How data is displayed can be the difference between your report getting read or not. Create a simple and stylish report using Google Data Studio in 4 steps.
In this article, I will review:
• Reporting before Google Data Studio
• STEP 1: Map out the important metrics to include
• STEP 2: Outline the look and feel of your report
• STEP 3: Add desired charts to the outlined report
• STEP 4: Share and/or download a PDF of your report
• Final thoughts
Sometimes it’s not what you show, but how you show it that can make a difference – and presenting data is no different. The way in which it’s illustrated can sometimes be the difference between someone reading your report – or not.
That’s why using data visualization tools such as Google Data Studio (GDS) has been a godsend for many. It’s a way to create customized and mostly automated reports that are visually appealing.
Because of its ease of use and increase in data connectors, GDS has continued to gain popularity since its release in 2016. Even Google Search Trends can confirm its gradual rise of interest over the years.
A line graph shows a 3-year Google Trends line for “Google Data Studio”. The trend line steadily increases over time, from zero in August 2016 to 100 by mid-2020. There is a significant drop around December 29, 2019 but the trend line corrects and continues to rise after that.
The number of searches for data studio templates has also recently hit an all-time high. And while the free templates available may be fine and dandy for some, they’re not always the best option for all. It’s sometimes necessary to create a simpler and more custom dashboard based on your client goals and desired KPIs.
Reporting Before Google Data Studio
Prior to using Google Data Studio, I used good ole fashion Excel. There would be different tabs for the various performance metrics. There was also a ‘data dump’ tab that would auto-populate all the other tabs with updated metrics.
Here are a couple examples of what that used to look like:
Side-by-side analytics screenshots compare U.S. Search Engine Visibility with a Global Website Performance Metrics Overview. For U.S Search Engine Visibility, there are 3 sections of graphics.
The first section compares Desktop and Mobile M, O, M and Y, O, Y analytics for the following 5 categories: Data Cube Score, Total Organic Keywords, Ranked on S, E, R, P 1, Ranked on S, E, R, P 2, Ranked on S, E, R, P 3.
The second section compares Total Universal Results for Desktop and Mobile with side-by-side stacked bar charts and monthly data for 2017. The bar charts rise and fall with stacked sections for Images, Videos, Carousel, Places, Local 3 Pack and Quick Answers.
The third section includes a table of Select High Ranking Keywords. Data points are provided for Google Rank Desktop, Google Rank Mobile, Search Volume, Page, and Result Type.
For Global Website Performance Metrics, there are 3 sections of graphics. The first section is a bar chart that shows 2017 Organic Search Website Visits in millions with a Y, O, Y trend line.
The graph shows the numbers steadily increasing from January to December 2017. The Y, O, Y trend line is just below the top of each bar with a slight dip in November.
The second section shows M, O, M and Y, O, Y analytics for Average Bounce Rate (Organic), Average Time on Site (Organic), and Average Pages per Visit (Organic).
The third Section compares a bar chart for Y, O, Y Site Visits by Source for December 2016, November 2017, and December 2017 with analytics data for M, O, M and Y, O, Y Organic Visits by Device.
Similar to my Excel reports, the approach to creating a stylish Google Data Studio report is the same. For the sake of this article, I will focus on how to create a pretty slide in a simple monthly reporting template.
STEP 1: Map out the important metrics to include
Depending on who will be receiving this monthly report, make a list of all the performance metrics that your audience wants to see.
Your list can look something like this:
- Overall website engagement: sessions, pageviews, pages / session, bounce rate, % new users, and average session duration.
- Default channel grouping breakdown: % breakdown, referral traffic sources breakdown, and other traffic sources, etc.
- Goal completion breakdown: total goal completions, goal conversion rate, and goal completion location
- Organic traffic breakdown: sessions, pageviews, bounce rate, events, goals, devices, and landing pages.
- Search engagement breakdown: impressions, clicks, click-through rate, average position, and top search queries by clicks.
- Technical analysis breakdown: # status codes, # error types, and delta.
- Keyword visibility breakdown: keyword ranking summary, top keyword ranking increases, and top keyword ranking decreases.
- Link building breakdown: # backlinks, # referring domains, # new links and date found, and # lost links and date lost.
…and so forth.
STEP 2: Outline the look and feel of your report
Now it’s time to map out how all those important metrics will fit within your report. I like to start from the ground up: meaning I’ll start with the background, then add layers of design elements and charts.
The first step is deciding on a report background color. I highly recommend sticking with a light background with dark letters. I do not prefer using a dark background with light letters. That’s because it’s easier on the eyes, and it’s also easier on a printer should someone need to print it.
To do this, click on “Customize” in the Theme and Layout panel. Then select a background color. In my report I’m going to use a light grey.
Transcript: Customize Background Color Video
Cursor moves to click customize, switching to edit theme.
User clicks the drop-down report background expanding a color grid to change the color.
Then add a banner to the top with what the slide is about. To do this, add a shape box followed by a text box. Both are located in the top navigation.
Transcript: Add Banner Video
Cursor moves across the top navigation bar to click and expand the Shapes drop down menu.
User selects Rectangle and draws a banner across the top of the grid like a header.
The shape color changes to light gray and the sidebar changes to rectangle properties.
The background is changed to a custom color.
Text box is selected from the top navigation bar and the user draws a box on the left of the banner.
From the Text Properties sidebar, the user changes the font color to white then types, “overall traffic breakdown” in the text box.
The text is highlighted within the box, then changes from a default to 14 to 24 pixel font size in Text Properties.
Next, you can add boxes that will outline where charts will go (before you add the charts themselves). To do this, use shapes and text boxes. I also recommend only having a few data points per slide as to not overwhelm the reader.
Keep on plugging away until you have everything mapped out. You can go a step further and add text boxes for where you plan to have everything.
Transcript: Add Text Boxes Video
User selects a Rectangle from the Shapes drop-down then draws a block that stretches across the grid below the banner.
The background color changes to white from the Rectangle Properties sidebar.
A smaller rectangle is drawn below the first on the left third of the grid.
Again, color changes to white.
With small rectangle selected, a quick copy paste creates an identical rectangle that is dragged and aligned below.
With both rectangles selected, an identical vertical pair is dragged to the right of the original pair.
The same copy paste action repeats to create a 2×3 grid of six rectangles.
User selects Rectangle from Shapes then creates a title bar across the top of the first block.
The title bar color changes to match the banner,
User selects Text Box to draw and center a box within the title bar.
Font color changes to white and “overall traffic” is typed into the text box.
User navigates to Text Properties to bold and center the text.
STEP 3: Add desired charts to the outlined report
Now it’s time to add your charts the way you envisioned it. For the bar chart, you’ll need to click on “Add a chart” and then select “time series chart.”
Transcript: Bar Chart Video
Page now shows titles added to all blocks.
A top navigation drop-down for Add a Chart expands and the user selects the first time series chart, drawing it to size and filling the first block.
Date Range is selected in the Time Series Data sidebar.
User types in the search bar, filters options, and selects the Time Dimension, Month of the Year.
User changes Date Range from Auto to Custom from the sidebar, then clicks the calendar icon to reveal side-by-side start and end date calendars.
User clicks the Date Range drop-down to change from a default of Last 28 days to Advanced.
Start and end date filters appear with selections for Start Date, Range, Number, and Time Frame.
Values change to a Start Date of Today minus 12 months and an End Date of Today minus 1 month.
After clicking apply, the Time Series chart changes to the custom date range.
User selects Comparison Date Range from the data sidebar to reveal a window with start and end date calendars.
Previous Year is selected from the top drop-down menu.
User toggles the sidebar from Data to Style to change Series from Line to Bars.
The chart changes to a bar chart.
The other thing you’ll want to do is add a custom date range. That will allow the data to auto-populate in the future and provide a more comparative analysis.
This can especially come in handy should you share the Data Studio link and someone want to adjust the timeframe with a filter.
For the rest of the boxes, I will use hard numbers and add month over month (MoM) and year over year (YoY) deltas. To do this, click on “Add a chart” and then select “scorecard.”
Unfortunately, as of writing this article, there is not a simple way to add both MoM and YoY data with one scorecard. You can only select one timeframe at a time. There are ways around it, which I’ll explain in a different post.
Fortunately, there’s a workaround for this by duplicating the scorecard and overlaying one over the other. Just make sure to give your scorecard a background color so it can hide the contents of the other card.
Transcript: Add a Scorecard Video
User selects the first Scorecard chart from the Add a Chart drop-down, then drags and resizes the chart to fill the Sessions block just below Overall Traffic Sessions.
From the Scorecard sidebar, user types a search to filter the options and scroll to select the desired Metric Value, Sessions.
The Scorecard value then changes from New Users to Sessions.
User changes Date Range to Custom, then navigates to the side-by-side start and end date calendars.
Date range changes from a default of Last 28 Days to Last Month.
User clicks apply, and the Session Scorecard changes from 371 to 295.
Comparison Date Range reveals start and end date calendars.
User selects Previous Period to add a change percentage.
User toggles from Data to Style, unselects Hide Comparison Label which adds From Previous Month next to change percentage.
User scrolls Style and selects Hide Metric Name to remove the Sessions label.
Cursor moves down the panel to center justify Metric Name, Value, and Comparison, and change the background color to white.
User clicks on Scorecard and selects Duplicate with a secondary click.
User clicks on the duplicated Scorecard and selects Send Backward with a secondary click.
They drag and display a second change percentage line while keeping Sessions hidden behind the original Scorecard.
User toggles to Data to change the Date Range to Custom and the Period to Previous Year.
Clicking Apply changes the duplicated Scorecard Metric from Previous Month to Previous Year.
Keep plugging away at this until all the other boxes look exactly the way you want. When all is said and done, this one sheet will look like this:
A MediaSesh analytics page for the Google Data Studio Overall Traffic Summary. The date range at the top right corner reads, July 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020. Below this, a bar chart shows M, O, M data for Overall Traffic Sessions this year versus last.
The X-axis shows Month of Year and the Y-axis shows Sessions from zero to 500. We can see comparison data from April to July 2020 for this example.
Below this, summary data analytics with M, O, M and Y, O, Y Change Percentages for the following 6 categories: Sessions, Page Views, Pages / Sessions, Bounce Rate, Percentage New Users, Average Session Duration.
Follow this same approach for all the other slides. Here are a couple more examples from this monthly reporting template I recently put together:
Two side-by-side MediaSesh analytics dashboard screenshots compare Google Data Studio reports for Device Breakdown and Search Engagement Breakdown.
For Device Breakdown, there are three info boxes at the top of the page for Desktop Traffic, Mobile Traffic, and Tablet Traffic.
Below this, a bar chart shows total number of monthly sessions for each device.
Below this, a table with summary data for Desktop and Mobile devices. The following data points are provided: Sessions, Session Change Percentage, Bounce Rate, Bounce Rate Change Percentage, Page Views, Page Views Change Percentage, Goals, and Goals Change Percentage.
For Search Engine Engagement Breakdown, there are 4 bar charts with M, O, M data for Impressions, Clicks, C, T, R Rate, and Average Position. Above each chart is an average value with M, O, M and Y, O, Y Change Percentages.
Below this, a table of Top Search Queries by Clicks. Column headers are as follows: Query, Landing Page, Impressions, Impressions Change Percentage, Clicks, Clicks Change Percentage.
STEP 4: Share and/or download a PDF of your report
Once everything looks good, then it’s time to either share the link or PDF it. I will usually PDF it and email it to the client.
As you can see, putting together a stylish report takes time, but it’s really easy if you follow the four steps I mentioned: outline the important metrics first, then map out how it will look in Data Studio, add the charts, then download.
I will also include a title slide and executive summary slide to my monthly reporting templates. The executive summary should pull out nuggets of data from the rest of the report. This is where you’ll interpret the findings and say what happened, what caused it to happen, and what your next steps are.
You can also consider an appendix if needed. That way you can use the first few slides for the high-level data, which leadership may want to see, and leave the appendix for the more granular data, which the sales and marketing team may want to see.
Now go forth and create some really simple, stylish and impactful reports! If you need a place to start, download the SEO Google Data Studio Template within our tools section.