What is Google Data Studio?

Maria Drummond
Wednesday 2 August 2017

Over the next few weeks I will be updating my existing training session: Google Analytics: creating a dashboard. Recently, Google updated Google Analytics and this update saw the removal of the humble ‘add to dashboard’ button. This subtle change meant that the majority of the training needed to be re-written.

Google has released Google Data Studio as an alternative way to visualise data, so I looked into it and this was definitely the direction my training needed to go. The new tool, which is currently beta, is more user friendly, offers more features and is likely to revolutionise how data is shared in organisations.

What is Google Data Studio?

Google Data Studio is a free tool from Google which easily allows you to visualise, and easily share data.

The data doesn’t just have to come from Google Analytics either. If you wanted to combine data from YouTube, Google Sheets and Google Analytics all in one ‘dashboard’ then you can, quite easily.

Google Analytics dashboard vs Data Studio

The implementation of Data Studio hasn’t made Google Analytics redundant. Whilst both are data-focused, Google Analytics is the raw, unprocessed data, whereas Data Studio is all about the visualisation and sharing of data.

Each tool has it’s place, and Data Studio isn’t replacing Analytics, but improving one feature that lies within Analytics: the dashboard.

The dashboard functionality within Google Analytics has been successful in highlighting data that actually matters, at-a-glance. (This is especially useful for larger websites, which have thousands of pages, and thousands of potential data outcomes). Once the key data is all in one place, it’s easier to monitor than the raw data that each user must manually find each time they want to see how many pageviews their homepage has received, for example.

Example of a Google Analytics dashboard

However, the dashboard has limitations which feel out of place with Google’s forward-thinking, user-focused online tools, such as Google drive. Some limitations include:

  • dashboards can’t be shared with those who don’t have access to Google Analytics
  • there can only be 12 widgets per dashboard
  • adding data can be very hit-and-miss if manually creating a widget
  • dashboards can’t contain data from different Google Analytics views.

Also, from a personal perspective, the interface of a Google Analytics dashboard looks dated in comparison with other applications.

Enter Google Data Studio. Data Studio addresses the issues listed above and then some. A ‘dashboard’ (or ‘report’) within Google Data Studio can be shared with those who don’t have access to the raw data, and users can have unlimited reports (even each report can have unlimited pages). Adding specific data and reports is more intuitive, as users can click and drag where they want their report to be. Once the data has been added, the user can then alter fonts, colours, text size etc. However, what makes Data Studio stand out is that once it has been shared with someone, the dashboard is interactive and stays up-to-date.

It’s almost like Data Studio is led by the mentality of ‘How can I best display this data?’ whereas the Google Analytics dashboard was more ‘What data should I display?’ When it comes down to it, the latter question should always be asked, regardless of the software being used, as it doesn’t matter what the data shows, if it can’t be understood in the first place.

An example Data Studio report. A few more bells and whistles on this one!

Users are free to express creativity with the data, and can alter colours and layouts so the ‘dashboard’ is inline with company branding.

Google have even stated that Data Studio was “built with the novice in mind”, and after trying it out, I think this is totally accurate. It’s far more user friendly than Google Analytics, and lends itself to those who want to creatively display their data, rather than being confined to the rigid nature of the Google dashboard.

Using Google Data Studio

Data Studio is currently free to all users who have an account with Google. If you log in to data studio, there are five example reports, and one tutorial report to experiment with.

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