document type, Data Studio has two. There are Reports and Data Sources. In this tutorial, we’ll be manipulating reports, and using the sample data sources provided by default.
See report documentation.
Make sure you’re looking at the Reports section as opposed to the Data Sources section. You should see Reports by default. Click the familiar “+” button in the bottom right corner to get the ball rolling! If everything is going as planned, you should now have a blank canvas:
Before you can add any charts to your report, Data Studio needs to know where that data is. Fortunately, Data Studio comes with several sample data sources to help you get started. Each of these has a name that starts with “[Sample]”. For now, choose “[Sample] Google Analytics Data”:
You’ll see a request for confirmation. Click add to report.
This sample data source exposes Google Analytics data from the Google Store. We’ll show you how to add a custom data source later in the tutorial.
At this point you’ve got a blank report in front of you — the world is your oyster! If you want to mess around a bit, feel free. Anything you add will use the data source we just added.
You can always undo anything or create a new report if you don’t like the result!
I don’t want to bury the lede. Here’s what we’re going to create:
This is a simple chart. It shows sessions to the Google Store website by month and compares each month to the same month last year. It also happens to use most of the features you’ll need to master in Data Studio, so it’s a great starting place. This is what it looks like:
A time series is a type of chart. Its defining characteristic is that its x-axis is a unit of time. In Data Studio, a chart isn’t just defined by how it looks. In fact, there are multiple ways to make something that appears to be a column chart. Instead, a chart also specifies what data it accepts as inputs and how it transforms that data into a visual.
Try adding a time series to your chart now. It’s the very first chart type in the toolbar:
Dragging a box on your canvas will result in something like this:
Congratulations — you’ve made your first chart! Let’s take a moment to analyze what just happened. You said you wanted a time series. On the other hand, you didn’t have an opportunity to specify what data you wanted to visualize. Data Studio chose some reasonable defaults for you (charting Sessions by Date). Next, we’ll see how to customize these choices so that you aren’t stuck with these defaults forever.
Dimensions and metrics in Data Studio are conceptually the same as dimensions and metrics in Google Analytics. If you’re using Google Analytics as a data source, the same dimensions and metrics will be available to you in Data Studio.
A quick refresher: metrics are numbers, and dimensions allow you to slice and dice those numbers in different ways. Pageviews and Sessions are both metrics. Page and Landing Page and Default Channel Grouping are dimensions.
The chart we just created shows Sessions by Date. By selecting the chart, we can change these in the right-hand sidebar shown below.
We’ll keep Sessions the same, but change the time dimension to be Month of Year. Be careful here — Month of the year and Month of Year are two different dimensions. To create our example chart, we want Month of Year. The result will look something like this:
Not a great visual — a time series with only two data points? A little wonky, but never fear. We just need to inspect a wider date range.
The reason that the chart only has one or two data points now is that by default Data Studio will show the last 30 days of data. Most of the time that means a chart by month will only show partial data for last month and this month.
Let’s make things more exciting. In that same sidebar, you’ll see an option to set the default date range. Use it to select “Last Year”.
Now we’ve got an appropriate time range to show off our website’s performance:
Finally, let’s compare this data against last year’s. In the same date range control panel, select a comparison period:
Which results in:
We’re most of the way there at this point. The data that we want to visualize is there; it just doesn’t look quite the same.
The most apparent difference between our chart and the target is that the target chart uses bars instead of lines. Since we want to be able to compare specific months against their performance last year, grouped bars will be more natural for our audience to interpret.
Click your way over to the Style section in the right-hand sidebar. At the top, you’ll see a conspicuous option to use Bars instead of a Line to represent your data.
This has the expected result:
So the chart seems correct, but the example also has a pretty title at the top. What about that?
Data studio offers bare essential drawing tools — text box, image, rectangle, and circle:
Choose one or more of these and drag away. Let your inner artist out! Take a gander at the options given in the sidebar. Foreground and background colors can be selected, in addition to basic font choices.
Here’s what I came up with:
If you’d like to have more fun — and maybe make the chart align better with your own brand — you can also play with the style controls. Select the chart and click “Style” in the sidebar. Check out the series color options, and font face and size options. Extreme changes are possible. You can even turn off the axes entirely!
For those following along, you’ll see that we’ve built what we had planned. If you want to scope out what your report really looks like, hit the View button:
This removes the helpful design grid and the rest of the UI elements. It brings your visualization to the foreground.
If you give someone view permission, this is what they will see.
One of the great things about Data Studio is that it also accommodates interactivity. Let’s say we’re presenting this chart to our board, who is interested not only in trends in overall sessions but also in the channels from which those sessions began.
We could make a different chart for each channel — and in some cases, that might be the appropriate visualization. But for the sake of our tutorial, we can avoid creating eight different charts. Instead, we’ll add interactivity to our current chart so that we can use it to track each of these.
This pictograph (like an inverted pyramid) represents a filter control. See how the bar starts out large and gets smaller? That’s because it’s been filtered!
Just like a chart or a text box, you can draw a filter element onto your canvas:
Subtle difference — look in the upper right corner!
And, like any other component, you can configure the dimensions and metrics that the filter users. Note that the filter does its filtering on a dimension, not a metric — the metric is merely an aesthetic option. Configure your dimension like this:
By default, a filter control affects all charts on a page. You can change this by grouping the filter with the charts you want it to affect. See the documentation for details.
Now when you go to View mode, you can click on the filter control and choose what Channel Grouping you want to focus on:
Now we’ve got the same chart, but showing only organic traffic.
I’ll assume you have access to a GA account. If not, that’s fine—you can skip ahead to “Share your report”. Let’s swap your data for the sample GA account we’ve been using.
Select the time series component and click “Data Source” in the sidebar.
This will allow you to select any data source you have. You can also create a new data source from within the report building interface:
To connect to Google Analytics, you’ll have to choose an Account, Property, and View to use. On this new screen, select “Google Analytics”.
Because we’ve chosen a Google Analytics data source, Data Studio already knows how to interpret the data. If you wanted to use another data source you might have to tell Data Studio what its schema is. I’ve written a guide to using Google Sheets as a data source that you might find useful.
When you’re satisfied with the list of dimensions and metrics that Data Studio is showing you, click “Add to Report”.
Your chart will now be using the data source you’ve created. No other configuration required!
Sharing a Data Studio report is slightly more complicated than in Google Docs. The most important thing you need to understand is how permissions work. That blog post is a crash course on the subject. The choice you’ll be making is whether you’re letting readers see data using your credentials.
For more details about sharing, check out these three documentation pages:
In this tutorial, we covered all of the basics of Data Studio. Here’s a quick summary of what we learned:
Whew — that’s quite a bit. I hope you feel a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. Nice work!
That’s it for our tutorial, but not for your Data Studio journey. Here are a few things to try with your newfound skills:
As you iterate, check out these resources — they all helped me as I learned Data Studio.