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A Gentle Introduction to Google Data Studio

A Gentle Introduction to Data Studio

Google Data Studio is a data visualisation and reporting tool. That’s how Google described it when they first launched it, toward the end of 2018. It makes it sound like it’s something really complicated. Fortunately, it’s really not. What Google Data Studio is, is a tool for making the most of all your company data. It lets you draw your data sources together and use them to create compelling charts and reports.

There are lots of tutorials and guides around that try to teach Google Data Studio. Ours is a gentle introduction for people who have never used the tool before. We’re going to explain what the tool allows you to do. Then, we’ll take you step-by-step through using the tool for the first time. That should get you acquainted with its main features. Exactly how you use it for your business is then up to you.


Quick Jump To: 

1. What Does Google Data Studio Let You Do?

a. Connecting to Your Data
b. Visualising Your Data

3. Logging In & Getting Used to The Interface

4. Starting a New Report

5. Connecting a Data Source

6. Making a Chart

7. Adapting & Adjusting The Chart

8. Annotating & Adding Interactivity

9. Using Your Own Data


What Does Google Data Studio Let You Do?

Google Data Studio is ideal for any firm who wants to make their marketing data sing. The tool is all about making the most of your data. That might mean making it easier for you to read. It could mean turning it into something that will convince a lead to become a new client. Data Studio is designed to make it easy to both connect to and to visualise your data.


Connecting to Your Data

All successful companies will try to keep track of all aspects of their operation. That means using loads of different analytics tools. The resulting data is spread all over the place and can be tough to collate. Google Data Studio lets users connect quickly to data from all kinds of sources:


  • Google Marketing Products: Google Analytics, Ads, Search Ads 360 etc.
  • Google Consumer Products: Google Docs & Sheets, Google Search Console
  • Databases: MySQL, BigQuery, PostsreSQL and others.
  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc.


Visualising Your Data

As well as collecting together your data, Data Studio lets you create something compelling with it. Something that will be easy to read, to customise and to share. The tool lets you:


  • Create Charts: Using your data you can produce pie charts, bar graphs, line graphs, geo maps, data tables, pivot tables and many more.
  • Make Them Interactive: Viewer filters, date range controls and other interactive features can be added to charts and reports.
  • Annotate Them: Text and image annotations can make charts perfect for presentations or demonstrations.
  • Style & Customise Them: Use colour themes and other style elements to make your charts personal and compelling.


Now you know what Google Data Studio can do for you, you’ll want to know how to use it. Our gentle introduction is designed to help you get started. We’ll go step-by-step through a handy first use of the tool. We’ll cover:


  1. Logging in & getting used to the interface
  2. Starting a new report
  3. Connecting a data source
  4. Making a chart
  5. Adapting & adjusting the chart
  6. Annotating & adding interactivity
  7. Connecting your own data sources


Let’s get started.


Logging In & Getting Used to The Interface

To get going with Google Data Studio, you’ll first want to head to The tool is a free one, which is available to anyone with a Google account. If your browser is set to have you auto signed in to your Google account, the main Data Studio interface will appear immediately. If not, you simply have to login with the details you use for Google Drive or Google Analytics.



The main interface should seem pretty familiar. In many ways, it’s quite similar to Google Drive and uses a lot of the same icons. At the top of the page, there are some sample reports that you can click. Those give you an idea of the types of reports and charts you can create with the tool.

On the left hand side of the interface, you’ll see two types of documents listed. Those are ‘Reports’ and ‘Data Sources’. The ‘Reports’ are the charts and graphics you create. The ‘Data Sources’ are where you get the data for those charts from.

Data Studio allows you access to sample data sources to use when learning the tool. That’s what we’ll be using through this guide. Later on, we will also explain the process of connecting your own data sources.


Starting a New Report

Once you’ve had a flick around the main interface, you’ll want to start a report. Make sure you still have ‘Reports’ and not ‘Data Sources’ selected. If you do, you should see a blue ‘+’ in the bottom right of your screen. There should also be a ‘Start a New Report’ panel in the top left.

Clicking on either of those gets the ball rolling. The very first time you do, you’ll see the following popup:



That just takes you through accepting the Google T’s & C’s and setting preferences. When you’ve done that, click the blue ‘+’ or ‘Start a New Report’ again. This time, you’ll see the report interface:



Most of the page is taken up by the blank canvas where your report will take shape. There’s also a simple toolbar at the top of the page. At this stage, there’s also a section on the right hand side titled ‘Add a Data Source’. It’s this that you’ll now want to focus on.


Connecting a Data Source

The menu on the right hand side of your screen includes a list of possible data sources. When you first use the tool, they’ll be the sample sources Google provide. Those sources all have file names beginning [Sample]. The option beneath them to ‘Create New Data Source’ is how you can link your own data. That could be any data you like to support your SEO or other marketing activities.

We’ll get to connecting your own data sources later. For now, we’re going to use one of the samples. The file named ‘[Sample] Google Analytics Data’ is best for our example. Clicking the file will generate the following popup:



On that popup, you simply want to click ‘ADD TO REPORT’. Doing so will connect Google Analytics data from the Google Store to your report. The data regards things like web traffic, sessions etc. If one of the data sources you later add yourself is Google Analytics, this will be the same kind of information that gets connected.

Clicking ‘ADD TO REPORT’ takes you to a more comprehensive interface. It’s through that interface that you can start making your first chart.


Making a Chart



You’ll notice a handful of differences between this interface and the one you saw earlier. The canvas now has a grid pattern so that it looks a bit like an exercise book. The menu on the right now features a lot more options. The toolbar at the top of the page also has more buttons and menus to choose from.

At this stage of the process, you can feel free to explore some of those options. The best way to learn what the different buttons and tools do, is to try them out. Once you’ve had a good play around, click the ‘Add a Chart’ option on the top toolbar to continue following our guide. That will display the following dropdown:



The dropdown displays the different types of chart you can make. We’re going to choose the simplest ‘Time Series’ option for our example. To select it, click the button we’ve highlighted above. A time series using the Google sample data will appear on your canvas. It basically looks like a line graph. You can then expand it to cover as much of the canvas as you like.



That should give some idea of the utility of Google Data Studio. With almost no effort, it’s let you create a visual of your chosen data. Now it’s time to specify exactly what you want your chart to show and how.


Adapting & Adjusting The Chart

The first step in adjusting your chart is to set the ‘Dimensions’ and ‘Metrics’. Metrics are essentially the numbers your chart will display. Dimensions are how you arrange those numbers. The time series you’ve created will have ‘Date’ as its dimension and ‘Sessions’ as its metric. That means the graph displays number of sessions on its y-axis and days of a month on its x-axis.

To show you how altering these settings affects your chart, let’s change the dimension. You can do that by clicking where demonstrated below:



From the resulting menu, select ‘Month of Year’. That will change the chart to display sessions by month of year. Your chart, however, will look pretty uninspiring:



The reason it looks like that is because of the date range being used to display data. The default date range is the past 28 days. That means you’re only using one data point to display sessions by month of year. You need to change the date range. To do that, click the ‘custom’ option beneath the ‘Default date range’ title in your right hand menu.



Hovering over the word ‘custom’ will then bring up a calendar. On that calendar you can select the new date range you wish to use. For the sake of this example, set the date range for the past year and click ‘apply’. That will update your chart to look something like this:



It’s a simple yet effective chart showing how sessions have changed month on month over the past year. That’s not all you can do with this data, however. It’s also possible to compare results from one year to the next on the same chart.

Click the ‘Comparison date range’ option in your right hand menu (shown below). Then use the calendar to choose a date range of one year earlier than you chose before. That will give you the following chart:



That’s a great graph for showing trends over time. It could be useful for identifying the times of year you want to target certain long tail keywords to boost seasonal traffic to your site. It’s possibly not ideal for directly comparing September 2017 sessions with those from September 2018. For that, you might want to change the chart into a bar graph.



At the top of the right hand menu, ‘Data’ will be highlighted blue. Click ‘Style’ instead. That changes the menu entirely. You can now simply check the option for ‘Bars’ rather than ‘Line’ as indicated above.


Annotating & Adding Interactivity

What you’ve got now is a perfectly serviceable chart. What you’ll want to do is make it as compelling and as attractive as possible. You can do that by annotating it and adding interactivity. Your basic annotations, like titles and labels, can be added in the same was as in Paint or other simple programmes. Text boxes and simple shapes are available as options on the top toolbar:



Showing a little bit of artistic flair can really elevate any chart. It’s not all about aesthetics, either. At this point you can also make your chart more interactive. One way is by including a ‘Filter Control’. That’s something that lets someone looking at the chart change exactly what the chart shows. The ‘Filter Control’ button is also easily accessible on the top toolbar:



Click on the filter control and add it to your chart in the same way as a text box. When the filter control is selected, your right hand menu will refer to it specifically. You can use the menu in exactly the same way before. This time, though, you’ll be changing the dimension and metrics of your filter control not the whole chart.

All you really need to change is the dimension. We’ve chosen to choose the dimension of age from the many available options. The impact of the filter control is best shown by selecting ‘View’ from the top toolbar. That takes you to the finished version of your chart.

When there, clicking on the filter control you’ve created lets you alter the data that the chart shows. As we’ve chosen the ‘age’ dimension, you can add or remove certain age groups from the data. The visual of the chart will then alter accordingly.



Using Your Own Data

You’ve now got a great-looking, interactive chart based on Google sample data. What you might want to do is to connect your own data source. Go back to your chart interface by clicking ‘Edit’ where you last clicked ‘View’. Click on your chart, so that the main right hand menu is displayed.

At the top of the menu, the data source used for the chart will de shown. In our example, it is the ‘[Sample] Google Analytics Data’. Click the file name and a new menu will appear, displaying the available data sources. At this stage, they’ll be the other sample sources provided by Google.



Click on ‘Create New Data Source’ as shown above. You can then work through a series of pages to tell Google Data Studio which source you want to add. Those pages will also let you choose the dimensions and metrics you want to be available from the new source. Once you’re done, you can then click ‘Add to Report’. Your chart will now display your own data, rather than the sample data.

Phil Pearce
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Phil Pearce
Phil Pearce
Phil is an analytics expert, author, and web analyst. He's also the Analytics Director & Founder of Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Google Ads and CRO agency, MeasureMinds Group. Over the past 20+ years, Phil has helped clients improve their analytics and search engine marketing through the introduction of new tools and disruptive techniques.
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4 years ago

Question: I work for a company with sensitive data where regulations dictate I cannot let the data exist on servers outside of my home country. Does using Google Data Studio allow me to specify where I want the data to be stored, and control the security of that data?

4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser

No unfortunately not

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