Goddess data working her magic

How we met Google Data Studio and fell in love with dashboards

June 2020

Data. What does that make you think of? Lists of facts and figures, reams of analytics, abstract numbers and dull but important reports that are a chore to look at? Data, as it’s usually presented, is not a fun read. But, within every set of data, there’s a story waiting to be set free. All you have to do is dig around, find out what that story is and tell it in a simple, clear and compelling way.

The art of data visualisation does exactly that: it turns complex data into images that are easy to understand – and that can even be beautiful.

We recently had chance to exercise our data visualisation skills on a multi-channel, multi-market dashboard for one of our e-commerce clients, using Google Data Studio. This free tool promises to “unlock the power of your data”, and that claim was certainly put to the test with this project – a complex, real-time visualisation of analytics data including search performance, display and email, Amazon sales, Google search trends and more. Here’s what we learned.

Finding the story

In the world of data visualisation, looks are important but usefulness is essential. Before unleashing your creative talent, it’s vital to talk to the people who will be using the dashboard day-to-day, and ask them exactly how they will use it, what they need to see and what their goals are. This helps you to pinpoint the key metrics or, in other words, the story you want to tell.

Once you’ve decided on the most useful metrics, remove everything else. This way you can avoid cluttering up the dashboard with too much data and too many graphs, and create something simple, useful and elegant.

The most dashing of dashboards

The next step is to tell the story. Map out the data visualisation in wireframes first, then user-test, reworked, test again and rework again, until you’re sure you’ve built the best-possible user experience.

Only then should you begin the build. As a free tool, Google Data Studio does have its limitations. There are only 50 dashboard functions, for example, far fewer than paid-for apps such as Tableau. And because it’s not officially supported by Google, you only have user forums to turn to if you run into hard-to-solve problems.

However, it’s easy to connect to Google data sources such as Campaign Manager, DV360, Google Docs and Google Analytics, and to other sources such as Supermetrics. And it’s a dream to set up. In a few steps you can turn your Excel data into a thing of beauty.

How to make your data dance: three big tips

First, make sure your data is perfect. Whatever tool you use, no data visualisation will work if your data isn’t clean. Use best practice when you’re setting up ad accounts, Google Analytics and UTM url tagging. You will thank yourself later.

Secondly, don’t try to change the way your teams are already reporting data. Instead, listen to their needs and help them improve.

And finally, learn to love the limitations of a free tool. Rather than stifling your creativity, restrictions can be your friend. You’re forced to focus, prioritize, be critical and ruthless, keeping only what’s essential. The result is a visualisation that’s clear and relevant and, if you’ve done your job, a joy to behold.