Google is getting rid of Universal Analytics in July 2023. Here's what that means for you. (Spoiler alert: It's a good thing.)
Looking to build a marketing dashboard in Google Data Studio? You’re in the right place. In this post, we’ll break down the steps required to customize a template to fit your brand, import your data (without ever touching code!), and build charts that effectively communicate your efforts and results.
- Why Build a Marketing Dashboard in Google Data Studio?
- How to Create a Data Studio Dashboard from Scratch
- Customizing Your Marketing Dashboard
- Importing Your Data with Connectors
- Types of Charts in Google Data Studio (Tutorial Videos)
Why Build a Marketing Dashboard in Google Data Studio?
The old saying is that you can’t fix what you can’t measure – and you certainly can’t make smart decisions about what to do next if you don’t know how (or whether) the last thing worked. Fortunately, just about every modern marketing tool offers some form of “analytics,” with eyes on giving you insight into its use and effectiveness. That data’s great … but if it’s scattered across systems, you’ll never be able to make much use of it.
That’s where Google Data Studio comes in. Data Studio is Google’s answer to Tableau, Domo and other enterprise business intelligence and data visualization solutions. All such platforms are designed to let users integrate multiple sources of data, build interactive charts and graphs, and share insights with their team. They’re all decently easy to use, and they can all create stunning dashboards. But Data Studio has two big advantages:
- It’s part of the Google ecosystem, which makes bringing in data from Analytics, Ads, Search Console, YouTube and other Google properties really easy.
- It’s free. (Seriously. Cool, huh?)
How to Create a Data Studio Dashboard from Scratch
Data Studio comes with plenty of pre-made templates, but they tend to be one-trick ponies. This post aims to teach you how to create a dashboard that integrates multiple sources of marketing data onto a “single pane of glass.” That means starting from scratch, with a blank Data Studio report. Here’s how to get started:
- Go to datastudio.google.com and click the blue “Use It for Free” button.
- Sign in with your Google account. If you use Google Apps for Business for your email (even if you don’t have a gmail.com address), use that. If not, you can use your personal Google account or create a new one. Just make sure that the account has access to all the data sources you’ll want to use, like Google Sheets or Google Analytics properties. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to log in to those tools as an admin and grant access.
- Click the big blue plus sign labeled “Blank” near the top left.
If you’re looking at a screen like this, good work!
t’s important to note at this point that Google Data Studio doesn’t actually contain any data. Everything in every chart and table pulls from third-party sources through what Google calls “Connectors.” You’ll never type chart data into Data Studio, or change it there. It all comes from somewhere else. All Data Studio does is visualize it.
With that in mind, the very first thing you have to do on your blank report screen is add a data source. Without a source, Data Studio can’t do anything. In the video below, we’ll demonstrate how to use Google’s out-of-the-box Google Sheets Connector to pull over data from a worksheet called “Daily Visitors” in the spreadsheet “Mock Marketing Dashboard Data.” (You’ll see how to use the data in a little bit.)
Here are the steps:
- Click “Create New Data Source.” This will take you to the Connector screen.
- Pick the Connector for the tool you’re pulling data from. In this case, it’s Google Sheets.
- Pick the right spreadsheet (“Mock Marketing Dashboard Data”) and worksheet (“Daily Traffic”).
- Check that your fields are named correctly (you can change this by double clicking them) and that they’re the right type. (We’ll get into types and aggregation later.)
Customizing Your Marketing Dashboard
If you’re the type to want to build a marketing dashboard in Google Data Studio, you’re probably also going to want to make it fit your brand. Since Data Studio is awesome, this is relatively easy. In this section, we’re going to build branding from scratch, on the blank Data Studio report we just created.
Changing Size & Orientation
Click the grey area around the report, and you’ll see a “Layout and Theme” menu appear on the right side of the screen. Toggle to Layout (it’s the default) and scroll down. Toward the bottom, you’ll see “Canvas Size.” This is where you can adjust your dashboard’s size and orientation (i.e., landscape or portrait).
Changing Colors & Typography
You can change the background color of your dashboard by toggling to Theme and clicking “Simple” under “Current Theme.” “Simple” is white; “Simple Dark” is black. You could lay an image behind the entire report … but why? Just use white or black.
The more important stuff is below the Theme picker. Here, you can pick your primary and secondary fonts and colors for report-level items, as well as the colors you want to appear in charts. Google is Google, so it defaults to big, bold primary colors. Unless your brand builds toys for infants, you probably don’t want this. Just click anything and choose what you want to change it. (Note that your font selection is pretty limited.)
Adding Your Logo
Now that everything’s set up just how you like, you probably want to add your logo to your marketing dashboard. The top left is a great place for this. Let’s do it!
Everything in Google Data Studio is added from the bar above the report. (We’ll go through them all in a bit.) In this case, we clicked the “Image” icon and drew the proper size in the report, then chose the right .jpg from our desktop. Creating charts, once we get there, is almost as easy.
Importing Your Data with Connectors
As we mentioned before, Connectors allow you to pull data into Data Studio from third-party sources. They’re the glue holding everything together; you can’t build a marketing dashboard in Google Data Studio without them.
There are two types of Google Data Studio Connectors: Google Connectors and Partner (formerly Community) Connectors.
Google Connectors were built by (shock) Google. They’re rock-solid, free ways to hook Data Studio up to other Google properties. If you’re looking to visualize data from Analytics, Ads, YouTube and the like, they’re your best friend.
Here’s a full list of Google Connectors for Data Studio:
- Attribution 360
- Campaign Manager
- Cloud Spanner
- Cloud SQL
- Display & Video 360
- File Upload (letting you use CSV files outputted from Excel)
- Google Ad Manager
- Google Ads
- Google Analytics
- Google Cloud Storage
- Google Sheets
- Search Ads 360
- Search Console
- YouTube Analytics
Need something not on that list? There are almost 100 Partner Connectors, developed by third parties, that let you hook Data Studio up to AdRoll, Facebook, Instagram, Constant Contact, MailChimp, Vimeo, Twitter and a ton of other platforms. (Unfortunately, we haven’t yet seen a reliable way to pull in data from Salesforce, HubSpot, Marketo or other enterprise CRMs or marketing automation platforms. Devs reading this – get on it!)
Most Partner Connectors aren’t free, but think about the time you’ll save exporting and formatting data from your ad networks, social media platforms and email systems. Having a solid hookup through a Connector vs. transferring data by hand or mucking around in a database is a pretty valuable thing.
Adding Data Sources
The process for hooking data sources up is exactly what we described above. Just “Create a New Data Source” within Data Studio, pick the Connector you want to use and pick the right account or sheet. From there, you have to make sure your fields will do what you need the to do.
Field Types & Aggregation
Fields are individual sets of data coming from your source. A column in a Google Sheet is a field. “Sessions” from Google Analytics is a field.
Every field needs to be assigned a type. (Data Studio will do its best, but it usually needs some work on custom data.) Types tell Data Studio what kind of data it’s looking at, and gives it parameters on how to treat and display it. Available types are:
- Numeric data
- Date & Time
- Boolean data (i.e., binary choices)
- Geo data
Assigning types correctly is critical. If you do it wrong, Data Studio can’t do its job. If your type is green, it’s a dimension – what you’re measuring, or what you’re measuring by. (Almost all text and dates are dimensions.) If your type is blue, it’s a metric – the measurement. (Almost all numbers are metrics.) Every chart and graph will be made up of dimensions and metrics, and they do very specific things. A time series chart, for example, uses a time dimension on the X axis – it needs to have a field labeled as a unit of time to work. If you use the type Text instead of Month for your month field, Data Studio won’t know you’re talking about months – it just sees words. No time dimension, no time series. Get your types right.
Just as important is aggregation. This is used if you want to run Excel-style calculations on your metrics. (Dimensions don’t get aggregation.) Your options are:
- Count (the total number of entries)
- Count Distinct (the number of distinct entries)
You can also copy fields and create your own using custom formulas, but that’s for another post.
Charts You’ll Need to Build a Marketing Dashboard in Google Data Studio
Charts are obviously what Data Studio is all about. It’s a data visualization tool, after all. The goal is to bring together data from multiple sources and communicate it in a way that makes a lot more sense than a jumble of numbers in a database, or endless rows and columns in a spreadsheet.
In this section, we’ll tackle some of the main KPI charts you’d use to build a marketing dashboard in Google Data Studio. The way you lay them out is ultimately up to you. Some marketers like multi-page Data Studio reports, with each page presenting data on a very specific topic. Others like a one-page single pane of glass, with a number of small graphs on one page. Use whatever approach makes sense for you and your company.
A time series is a line graph that shows a metric (Y axis) over time (X axis). It’s the first icon in Data Studio’s control bar. You use it by clicking the icon, then dragging the shape you want your time series in on the report canvas itself. (Don’t worry – you can always change the size later.)
Here, we’ll create a time series showing the bounce rate of a website each day over the last 28 days. This is sample data pulled through with the Google Analytics Connector.
That was easy, huh? You’ll definitely have noticed that the metric Data Studio defaulted to is “Sessions.” All you have to do to change your metric is click the blue box and either browse to or search for what you’re looking for. Note that if you’re using Google Analytics or another large database, there will be a ton of metrics available. If you’re using a spreadsheet or another smaller dataset, there might only be one or two.
You can also layer multiple metrics into a single time series. Here are website sessions and users per day over the last month, plotted in the same time series.
The magic there was the “Add Metric” button. When you see that, you can plot multiple metrics within the same chart. That’s great for comparing two sets of marketing data to one another.
The next icon over is the bar chart. Use this to compare information that isn’t based on a timeline (that’s for a time series) and doesn’t add up to 100% (that’s for a pie chart). Here’s a bar chart comparing traffic channels to a website. We’re going to accomplish this by changing the dimension, not the metric. Remember: dimensions are what you’re measuring, and metrics are the measurement.
The next icon over looks like a combination of a bar chart and a line chart. Naturally, it’s for a “combo” chart. These are great for comparing two different data sets that share X and Y axes – particularly sales data. Here’s a chart from Google Sheets data comparing a company’s budget and sales over four quarters.
In addition to just charting our data there, we did two things:
- We sorted the X axis to place it in time order by setting the dimension to “Quarter” and the order to “Ascending.” If you wanted the best sales quarter on the left, you would have sorted by metric “Sales” and order “Descending.” This allows you to control how the audience views your marketing data.
- We used the “Style” menu to thicken the blue line, making it easier to see. There are a ton of options for styling your charts, from grid lines and colors to fonts and weights.
Next up is the venerable pie chart. (You can use a doughnut chart, too, if you like; that’s just a pie chart with a hole in the middle.) Pie charts are used only when your data adds up to 100%. Here’s how you’d create one to see what percentage of your website visitors are male and female.
The Data Studio icon that resembles a table is a … table. Shocker, huh? It’s basically a spreadsheet within your Data Studio marketing dashboard. Here’s the same sales data from the combo chart imported as a table. Note that every metric and dimension comes in as its own column, and you’ll need to sort the data to make it appear in the order you want.
The globe icon in the Data Studio toolbar lets you overlay data on maps. It’s tough to get geo maps working well with DIY datasets, but they’re great for diving deeper into information coming out of Google Analytics. Here’s an example mapping website users by country – a great way to quickly tell if you’re being hit with spam from Eastern Europe (a common problem for B2B marketers).
Scorecard charts are one of the simplest things you’ll encounter when you build a marketing dashboard in Google Data Studio. They present a single metric, along with its change from the previous period. They’re great for emphasizing important individual KPIs, like leads, sales, website traffic or email open rate. Here’s how you’d create a scorecard to track the number of website events triggered in the last 28 days, compared with the 28 days previous to them.
Note that scorecards are the only chart type in Data Studio without a dimension value. Only metrics are allowed.
Scatter charts let you position data elements dynamically in three dimensions – on the X axis, the Y axis and by size. (Changing the size creates what’s technically a bubble chart.) They’re best used like Gartner’s Magic Quadrant – the “best” stuff should end up at the top right. Here, we’ll build a scatter chart showing our most successful email campaigns based on opens, clicks and open rate. The higher on the chart, the more clicks. The more right, the more opens. The bigger the bubble, the higher the open rate. A bigger bubble toward the top right is the best.
The only time you’ll encounter the ability to set a “goal” when you build a marketing dashboard in Google Data Studio is with bullet charts. They let you plot a single metric against a goal line and three zones – usually “unacceptable,” “acceptable” and “good.”
Let’s say we have a daily goal of four conversions, and we want to show in a quick glance how we’re doing. We’ll do this by first creating a new field within Data Studio to average our number of conversions over the year, then plotting it on a bullet chart. We’ll do the first part with aggregation.
With a bullet chart, it’s easy to see that our average number of daily conversions (five) is to the right of the goal line. That’s great! Nice work, lead gen team!
Area charts are basically more colorful time series. They’re great for showing how a KPI breaks down. For instance, a time series can show us how many users hit a website each day; an area chart can be used to break down the channels they used to get to the website.
Note that an area chart needs a time dimension. If you don’t have one, you’ll need to use a stacked bar chart.
Last but certainly not least is the good, old-fashioned pivot table. We love Data Studio pivot tables; they’re just like what you get in Excel or Google Sheets, but they’re quite a bit easier to build. As an example, let’s break down each website acquisition channel by user gender.
Ready to Build a Marketing Dashboard in Google Data Studio?
By this point, you should be! There’s no Data Studio tutorial that can tell you exactly what to chart or include in your marketing dashboard – it depends on your business, your product and your needs. But if you put the time in, do the legwork and use the advice above, you’re sure to create something that will deliver value to the marketing department, the sales team and the C-suite.
Need a hand? Our team loves building marketing dashboards in Google Data Studio. Contact us to get the ball rolling with that or any other B2B marketing needs you might have.