Dealing with raw data can be quite a challenge, especially when faced with a wall of unorganized figures. To make them easier to understand, it’s better to transform these figures into graphical presentations, such as line charts, pie graphs, and more. Google Data Studio (now Looker Studio) is a powerful tool that specializes in accomplishing just that.
In this Google Data Studio tutorial, we’ll discuss what the platform is and the various features that come with it. We’ll also discuss how you can create dashboards, use charts, and share your reports with other people.
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Table of Contents
What Is Google Data Studio?
Launched in 2016, Google Data Studio is one of the most helpful tools for business reporting and data analysis. It’s a free reporting software that stands alongside heavy hitters like Power BI and Tableau.
Many marketers and related professionals flock to Google Data Studio for its easy-to-use features. The platform’s buttons and functions let them present their data in accessible ways without diving too deep into programming languages and overly technical know-how.
While its features are not that advanced compared to those of paid reporting tools, they do allow you to craft well-designed dashboards and reports. You can also access these functionalities anywhere with an internet connection since Google Data Studio is cloud-hosted.
Additionally, the wide range of templates available on the platform makes it highly sought-after. You can use them to pre-process the data before making adjustments to how they’re presented. Furthermore, information can be imported from different sources like Google Sheets, Google Ads, and more.
Note: Google Data Studio is now known as Looker Studio. But in this article, we’ll stick with its former name for familiarity.
Exploring the Features of Google Data Studio
As mentioned earlier, Google Data Studio is free to access, but you need a verified Google account to use it. If you don’t have one yet, you can simply sign up for an account using this link: Create your Google Account.
Once your account has been set up, head to https://lookerstudio.google.com/, and you’ll see the Google Data Studio dashboard once you have logged into the platform.
Here’s a quick explanation of what you can access:
- Left menu: The options here allow you to make a fresh report, data source, or explorer. It also lets you navigate and filter your existing reports in terms of time and ownership. There’s also the Trash option where you will find your recently deleted items.
- Toolbar menu: This categorizes the files you have created and opened on Google Data Studio into their respective groups. Here, you will see your reports by default, you can simply click on the other groups on the toolbar to see either the Data sources or Exploration options.
- Template gallery: If you’re looking to adopt a pre-made layout for your dataset, you can access several templates through the Template Gallery. The Templates option is on the left menu and will redirect you to the same interface.
- Search bar: You can use the search bar to easily find reports and data sources. It’s located near the top of the page.
- Report list: Under the Template Gallery is the report list, which simply displays the reports you’ve opened and created. Some filters are also available for this section, allowing you to use and filter your files either by ownership or update according to time.
Reports, Data Sources, and Explorations
You might have noticed some jargon that we used in the previous section, such as terms like “report,” “data source,” and “exploration.” These are some of the elements used in Google Data Studio itself.
Here’s a breakdown of their meanings:
- Reports are files where you can transform your data into visuals. For example, you can add tables, charts, and other elements to make your numbers more graphical in reports.
- Data sources refer to the connections from which you get the data you put in your reports. These can be from basic datasets like a spreadsheet on Google Sheets to more advanced sources like a MySQL database.
- Explorations are essentially scratch pads that let you experiment with your data without saving the changes. As a result, they’re not permanent unless you save them. You can access them using the Explorer feature on Google Data Studio, which is still in the beta phase at the time of this writing.
What Are Connectors in Google Data Studio?
Before discussing the term “connector,” you should first understand how data sources work in-depth. Data sources are specific instances of a connection to your dataset — they’re not the original data.
Each report you create requires you to link to a data source. This is where connectors come into the picture.
From the name itself, a connector links your report on Google Data Studio to your original data. Here are some reasons they’re implemented on the platform:
- Keeps the integrity of your data: You’re not modifying your true records, and the data source created also tracks every field related to the connection.
- Secure sharing: You can share your data with other people without worrying about unintentional changes. You can also control what you want to share by connecting to specific data only.
- Flexible data sharing: You can create many data sources by connecting to the same dataset. If you want to assign particular information to different colleagues, you can use data sources.
Google supports hundreds of connectors that you can use, including those developed in-house and third-party ones, such as Partner Connectors. However, keep in mind that when using third-party connectors, you may need to pay a fee.
How to Build a Dashboard in Google Data Studio
After laying out the fundamentals of how to use Google Data Studio, it’s time for you to do some practice. In this section, we’ll demonstrate how you can turn sample data into a visual Data Studio dashboard that can be easily understood.
Step 1: Connect Your Data Source
As mentioned above, a data source is vital when creating a report. We’ll be using a Google Sheets file in this example, but feel free to use any other dataset on your end. The steps here would be applicable to other sources too. Here’s how.
- Go to https://lookerstudio.google.com/ and sign in to your account if you haven’t done so yet.
- Once you’re on the platform, click “Create” on the left menu.
- Choose “Data source” from the options that appear.
- If this is your first time creating any report or data source on Google Data Studio:
- Type what’s asked on the relevant fields on the window that appears.
- Tick the checkbox under “Terms of Service” and click “Continue.”
- Select your email preferences and click “Continue.”
5. From the connectors menu, choose “Google Sheets.”
6. Click the “AUTHORIZE” button under the “Authorization” section, which appears if it’s your first time using the connector.
7. Select the spreadsheet you want to use from the list of available items under the “Spreadsheet” section.
8. Choose the worksheet name that you want to use under the “Worksheet” section.
9. Rename your file by clicking “Untitled Data Source” at the top.
10. Click the “CONNECT” button to create your data source.
Dimensions & Metrics
Now, your data source should be successfully set up. You’ll notice that the dimensions (the fields or categories) are highlighted in green. In Google Data Studio, dimensions simply refer to the name of what you’re measuring.
The platform might also auto-generate blue-highlighted metrics based on your data. Metrics either count or measure your data. Examples of this include functions like SUM(), COUNT(), and similar ones.
Type & Default Aggregation
Google Data Studio will also automatically give each of your fields a Type and Default Aggregation. The options under the Type column simply refer to what kind of data is being used, and you can change this manually by clicking on the drop-down arrow.
On the other hand, the values under Default Aggregation are selected by the platform as it groups your data according to certain criteria. You can also change this manually as long as the tagged Default Aggregation is set to neither Auto nor None. Learn more about aggregations here.
Step 2: Create Your First Report in Google Data Studio
Once your data source is up, you can now start making your first report. In this part, we’ll discuss two ways you can do this on Google Data Studio.
Direct from the Data Source
- Right after creating your data source, click the “CREATE REPORT” button from the menu at the top.
- You’ll be redirected to an Untitled Report tab, wherein you have to click the “ADD TO REPORT” button displayed in a dialog box.
- Rename your report by clicking on the “Untitled Report” field.
Using the “Create” Button
Alternatively, you can also choose to make a new report from the main dashboard of Google Data Studio. Here’s how.
- Click “Create,” then select “Report” on the drop-down menu.
- On the blank report, choose “Add data” from the available tools.
- Go to “My data sources,” then find and click your preferred data source.
- Click the “Add” button to proceed.
- Click “ADD TO REPORT” to confirm.
- Rename your report by clicking the “Untitled Report” field.
Step 3: Customize Your Report
The primary goal of using Google Data Studio is to make your data easier to understand with visual aids. As you customize your report, you can add scorecards, tables, charts, and more elements. You can also use themes and layouts to set your preferred style.
After creating your first report, a table will be automatically generated for you. However, this is typically uninsightful, so it’s good practice to remove it before starting to lay out your elements from scratch.
To do so, simply right-click on the table and select “Delete” from the context menu.
Common Tools to Edit Your Report
Before configuring your dashboard, it’s essential to first understand the basic functions available on Google Data Studio’s toolbar. The placement of these tools has been revamped over the years, so if you’ve seen the toolbar before, it might differ from what you remember.
Here’s a breakdown of the latest version at the time of this post:
- Undo and Redo: These let you revert your changes. They are also accessible through your keyboard by pressing the keys Ctrl + Z to undo and Ctrl + Y to redo.
- Selection Mode: This mode lets you select various objects in your report, like tables and images. A side panel will appear every time you select an object.
- Zoom: You can use this to magnify your report so you can view the details and elements better.
- Add page: This simply inserts another page on your report. You can also access this feature by pressing Ctrl + M on your keyboard.
- Add data: You can add a new connector or data source using this function.
- Add a chat: Clicking on this tool will display a menu where you can choose tables, scorecards, pie graphs, and more.
- Community visualizations and components: This is a beta feature that lets you import data visualization tools not developed by Google.
- Add a control: Clicking on this function displays a panel where you can choose sliders, drop-down lists, input boxes, and the like.
- URL Embed: You can also embed online materials into your report, such as videos, documents, and other kinds of links, using the URL Embed feature.
- Image, Text, Line, and Shape: These four separate buttons on the toolbar insert what their respective names imply — the Image button inserts an image, the Text button adds a text box, and so on.
- Theme and layout: Clicking on this feature lets you see the style and layout settings that you can use for your report.
Selecting a Theme and Layout
Your dashboard’s appearance is one of the things that you’ll want to decide on right away. This includes color scheme, page orientation, and other factors that affect the overall aesthetic. Another thing you’ll want to keep in mind is the position of the dashboard’s elements. The Theme and layout panel lets you adjust these factors.
Under the “Theme” section, you can select pre-styled formats offered by Google Data Studio. For example, there’s the Groovy theme that features warm and earthy colors.
Another example is Constellation, which is a great choice if you enjoy dark hues on your report. Choosing any of these themes is a time-saving measure since you’re not starting from a blank page.
There’s also the “Layout” section, where you can modify options like page orientation, canvas size, grid settings, and header visibility. We won’t go into detail about these settings, but we do suggest exploring the options yourself to configure your dashboard according to your taste.
Adding a Scorecard
Scorecards are staples in Google Data Studio as they’re used to display the important metrics of your data. For example, you can add a scorecard to visualize the key performance indicators of your business, which determine whether you’re hitting your goals. Examples of KPIs include total online sales, total advertisement views, average bounce rates, and more.
Here’s how to add a scorecard to your dashboard.
- Click the “Add a chart” button on the toolbar.
- If you want to display each digit of your numbers, pick the “Scorecard” option.
- If you want to make your scorecard tidy, choose “Scorecard with compact numbers.”
- To change the default metric Record count on the scorecard, click “Record count” under the Metrics section on the side panel.
- Finally, select your preferred metric from the list that appears.
Alternatively, you can add your scorecard by using the Insert menu. From the menu bar at the top, click “Insert” > “Scorecard.” By default, this adds a non-compact scorecard that displays all the digits of your data.
Inserting a Line Chart
Another element that you can add to your report is a line chart, which is great when it comes to showing the general trends of your data over time. Here’s how you can add one.
- Click the “Add a chart” button on the toolbar.
- Under the “Line” section in the drop-down menu, pick the third chart type and lay it out on your canvas.
- Change the default Record count metric by clicking on it and selecting your preferred one from the list (we’ll use Total in this example).
- Change the selected option under the “Dimension” section and set it to your preferred category (we’ll use Date in this example).
- To show multiple lines on your chart that signify different values, click “Add a dimension” under “Breakdown dimension” (we’ll use Method in this example).
Keep in mind that the dimensions you select represent the names or categories appearing on the horizontal axis of your line chart. In our example, you’ll notice that the labels are specific dates in the sample data we used.
Meanwhile, the metrics you choose appear on the vertical axis of your chart. And the breakdown dimension you selected signifies the lines appearing on your graph.
Creating a Table
Tables are one of the best and easiest ways of making important data easily scannable. Here’s how you can insert one in your report.
- Click “Add a chart” on the toolbar.
- Choose the first chart type under the “Table” section, then lay it out on your report canvas.
- Customize the dimension that you want to be displayed.
- Adjust the metric you want to see.
Using Calculated Fields
Sometimes, you might need to create a new metric or dimension to add another method of managing your data. For example, you might want to perform simple calculations, change the formatting of your text, use logical expressions, and more.
Calculated fields are new formulas that you set up yourself. You can make them either on your data source or directly on a chart that you made on your report. For our example below, we’ll demonstrate how you can turn certain texts into lowercase letters using a calculated field.
On a Chart
- Select your chart and click on the currently selected dimension.
- From the list, click “CREATE FIELD.”
- Give your calculated field a name.
- Enter your custom formula in the appropriate text box.
- Click “APPLY” to save your changes.
On Your Data Source
- From the top bar, click “ADD A FIELD.”
- Enter a name for your calculated field in the “Field Name” textbox.
- Type in your custom equation or function in the “Formula” box.
- Click the “SAVE” button at the bottom-right corner of the interface.
- To return to your field list, simply click “ALL FIELDS” at the upper-left corner of your screen.
How to Share a Google Data Studio Dashboard
You’re likely using Google Data Studio to make your data tidy and easily understood before letting your colleagues or superiors see it. When you’re ready to share your report with others, you can simply opt to use any of the five options below that are supported by the platform.
Method 1: Invite People
If the people you want to share with also have access to Google Data Studio, you can invite them to either view or collaborate with you on the report. This makes for secure sharing as you’re directly inviting them using their email address.
Here’s how to do it.
- On the “Share with people and groups” panel, click the “Add people and groups” textbox.
- On the next panel, type the email address of the other person in the provided field.
- Select their edit permissions by clicking on the drop-down at the side.
- Click “Send” to finish.
You can also adjust your link settings if you want your report to be accessible by anyone, even without a Google account.
- Choose whether to set it as “Restricted,” “Unlisted,” or “Public.”
- Click “Copy link” once set, then send it to others.
Method 2: Schedule Email Delivery
If you used a dataset that constantly gets updated over time, scheduling repeated sending of your report to certain people might be suitable. For example, you can make weekly reports to your team leader about a certain project. Here’s how you do it.
- On the “Email delivery” panel, enter your recipient’s email address in the “To” field.
- Select your preferred date and time.
- Choose your email frequency by clicking on the drop-down menu in the “Repeat” section.
- Hit the “Schedule” button to finish.
If you need to add some notes to your email, you can also configure its subject and message.
- Tick the checkbox that says “Customize email subject and message.”
- Enter the subject and message in their respective fields.
Method 3: Get the Report Link
This option simply produces a URL for your Google Data Studio report that you can send to others using messaging software. This method is handy if you want to get a link that automatically brings your viewers to a specific page on your dashboard.
To do so, simply follow the steps below.
- Tick the checkbox that says “Link to your current report view.”
- Click the “COPY LINK” button.
Method 4: Embed Report
If you have an existing web page where you want to display your report on, choose this sharing option. Here’s how you use it.
- Tick the checkbox that says “Enable embedding.”
- Your embed settings would appear.
- If you want to get a full code to incorporate into your HTML file,
- Choose “Embed Code.”
- Set the embed size.
- If you’re using a web authoring system that requires a link, choose “Embed URL.”
- Click “COPY TO CLIPBOARD.”
If you can’t decide which embed mode (code or URL) to go for, you can simply copy both to your clipboard.
Method 5: Download the Report
You can also download your whole report as a PDF document, which you can share with others using online drives, email, or messaging apps. As of this writing, Google Data Studio provides you with the following options in your download:
- Omit the color of your report’s background
- Insert a return link that redirects your reader to your report on Google Data Studio
- Secure your PDF with a password
Just make sure to tick the checkboxes for each option above, then click “DOWNLOAD.” Remember that you must first enter your preferred key if you have enabled password protection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Google Data Studio Easy to Learn?
Google Data Studio is pretty easy to pick up, given how user-friendly its interface is. If you’re familiar with similar products in the Google ecosystem, such as Analytics, Ads, and Sheets, you’re likely to have an easy time connecting and creating your data sources, which are key parts of the platform.
How Long Will It Take To Learn Google Data Studio?
There’s no standard time frame for how long it should take you to learn Google Data Studio. The length of time will depend on the Google Studio tutorials you’re taking, as well as your personal learning speed and technical prowess.
If not properly organized and presented, raw data is just a mess of numbers and text. When you need to transform your data into insightful and accessible reports, just refer to this Google Data Studio tutorial.
We also have a lot of useful templates that you can use to quickly give your Google Sheets data a proper layout. Don’t forget to visit our profile on Gumroad to access these templates for 50% off using the code SSP!