Google Data Studio helps you turn data into an image. As a free, browser-based tool, all you need to use Google Data Studio is an account, a data source, and the desire to create a data visualization.
What can you do with Google Data Studio?
Google Data Studio can handle huge amounts of data and produce compelling charts, but a well-designed chart requires both accurate data and a choice of the right chart type. Inaccurate data will not produce a graph that shows the truth, no matter how you display it. Good data placed in a poorly chosen chart type can confuse people.
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For most people, an image conveys meaning in a way that raw data does not. In a business, for example, you can use it to analyze sales, costs, or survey data. A website manager can use Google Data Studio to help understand site visitor behavior, shopping habits, or ad performance. A social media manager can use Data Studio to show reach, engagement, or conversions.
With reliable data displayed in a meaningful graph, Google Data Studio goes a step further and offers interactive controls as well as several distinct sharing methods. The controls allow users to modify various chart contents, so that a user can filter certain fields or restrict the chart to display data within a selected date range. And you can not only collaborate on Data Studio reports, just like you might collaborate on a Google spreadsheet, but also schedule reports to be emailed to people on a regular basis.
To get started with Google Data Studio, open https://datastudio.google.com in your browser. Then follow the process below to connect a data source, create a chart, refine the display, optionally add an interactive control, and then share your report.
How to get started with Google Data Studio
Connect to data
First, you need data. In Data Studio, when you select Create | Report, the system prompts you to select a data source (Figure A). You can choose to add data with one of over 20 connectors provided by Google, which include sources such as Google Analytics, Google Sheets, BigQuery, YouTube Analytics, Tables by Area 120, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, or a .csv file that you download.
You can also select one of over 630 partner connectors to add data sources ranging from app, advertising, social media and website analytics to accounting, CRM, real estate and time tracking. After choosing a connector, you may need to connect to the source and then select the specific dataset you want.
Whichever data source you choose, make sure the underlying data is as reliable as possible. For example, when connecting a Google spreadsheet that contains data, you can look at at least a few screens of data fields to understand the range of data in different fields. For numeric data, you can sort a column to examine the bottom and top numbers to identify data that might be out of range and might need to be revised, adjusted, or removed. Reliable data is needed to create a truthful chart.
Choose a chart type
Next, select a chart type to use to display the data. The more than 35 types (Figure B). After selecting a chart type, you can drag and drop data fields from the right side of the screen into the area below the chart title, then customize and configure options and sliders as desired.
Consider the data and message you want to convey when selecting a chart type. Does the selected chart type emphasize your intent without explanation? If someone who doesn’t know your intent looks at the graph, what do they initially understand about your intent? Don’t try to make one graphic accomplish multiple messages. Instead, try to convey a single concept with a graphic – and convey it with the simplest graphic possible.
Although Data Studio offers a set of very usable default themes and design choices, in many cases a few improvements can help reinforce both the content and intent of your chart. In addition to chart labels and grid lines, you can add an image, text, lines, or shapes to a page and adjust chart fonts, text colors, background, and borders.
As you adjust items, you can make changes that enhance understanding of the data. For example, in the graph that displays both the maximum and minimum temperatures, I changed the colors of the lines to red and blue respectively (Figure C). These refer to the common cultural association in the United States of the color red with hot and the color blue with cold.
Data Studio lets you place controls that allow people who come to your page to adjust settings. This adds an interactive element that helps people filter and experiment with various parameters, which hopefully will lead to better understanding of the data and chart content.
Available controls include drop-down list, slider, checkbox, and data range (Figure D). Each of them can be placed anywhere on the page, but make sure your placement of a control doesn’t obscure your chart. Remember that when the selections change, various elements of the chart change.
Share with people
Just as you can collaborate with people on a Google Doc, you can also add people to collaborate on Data Studio charts with the Share button (Figure E). Select Share | Invite people, then add email addresses and choose to give people read or edit access.
If you prefer, you can also manage link sharing when you want to make a Data Studio document available to more people. The Share menu also provides options to download a report or get an embed code, allowing you to embed Data Studio charts elsewhere on the web, such as on a Google site.
Sharing | The Schedule Email Delivery option, however, can be one of the most interesting and useful ways to share reports. This allows you to schedule regular delivery of a Data Studio chart to people on recurring dates and times. When you have connected a chart to a data source that changes, this option allows you to regularly schedule and send selected report pages to people.
What is your experience with Data Studio?
If you use Google Data Studio, what types of charts do you use most often? What data do your Data Studio reports show? If you include controls, what kinds of filters or adjustments do people who interact with your charts find most useful? Have you tried using Google Data Studio to email scheduled reports? Mention me or send me a message on Twitter (@awolber) to let me know how you use Google Data Studio.