Google Data Studio is slowly improving each month, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes a robust analytics tool. We’ve been using Google Data Studio for around a year to collect our clients’ social media, website, ecommerce and other digital marketing analytics. Due to it being a Google product, it syncs easily with their other services. However, it’s not the most user friendly service out there. This article breaks down our hands-on experience, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of Google Data Studio.
Update – September 2022
Google Data Studio has rebranded to Looker, but for this article I’ll keep it as Google Data Studio.
Google Data Studio released an update where you can resize editor panels. Yay! Learn more here.
What is Google Data Studio?
Google Data Studio is a digital marketing analytics tool from Google that displays various charts and metrics. It connects to your Google account and other digital marketing platforms (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Shopify, MailChimp, etc.). Like other Google services, it’s free and is easily accessible if you have a Google account.
Once your data sources are connected, you can build strong reports that include the following:
- KPI scoreboards
Google Data Studio Features
Google Data Studio has many features out of the box. While you can connect to 3rd-party data sources, much of your data can be created with limited knowledge of data collection or report building. Below are some of the most useful features:
- Show yourself or client engaging reports and data visualisations
- Synchronise your data by easily connecting to more than 800 data sources
- Transform your data from numbers to metrics and dimensions with intuitive smart reports
- Empower yourself or your team with key business metrics by sharing automated dashboards
- Create meaningful, shareable, customizable, charts and graphs with just a few clicks
Advantages of using Google Data Studio
It’s Free – only pay for 3rd party connectors
When owning a small-medium digital marketing agency, costs ramp up easily. Reporting software tools especially are not cheap. Many of Google’s services are free (e.g. Google Analytics, Google Search Console).
Before settling on Google Data Studio, I tried out the following:
Databox by far was my favourite, however, its price started becoming too much. For a single company, the price was fine. But, once you require more than a few users and require 3-5 connectors for 20+ clients, the costs add up.
Relatively easy to use web interface
Coming from an Excel-based consulting background, building reports was easy to do. Simply select the data and choose what graph or chart you would like to create. Google Data Studio has a similar approach, except all your data is already sitting in their own sections for you to use. The problem with Excel is that if you don’t have it installed, you can’t interact with any of the data and charts.
Google Data Studio is a web-based platform. Yes, you can’t use it offline, but generally where we work has constant internet access, so there’s not much we can get done if there is not internet.
The drag-and-drop functionality is great for most parts. It does take some getting used to (especially when dealing with multiple components) but once you do, creating new reports is quick and efficient.
The reports also allow you to position your data along grids or smart guides. You can choose how big or small these can be, but usually I keep it the same for all reports.
Design styles can remain constant without hassle
When dealing with new reports, it usually takes some some time to configure your chosen fonts and colours. With Google Data Studio, you can first set up a theme and only make changes to individual components if necessary.
You don’t get a huge selection of fonts to choose from, however, they include the most popular Google fonts. Hopefully, there will be an option to add any Google font in the future.
Effortlessly connects to Google services
Google Analytics on its own is great. Google Search Console on its own is great. Google Ads on its own, is great. However, I found myself switching back and fourth between each one when creating a report. In the early days of the Juice Creative, screenshots of each month were taken and compiled into a presentation.
Connect to other 3rd Party Data Connectors
If you want to take it one step further and would like to measure other data sources (e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn) than Google Data Studio offers a whole range of 3rd party solutions.
For the most part, this is an advantage. Yes, the vast majority require you to pay for the service, but that is because of the effort that goes into connecting everything. So far, we have had great success with Power My Analytics.
We are not affiliated with them in any way. We have just found them to be cheaper than the rest. For example, Supermetrics is considered to be one of the best. However, for what they offer, their prices are far too high for a small-medium agency that are trying to keep their costs down.
Once you have these services set up, you can easily track and analyse data without using complex methods and processes. For example, if we just wanted to add a new page to track Instagram analytics, we simply choose the account and how we want to handle the metrics.
Live Tracking and Sharing Dynamic Content
One issue I’ve always had with managing data is its refresh time. Some services even restrict how often or how soon you’re able to retrieve information. With Google Data Studio, you can simply hit refresh and the data will update. It is paired best with social media accounts, where clients or myself would want to see the most recent stats from an account.
With Google Data Studio, you can share your content in the following ways:
- Download as a PDF
- Share the live link
- Embed (see below as an example)
- Email Delivery (e.g. once a week)
When showing clients the report, there is nothing better than showing dynamic content. When sending reports, we usually use two options: sending a PDF and sending a live link.
Why do we send both? Well a PDF is great, as you can download it, open it anywhere but also see a “snapshot” of various metrics or comments. When using live data, you might make a few changes, remove a few comments or change it completely. A PDF allows you to keep monthly snapshots as a sort of revision in case you want to refer back to them.
With live reports, you can just share a link to give people access. You can even restrict access so that only people with certain email addresses can view them. These people can have viewing or editing rights. This also makes it better than other services as your whole company could have editing rights instead of just the owner of the account.
Want to see our own report?
Download More Charts via Community visualizations
Like with other reporting tools (e.g. Power BI), you can import other charts from community members. This means that you are not limited to just the ones you see currently.
Disadvantages of using Google Data Studio
Moving elements can be extremely frustrating
I’ve been in the consulting business for years, using Excel and Power BI every day for reporting. Snappy editing has become expected, so when you’re trying to create a report in a hurry and Google Data Studio keeps trying to select another element, frustration ensues.
For example, selecting two items and grouping them. Below was my attempt:
Because it’s a web service, slow connections will find this even more of a problem. I feel that Google is making progress here, but if you want to your projects to have more than a few elements on the page, you are going to run into some issues.
Yes, it can be user error. However, after using a bunch of other online services (e.g. Figma, Canva, Loomly, etc.), Google Data Studio still feels like it’s got some work to do.
You can place items wherever you please, but this leads to a situation like the one above. You can undo errors, but there’s no tracking, so refreshing the page or changes made by others makes undoing a nightmare.
Next is the actual UI itself. Most editing tools allow you to resize the panels. At the time of writing this post, resizing the editing panels or page panel isn’t allowed. This means that the side panels take up most of your page. This makes using data annoying, as most times you can’t see the source data you want to reference.
Update: September 2022, Google has stated that you’re allowed you to resize the editor panels.
Google Data Studio is very delicate. One wrong grouping can mean disconnected data sources. I’m unsure why Google makes it so complicated, but I’ve yet to find a strong solution to this. For example, you can set a single data source to all the data on your page. Once you group everything together, editing the date can throw off all your connections, so you end up with “data connection missing” sign on all your graphs.
There is nothing worse than presenting data to a client, only for it to suddenly show “data missing”. As mentioned, your internet connectivity plays a big role in this. However, if you’re using 3rd party connectors, you can also run into issues and not really understand the reason. The reasons Google Data Studio provides aren’t the most clear.
Eventually, some errors make sense, but it takes time. I feel that this is more of an issue with the 3rd party connectors, but because I’m using them on Google Data Studio I feel that both need to help out here.
Connecting to other data sources is like the wild west
As mentioned above, connecting to Google services is a breeze. When it comes to everything else, then things aren’t as breezy. For example, adding Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media account to your report requires one or two options:
1. Being able to use APIs and connect them to Google Sheets
If you are comfortable with APIs and Google Sheets, there is a free plugin that lets you collect data from services such as LinkedIn or Facebook. We used this in the beginning, but it becomes a challenge when filtering data quickly.
2. Spending money on 3rd-party services
If you don’t have the time or capacity to manage API requests, then you could pay for a service like Power My Analytics. Services like this do all the hard work for you. Simply sign in with your accounts and they’ll then show you all the data you require. This can violate certain privacy policies. However, for sensitive data we’d stay clear of such services.
Both of these options mean that you’re not guaranteed to have a streamlined process when connecting services.
Duplicating Reports Isn’t Easy
One of the most important ways we share information is through rapid report generation. Usually, a template can be used as a standard. However, in some cases, a complex report needs to be duplicated to share with another client. Now, duplicating is easy. However, duplicating a report without new data sources, that’s a different story. Below is an example.
In a typical scenario, I’d like to duplicate a very long report I just recreated for a client requiring similar needs. To duplicate a report, select the top three dots > Make a copy. It now shows a block like the one above. You’ll notice that you have to select the New Data Source. However, most times this doesn’t exist.
What is the result of this? Well, if I just left it as is, I’d then have all my old metrics imported into my new report. After this is complete, I now have to edit/remove these sources to prevent clutter. It’s not a big deal, but if you’re creating many reports this extra time can be frustrating.
In the end, I feel that Google Data is a great tool to use for most applications. Even though it has its setbacks and occasional bugs, it’s something I’ll continue to use. Each month Google is working to improve the stability and features, and the fact that it’s free for the most part makes it high up on our list of useful digital marketing resources.