Google Data Studio


What is Google Data Studio?

Google Data Studio (GDS) is a great free data visualization tool (note my use of the phrase data visualization tool, as opposed to the business intelligence tool here) that allows you to create interactive dashboards and beautiful reports personalized.

Most of Data Studio's features are easy to use and allow easy sharing and scheduling of reports. We use Data Studio to track key KPIs for clients, visualize trends, and compare performance over time.

Data Studio is basically a supercharged version of the old Google Analytics dashboard, which is incredibly limited in terms of functionality (12 widgets per dashboard and you can only connect to data in the particular view the dashboard is in).

Google Analytics Dashboard

google data studio

Data Studio Dashboard

google data studio

As you can see, these two are a world apart.

What are the benefits of using Data Studio?

Why is Google Data Studio so good? When you use Data Studio, you have access to the following key features (more on each one later!):

Live data connection and access to over 220 connectors

Full control over customizing reports and visuals, including adding as many pages or charts as needed

Dynamic controls with filters at the report and page level

Advanced formulas like calculated metrics and calculated fields.

How to use Google Data Studio

Live data connection

Data Studio already has built-in connections to over 200 data sources (full list of data sources linked here), eliminating the need to schedule regular data updates for your reports.

Having a live data feed also means that you are not limited in terms of what date range you can view. Depending on the age of your data, you can use any date range that meets your needs.

Complete customization controls

Data Studio licenses you to add pages, charts, and tables as needed (although there are some limitations when it comes to dashboards specifically) and customize them to your liking.

You can personalize your dashboards with the colors of your company or even with those of your clients.

google data studio

You can select preloaded themes or create a custom theme based on your own preferences. You also have the option of extracting a theme from the images, if you want to get really creative.

You can edit the layout, including page size, alignment, and more.

Data Studio gives you a wide range of graphics and visuals to work with, starting with the basics, such as bar charts and line charts, all the way to the recently released Google Maps visual.

You can use conditional formatting to show the pace of goals and targets (to learn how to do this, see 2 Ways to Use Conditional Formatting in Google Data Studio).

Dynamic controls

One of the reasons our customers love Data Studio is because of the dynamic control feature, which gives them significant ability to split and slice their data without having to update the report settings itself. With Data Studio, you can:

Insert dynamic controls so viewers can filter content with dimension and date range selectors.

Include and exclude content from a filter if there is ever a situation where you don't want everything on the page to change.

This feature allows you to explore additional details within a graph, you can access more detailed information as you "drill down" into a graph, eg. Eg from country to city, or "breakdown" of more detailed information to higher level data.

google data studio

As Google says, "Adding detailed charts to your reports can make them more interactive, reduce the number of separate charts needed, and make it easier to find statistics at various levels of detail in your data."

google data studio 

You can give the user an additional layer of control by selecting Optional Metrics that they can access and allowing them to customize what they are seeing without having to edit the original report.

google data studio

To access optional metrics once you've selected a chart, in the properties pane under Metrics, check Optional metrics. Then click + Add metric or drag the metric from the Available Fields panel and onto the chart as an optional metric. Users can now access optional metrics once they hover over the chart. See below for a picture of the function:

All of these dynamic controls are great, but what if you use the report on a regular basis and want to keep your settings? Well, Data Studio has a custom bookmark feature that allows you to do exactly that.

From Google, "When you enable custom bookmarking links for a report, the viewer filter settings are added as parameters to the report URL. This gives viewers an easy way to return to their preferred view of the data when bookmarking. the link as a favorite ".

google data studio

To enable custom bookmarks, select File> Report Settings. Under Custom Bookmark Links, click Enable viewer settings on report link.

google data studio

Advanced formulas

With advanced formulas, Google Data Studio goes from being a simple visualization tool to giving you the ability to transform your data as needed, allowing you to paint a powerful picture with your data.

Calculated Fields - Use when your out-of-the-box fields and metrics aren't enough. Calculated fields allow you to create new or custom dimensions or metrics in Google Data Studio from your existing data. You can perform calculations, create categories, or transform your data with calculated fields.

To learn more about this, read 10 Ways to Use Calculated Fields in Google Data Studio.

google data studio

Also, I'll dive into one of the more powerful uses of computed fields below, in the form of case statements.

Case Declarations - Returns dimensions and metrics based on conditional expressions. A CASE statement allows you to create new fields using conditional logic to determine field values. CASE is most often used to create new categories or groupings of data.

An example of how you would use case statements could be to categorize your source / media into new channel groupings in Data Studio (which are retroactive, as opposed to the default channel groupings in Google Analytics).

Dive deeper into case statements, see How to create case statements.


Like all tools, Data Studio comes with its own set of limitations.

Format matters

Formatting in Data Studio is unique to Data Studio, which means it doesn't work the same way as Google Sheets, etc. This means that people often have problems with their data that does not work as expected as they have not formatted their data correctly.

Data formatting has to occur in the original data source for GDS to interpret it. If you automatically connect to one of Data Studio's native connectors (read: Google Analytics, Google Ads, Search Console, etc.), you don't have to worry about the format of your dates. GDS does all of that for you.

However, suppose you are using a raw data connector like Google Sheets, Excel / CSV, etc. In that case, this step is absolutely critical:

It is not a business intelligence tool

Data Studio's analytics skills are not on par with the leading business intelligence (BI) tools currently on the market (Tableau, Power BI, to name a few). While it does visualize your data effectively, it doesn't allow you to slice and dice your data in nearly as many ways as those tools do.

The data merge function is in the early stages

In July 2018, Data Studio added a feature called Data Merge to its arsenal. You can use it to join data from different sources for better dashboards and more detailed reports. However, you are limited to combining up to 5 data sources in one chart, and combining the data

currently only supports left outer join operations.

Functionally, it may take a bit of effort to play with the formatting and joins to make them work, but we just hope this feature gets better and stronger.

Google Analytical Report in Google Data Studio

Google Data Studio

YouTube Report in Google Data Studio

Google Data Studio

Now what?

Want to learn more about Data Studio? Check out some of our other blog posts below: 

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