How to build a dashboard using Data Studio – Part 1

Data Architecture 18 December 2020

One great way to make the most of data visualization is by creating dashboards. Dashboards summarize data, which can then be used for instance to track the performance of digital assets or media campaigns, and better monitor your business.

Creating a dashboard can be complicated and involve many steps and users, but one step is imperative: choosing the right tool. This choice is made depending on the needs and restrictions of your project as well as the capabilities of available tools.

Many tools exist on the market, like Tableau, Datorama, Power BI or Data Studio. Here at fifty-five, we most often opt for Data Studio. Find out why and learn the basics of building your own dashboard below!

What is Data Studio?

Data Studio is a data visualization and dashboarding tool developed by Google. It’s completely free and available via your browser at this link – no need to download a software or purchase a license!

Google Drive users will feel right at home, as the tool uses the same interface and capabilities for sharing and collaboration. Though you will need a Google account to create and modify a dashboard, no account is necessary to view dashboards (pro tip: if you don’t have a Gmail address, you can actually link any e-mail address to a Google account). 

Why use Data Studio? 

Data Studio shows several advantages compared to other data visualization and dashboarding tools:

  • It’s free
  • It links seamlessly with Google’s other marketing and Cloud solutions (Google Marketing Platform and Google Cloud Platform)
  • It’s intuitive and quick to use 
  • It’s interactive
  • It’s easy to share

How do I use Data Studio? 

  • Create a dashboard

You have three options to create a dashboard using Data Studio:

  • Begin with a template designed by Google or its user community
  • Begin with an already-existing dashboard (shared by a colleague or one you’ve already made)
  • Begin from scratch

Begin with a template

With this first option, simply choose a template: 

  • Directly on the Data Studio homepage (you can view more options by clicking the arrows) (01) 
  • Or from this full list of templates (designed by Google or the community) 

Then click on one of the options, and “Use template” when the button appears, or else click the “copy” button on the top right.

Note that some templates are in read-only format and can’t be edited or used. You can use these for ideas of how to create your own dashboard.

Begin with an already-existing dashboard 

With the second option, open an existing dashboard and copy it (if you have the appropriate rights), using the copy button. 

Begin from scratch

With the third option, simply click on the plus sign on the homepage.

  • Connect to a source

No matter which option you choose (edit an existing template or start from scratch), you must connect your dashboard to a data source. Several sources are available (the complete list is available here) via connectors. These can be split into four categories: 

  • Native Google marketing solution connectors (for example: Google Analytics, Google Ads, Campaign Manager, Search Ads 360, Display & Video 360)
  • Native database connectors (for example: a simple Google Sheet or CSV file, BigQuery, Cloud SQL, or MySQL)
  • Third-party connectors developed by Google partners (for example: Funnel, Supermetrics) which allow you to connect data with multiple tools (such as marketing solutions from Facebook, Microsoft, or Amazon). Note that these options are not always free, and Google support is not guaranteed.
  • Third-party connectors developed by the community to access all types of data. These are not always trustworthy.

Of course, you’ll need access to an account and the corresponding data in order to connect your dashboard to this source (for example, access to a Google Analytics view, a Google Ads account, or a BigQuery table). A read-only access generally is sufficient to connect a dashboard to a source. 

To connect your dashboard to a source:

  1. Follow the displayed instructions
  2. When a source is selected, you’ll be taken to a screen that shows the source metrics (02). On this screen, you can rename fields, add calculated fields, or adjust certain settings (but you can always do this later).
  3. Add to your report and move on to the next step!

Tips & Tricks

Connecting to a source generates a “data source” file within Data Studio, which is the data version the dashboard will work with. You can access and modify metrics within this file – renaming or changing field types or adding new ones with calculated fields. To access this file, click on “Resources” in the toolbar, and then “Manage added data sources.”

By default, only the dashboard creator can access this file or make changes. If you wish to give someone else permission, they’ll need access to the source file as well as the dashboard. 

As we’ll see in a later article, you can also connect several sources to the same dashboard!

  1. Create graphics

Once your dashboard is connected to a data source, you just need to create your graphics! Data Studio makes this easy: 

  1. Choose the widget you’d like to use from the list (tables, bar graphs, line graphs, etc.)
  2. Choose the metrics that you’d like it to display
  3. Personalize its appearance by choosing the size, colors, layout, etc. 

Choose the widget

Click on the “Add a chart” button in the toolbar at the top (03) to see all the options in Data Studio. Next, just click on the one you want, then drag and drop it where you want it to appear on your page.

Choose the metrics 

Once your widget has been dropped in, you’ll need to choose the dimensions and statistics that you want displayed. Click on the graphic and from the “Data” section of the menu on the right-hand side, click on a metric to adjust it or to add another (04)

Tips & Tricks

What do the dimensions and statistics mean? These concepts are fundamental to data analysis. Each bit of data can be either a statistic or a dimension (or both).
Statistics, also called metrics, correspond to things that we measure, or qualitative data. Statistics are always numerical values that can be used in calculations: they can be added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided to create sums, averages, percentages, and more. For example: page hits, conversions, and costs are all statistics.
Dimensions are used to describe what we’re measuring, or quantitative data. Dimensions allow us to categorize statistics according to certain information or relevant details. Dimensions can be textual, numerical, geographical, chronometric, and more. For example: the date, country, or device are all dimensions. 

Lastly, a statistic can be used as a dimension. Let’s look at user product reviews as an example:

  • If we use this data as a statistic, we can measure the average review scores of sold products
  • If we use this data as a dimension, we can display the number of sold products by review score

Scroll down in the tab and other display choices will be visible (which we’ll discuss later), such as: 

  • Sorting options
  • Date range options
  • Filters or categories (if you’re using a Google Analytics source in your dashboard)

Another setting you can use is choosing a type of date range to compare data (05). You can compare displayed data and see how they change over a defined time period (previous period or same period previous year, for example). In the “Style” menu, you can choose to show this evolution as a percentage or a value. Scroll through the options until you see the Statistics section, and (un)check “Show Absolute Change”. 

Personalize widget appearance

Click on the graphic again, and again look in the menu on the right-hand side. Go to the “Style” section. You can customize most visual elements, change the number display, or add conditional layout rules to tables. You can also personalize the graphic’s layout by changing its size: click on it and change the size using the anchors around the edges.

  • Personalize your dashboard

Once you’ve added your widgets, you can also personalize the dashboard to organize it. Using the toolbar, you can add (06): 

  • Images
  • Text
  • Shapes
  • Connectors

All these elements can be personalized using the menu on the right-hand side.

  • Filter your dashboard

One of Data Studio’s strengths is that it allows users to filter displayed data in the dashboard and widgets. There are two types of filters:

  • Interactive filters
  • Imposed filters

Interactive filters

There are three types of interactive filters. By default, they are applied to all widgets on a page and allow dashboard readers to interact and modify displayed data, live. From the toolbar at the top, you can choose (07):

  • Date range”: to change the period (for example: last week, last month, last year) (08)
  • Filter control”: to restrict data to one or several  specific values of a dimension (09)
  • Data control”: to toggle between accounts when dashboard data comes from a Google marketing tool (for example: Google Analytics view, Google Ads account) (10)

Tips & Tricks

There are two modes in Data Studio. Choose from the two options above to toggle between: 

  • View: to see the dashboard
  • Edit: to build and modify the dashboard

Imposed filters

You can also impose a date range or a filter directly on a widget. With this option, the dashboard viewer cannot modify the filter. Created filters can also be used on dimensions or statistics by using different operators to multiply filter conditions. 

To impose a date range:

  1. Select a widget, and in the “Data” menu on the right, select “Custom” under “Default date range” (11) 
  2. You can then enter your desired date range

To impose a filter:

  1. Select a widget, and in the “Data’ menu on the right, click on “Add a filter” (11)
  2. You can then specify the conditions you’d like the filter to display (12) (use this Help Center page to understand which conditions you can use)

  1. Format your dashboard

A Data Studio dashboard can contain multiple pages. With the page’s menu on the left of the toolbar (13), you can manage these pages and:

  • Add pages
  • Rename pages
  • Duplicate pages
  • Change page order
  • Hide pages (so that they’re only visible in Edit mode)

You can also choose for your widget to appear on only one page or all pages of your dashboard, by right-clicking on the widget and choosing either “Make page-level” or “Make report-level”. 

You can also change the dashboard’s dimensions. Make sure you have no widgets selected, and then choose the desired dimensions under “Canvas size” on the right-hand side menu (14).

  • Share your dashboard

Now that you’ve built your dashboard the way you want it, you can share it by clicking the Share button in the top right corner (15). As in Google Drive, you can choose between two sharing modes:

  • View
  • Edit

Enter the e-mail address or get the sharing link (you can see more options by clicking on Advanced). You can also manage certain user capabilities in order to maintain control over your dashboard. 

If you can master these basic features, you can create a simple dashboard in Data Studio from A to Z – and easily share it. More advanced features exist and allow you to create dashboards that will serve more specific needs. We’ll tell you more in an upcoming article! 

Would you like another cup of tea?