3 easy tips to make Google Data Studio work for you

Google Data Studio has its pros and cons: it’s free, accessible and fast, but lacks flexibility in certain specific cases. Ultimately, the choice for Data Studio or any other dashboarding solution should depend on your infrastructure, your channels and your intended crowd. Let’s say you have evaluated your options and Data Studio came out the winner. How do you make it work for you?

Set up a ‘Date Difference’ field

If there’s an Analytics property or AdWords account linked to your dashboard, creating a simple ‘Date Difference’ field will really add value to your KPI dashboard. This function calculates the difference between two dates of your choice, whether you use the adjustable Date Selector or prefer to use fixed dates. Many of your data sources probably already collect dates by default; none of them automatically calculate a date difference.

It’s important to note that the ‘Date Difference’ field needs to be set up slightly differently for Analytics or AdWords connections. When you use preset date fields from these sources, Analytics uses the field name ‘Date’, whereas AdWords uses the field name ‘Day’ for the same denominator. A subtle difference that separates a working function from a “ could not parse formula ”.

Full function (Data source: Google Analytics)

DATE_DIFF(TODATE(Date,'DEFAULT_DECIMAL','%d-%m-%Y'),TODATE(Date,'DEFAULT_DECIMAL',' %d-%m-%Y'))

1. call the DATE_DIFF() function

DATE_DIFF(TODATE(Date,'DEFAULT_DECIMAL','%d-%m-%Y'),TODATE(Date,'DEFAULT_DECIMAL',' %d-%m-%Y'))

As the function name implies, DATE_DIFF() simply tells Google Data Studio to calculate the difference between two dates.

2. place two TODATE() functions between the brackets of DATE_DIFF()

DATE_DIFF(TODATE(Date,'DEFAULT_DECIMAL','%d-%m-%Y'),TODATE(Date,'DEFAULT_DECIMAL',' %d-%m-%Y'))

The TODATE() functions are here to set your start and end dates and the input and output formats for both of these dates.

3. determine input and output formats within both TODATE() functions

The intestines of the TODATE() function consist of three things: a date, the INPUT format, and the OUTPUT format. If your data source is Google Analytics, write ‘Date’, which is a default field (use ‘Day’ for AdWords).

The second variable (INPUT format) needs to match the format of the Date variable. That means if your data source uses the ‘YYYYMMDD’ format, you have to pick an input format following the same protocol. The INPUT format usually listens to ‘DEFAULT_DECIMAL’. Check the Google Support page (EN) for a full overview of formats for Input and Output for the TODATE() function.

The last variable (OUTPUT format) can be whatever you like, as long you put it between apostrophes. For the sake of this example, it is not yet important which format you choose.

You’re almost done! You will need to set the ‘aggregate’ setting of your new Date Difference field to ‘Count’ for this function to work. Check if it works by placing it into a Scorecard metric.

Balance your AdWords budgets

Simply showing your AdWords spend is easy, whether it’s the total campaign costs in a scorecard, cost-per-day or cost-per-click. But a € 10K cost metric doesn’t tell you whether you’ve been overspending (which normally shouldn’t happen) or underspending (which is not uncommon for hyper-targeted ads, especially in B2B). Unfortunately, there is no default ‘Budget’ field in Google AdWords: setting this up requires a bit of work.

There are several ways to achieve this. Your easiest option is to add a Google Sheets file as a data source. By using Google Sheets you can create a basic overview of your monthly and daily budgets and then hook up the file to Data Studio. Of course, budgets alone don’t allow you to plot your actual balance in a graph: you need spending data as well. As Data Studio only allows you to connect one data source per graph, you need to include your spending numbers in the same Sheets document as your budget. You can either do this manually (e.g. every week/month) or install a script that automates the process.

If you include the balance calculations in your Google Sheets document (as displayed above), you can import these as fields for Google Sheets. You will need to assign the appropriate field types to each field after they have been imported, that is: make sure the column YYYYMM is recognised as a date, and the numbers are read in the currency of your choice.

Go Big

Your dashboard’s real estate is about the same size as the screen you present it on, so you need to use your space wisely. Yes, you want to show as much data as possible on a single page. Yes, that does look cluttered!

“Murder your darlings”, the saying goes for writing. It goes for dashboarding as well. Choose your key metrics objectively and without sentiment. The data you find exciting will not always match the KPIs your manager wants to see, so split up the key performance indicators and the details, and place them on different pages. Then make the KPI results big -- physically. Big Numbers are easier to read and understand at a single glance, and will inevitably spark questions and discussions allowing you to deep dive into the detailed data (which you have no doubt hidden away on your other dashboard slides). In other words: a small amount of Big Numbers acts as a gateway to actionable insights, whereas a large amount of small numbers will take more time to explain and is more likely to overwhelm your audience. The question is: which is more likely to convince them?

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