An introduction to Google Data Studio for small businesses

If you have an online presence or are looking to grow your online presence, then after a bit of time invested in setting it up, Data Studio can help you access and analyse critical data for your business, saving you time and helping you to make the best decisions.

Guide

13 min read

1. What is Google Data Studio?

Data Studio is a free data visualisation tool from Google. It allows you to pull together data from different platforms into one report, and to visualise that data using different charts and graphs.

Once created, your reports and dashboards automatically update from their source data, so there’s often no manual data entry needed to keep your reports up to date.

Data Studio connects to many different sources and platforms to pull data into your reports. Through the in-built connectors, you can easily link to Google platforms - such as Google Analytics, Google Ads, Search Console, YouTube Analytics, etc. You can also connect Data Studio directly to Google Sheets, enabling you to pull in almost any business data you like (although the sheets may need to be updated).

There are also a large number of third party or ‘partner’ connectors enabling you to link to other platforms such Facebook Ads, LinkedIn, Campaign Monitor - although many of these have a monthly fee.

Once connected to data, you create dashboards by dragging and dropping different chart types, text boxes and images into your report. You can filter the data in each chart to only show specific information, meaning the reports can be customised to your business needs.

Data Studio is a cloud-based platform, so reports can be easily shared with team members or clients and you can access your reports at any time and from any device.

2. What are the benefits of Data Studio for small businesses?

If your business has an online presence such as a website with Google Analytics, social media pages, and/or if you run any digital marketing (such as SEO, email campaigns, Google ads, or Facebook ads), then you will have accrued a huge amount of valuable data. This is data that could help you improve your digital activity, make your marketing spend work harder and even grow your business.

However, this data can take a lot of time to access, collate, analyse and visualise on a regular basis (at least monthly) - and this is time that many small businesses don’t have! For example, Google Analytics is an excellent platform which provides in depth data on how users are accessing and navigating your site. However, many businesses find it so time consuming to go into Google Analytics and collate the data they need every month, that they never get round to doing it and potentially waste the opportunity for real insights to improve their business.

This is where Data Studio comes in! For small businesses, the primary benefits are:

  • Makes data accessible

Getting to your data can be difficult - particularly when key components of the bigger picture are split across different platforms. Data Studio enables you to create the reports that are critical to your business, surfacing the key data for you to access at any time, without having to delve into each individual platform.

  • Saves time

A common barrier to data analysis is time - it can be hugely time consuming to pull all of your online data into spreadsheets and then compile it into meaningful tables or charts before you can even begin to analyse it and interpret your findings.

With Data Studio, once your reports are set up, you will save time in the future by being able to analyse the critical data without the ‘number crunching’ and spreadsheet creation traditionally needed to get there.

  • Less manual input

Your reports will automatically update with the latest data from their sources, without you needing to manually update the dashboards each time (although if you are linking Google Sheets or CSVs as data sources, you will need to update the data in them).

  • Free and accessible tool

Data Studio offers powerful data collation and visualisation for free alongside a wealth of ‘how to’ information to help users familiarise themselves with the tool. It is relatively easy to create simple and effective dashboards and there are a range of templates available. (However, as with all Google tools, it also allows for deep and complex data analysis and can get much more technical depending on your need).

3. What investment do you need?

Time to plan

At the start, plan exactly what you need to measure regularly and, therefore, what metrics and charts should be in your reports. It is important to get this right and ensure that you are analysing the business critical data - the data that will direct your future strategy and drive decision making - rather than allowing yourself to become overwhelmed with irrelevant or less important detail.

Time to learn the tool

Although it's a free tool, you will need to invest some of your time to learn the basics of the platform. The platform is relatively easy to use, but you do need to understand the different features and functions available in order to be able to pull together your report.

Budget for expert help

If you are time poor or feel that the time taken to learn this tool could be better spent elsewhere in your business, you may choose to outsource the creation of your Data Studio dashboards to an agency or freelancer who is familiar with the tool. They will also help you decide what data to report on and will design the reports that you need for you. This would obviously require budget, but could pay off in the long term if the data helps you to improve your online activity and maximise the return on any spend.

4. Before you start

Planning what you want to report on

What do you need to know?

Each report needs to have a purpose and should tell you something. Ask yourself, what do you want to be able to do on the basis of this data?

A good place to start is with the questions you most often ask or your most pressing business problems. For example:

  • is my digital marketing working?
  • where should I spend my marketing budget to get the best results?
  • do my customers like my emails and social posts?
  • which content do users engage with?
  • how could my site convert better?

This will focus your reports and enable you to create the dashboards necessary to collate and visualise the appropriate data.

What metrics to focus on?

Once you know the focus of each report, it will be easier to identify which metrics to include, from which data sources, and how to compare and analyse them.

For example, if you want to know how your digital marketing is performing, you may need to focus on:

  • what you spent (ad spend)
  • what channels you used (Facebook, Google Ads, etc.)
  • what you got in return (traffic level, purchases, leads)
  • how this compares across all sources (cost per lead, conversion rate, etc.).

If you have relevant KPIs, report your progress against them in your dashboard. For more information about setting KPIs and understanding your data requirements, see the following DigitalBoost resources:

Objectives & results - top 5 tips from an expert

Guide to website data analytics

Determining your data sources

Again, once you know the focus of your report, you will have a clearer idea of which data sources you will need to link or add to your reports. This could include your:

  • Google Analytics data from your website
  • Google Ads
  • Search console or other SEO monitoring
  • eCommerce data
  • email software
  • Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Instagram insights
  • CRM database
  • Survey tools

Understanding how Data Studio works

Resources

Data Studio can be tricky at first, so take the time to understand the tool. There is a wealth of data available in Google’s ’Data Studio Help’ section on how to use the tool, for example how to link in data sources and how to set up different reports.

Analytics Academy also has a course, taking you through Data Studio in more detail.

Dimensions and metrics - the building blocks of Data Studio reports

Dimensions and metrics are the key units of every chart in Google Analytics and Google Data Studio, and it is important to understand the difference between them.

  • Dimensions. According to Google, dimensions are “categories of information” - they are the thing you are measuring in a given chart. For example, ‘traffic source’, or website ‘page’, or ‘city’ are all dimensions. In a chart, the value of the dimension is usually text, and it contains the name or description of what you are measuring (e.g. ‘Facebook’ or ‘contact page’ or ‘Inverness’)
  • Metrics. Metrics are how you are measuring the dimension. The value of a metric is almost always numeric. For example, ‘sessions’, ‘pageviews’, ‘conversion rate’ or ‘revenue’.

Each chart in your report will be made up of different dimensions and metrics.

5. Creating your first report

Like any tool, using Data Studio for the first time can be a little daunting, so here are the first steps you need to take to set up a Data Studio report. (Before you begin, make sure that you have access and high level permissions for your Google Analytics and any other platforms that you wish to connect.)

1. Sign in/Create an account

First, head to Data Studio and sign in with your Google account (that you use to access Analytics) or create an account if you don’t have one, and carefully consider the T&Cs, potentially adding details of who is your nominated ‘data controller’. (This is because Data Studio deals with customer data therefore it you must ensure your use of it complies with GDPR). For more information on GDPR, go to the ICO. On logging in, you will land on the main overview page, where you can create reports and add data sources (in the future this screen will list out all of your different reports).

2. Run through the tutorial report

The ‘Tutorial report’ is provided by Data Studio and is really helpful in showing you the basics, and highlighting how to interact with and create reports.

3. Look at the template reports

There are a number of template reports available, some created by Data Studio and some community templates. You can see these in the ‘template gallery’. These give ideas for style, layout and content. However, if you like the look and feel - or if the template contains a lot of the charts you plan to use - you can also make a copy to use the template for your own report. To do this, select ‘Use template’, then either keep the sample data as your source if you want to play around with the report, or add your own data source if you want to get started with your own data. (See point 4 below for adding data sources). You can change the charts in the template as you want by clicking on them and altering the dimensions, metrics and filters (see point 6 below ‘For adding charts’).

4. Create your data sources

The next step is to connect your data sources - the different platforms that you want to be able to pull data from. From the overview screen, click on the ‘data sources’ tab, then click the ‘+Create’ button in the top left of the screen and select ‘data sources’ from the dropdown. Here you will be taken to a screen detailing the in-built Google connectors available (including Google Analytics, Google Ads, Google Sheets and file upload) and also the third party connectors. It is most likely that initially you will be connecting Data Studio with Google Analytics, as this will give you access to all of your valuable website data.

To add data sources, follow the instructions on-screen. When linking Google Analytics, select the correct Google Analytics account, property and view, and click ‘Connect’ then on the next screen ‘Create Report’.

For more information on adding data sources, see Data Studio Help.

5. Create a report

Once your data source(s) are connected, you can create your first report. If you are not using a template, you can create your report from scratch. Click on ‘Create report’ and select to add your new data source. You’ll be taken to an empty page and from here you can add all of the different tables and charts you like.

6. Insert your charts and data

You can start filling your report by selecting ‘Add a chart’ in the control bar at the top.

Select the type of chart you want to add by dragging and dropping it onto your report.

Each chart contains certain dimensions and metrics by default, so once added you need to click on the chart to change the dimensions and metrics to have it report what you want. You control this in the right-hand panel in the ‘data’ tab. Here is also where you add filters to your chart to filter the data that is shown (for example you may wish to filter a chart to report on only traffic from Glasgow, or only visitors from email).

You can also change the look and feel of the chart by selecting the ‘style’ tab in the right-hand panel.

For more information on adding charts and selecting dimensions and metrics see Data Studio Help.

7. Add a date range selector

A key component of most reports is a date range selector so you can view the report for any time frame you choose. To do this, in the top control bar, click on ‘add a control’, then scroll down to ‘date range control’ and drag this into your report. (Note, make sure that the control is set to ‘auto date range’ in the right-hand panel.)

8. Add titles and text

Once you have added your charts, added a report title and sectioned your page into a logical layout (grouping charts reporting on similar things together) you can add descriptive titles to each chart. (You can also add text boxes for adding insights).

If you’re not using a template you can play about with look and feel, adding shapes, images, logos etc. as needed.

Click in ‘View’ in the top right once you’ve finished to check that it is appearing correctly when it is being viewed (rather than when being edited).

9. Test your data

Once you have set up your report, check that the numbers in your charts match with the numbers in the data source for the given time period. It can be easiest to do this in ‘viewing’ mode where you can change the data to ensure you are comparing like for like. This will test any filters etc. that you have applied to your charts.

10. Invite other users as needed

Once your report is finished, share it with anyone that needs to input or analyse the report by clicking ‘share’ in the top right, and selecting user permissions.

6. Top Tips

  • Use the templates

Using templates can save you time and help you get started when you’re new to the tool.

  • Be specific

Try to limit each report to only one business problem or question. This helps you select what data to add and ensures that you don’t muddy the waters - if you need more information you can add more pages.

  • Keep an action focus

Ensure you focus your report only on data that will inform your actions and keep this close to your business goals. It's tempting to add extra charts and additional or background information, but this loses focus. Keep your key dashboards as streamlined as possible and focus only on the necessary data - the data that is critical to achieving your business goals and informing your decision making. Ask ‘so what?’ of any chart that you add to keep you on track.

  • Avoid vanity metrics

Don’t add big top level numbers in unless you actually need to. For example, adding ‘total website visits’ is only going to be useful if you are going to analyse it in some way, for example as context for other data, or to compare trends over a time period. Give priority to the metrics that can actually help you make decisions

  • Choose chart type carefully.

Selecting the correct chart type is important - it can help you easily understand the data and identify trends. Consider what you need to see for each chart.

  • Do you need a lot of data? Use a table.
  • Do you need to spot trends over time? Use a line graph.
  • Do you need to quickly compare results? Use column charts.
  • Add commentary when analysing.

Add text boxes for commentary next to each graph so that you can add your key insight and resulting action when you are analysing your reports. When analysing, ask, what is this chart telling me and so what should I do? This might sound excessive, but it can help you make sure that you are keeping your analysis focused on actions that will make a real difference to your business.

7. Digital support

For further advice and support on all aspects of your digital marketing check out the DigitalBoost programme. Offering free online resources, training and webinars to help businesses in Scotland develop their digital marketing skills.

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