Tips for using the free version of Google’s Data Studio

Posted on Posted in Data Viz, Google Analytics Tips, New GA Features

Since my last post I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Data Studio. I’ve found that not only can it make aspects of my job a lot easier but that it can have quite an impact on the people asking me for data and analysis.


For example, I was asked for website activity data for a new campaign recently. They wanted a report and for it to be updated weekly so I sent them over a link to a Data Studio report I created.


Instead of having a traditional Excel file to pull numbers from they found the interactivity of the Data Studio report more engaging and the design itself refreshing. It also meant I didn’t have to maintain and update another report.


data studio example 1
Example of a funnel report mixing events with page views

However, I’m still encountering blockers/issues as I don’t have access to Google 360 (Analytics Premium). For everyone else in the same position I thought I’d share some ways of getting the most out of what we do have for free.



Structure your reports

With the free version of Data Studio you are (currently) limited to 5 reports. If you’ve got a number of departments you’re reporting for this may cause an issue.


One way around this is to take advantage of the number of pages you can have in each report – 99. I give each report a fairly generic name related to each department I do work for. Then, I just create a new page for each new report I need.


For example:


Page 1 – Latest print campaign

Page 2 – B2B campaign

Page 3 – Display campaign

Page 4 – Campaign C002 Customer sign ups



Page 1 – Product X launch September 2016

Page 2 – Product Y launch October 2016



Page 1 – Youtube activity

Page 2 – Social campaign overview


Internal reporting

Page 1 – Weekly view for customer journey X

Page 2 – Monthly NPS scores



Page 1 – Benefits tracker


Hopefully – as Google develops the tool further – we should get the ability to hyperlink to pages within a report. This will let you set up a ‘homepage’ or ‘directory’ on the first page of a report and make it easier to navigate.


Data sampling in Data Studio

The same old issue. Although – as I highlighted in my last post – the key difference in Data Studio compared to Analytics is that it doesn’t tell you if any of your data is sampled. I’m sure that this is down to the product being in Beta and nothing to do with the paid version giving you unsampled data…


First thing I’d recommend is running your reports in Analytics first. This will tell you if the data is sampled and at what rate. There are a few things you can do now depending on your approach to sampled data.


If the volume of traffic is significant and the report is based on a high percentage of sessions you may decide to go ahead and use it in Data Studio. The data will give an accurate indication of what is happening online. When deciding to use sampled data I’d always suggest being clear about this in your report – it will save any future awkward conversations about why the data has changed or why it doesn’t fit 100% with someone else’s data.


If the volume of traffic is low or if it causes significant fluctuations or inaccuracies when people compare data – you may want to find another way around it. You could reduce the date range and remove the ability to change it in the report. This however takes away one of the key features of Data Studio.


Another solution is to use the Google Sheets API to connect to Google Analytics. You can then pull the data out of GA – unsampled – on a day by day basis if you need to. Once it’s in a sheet you can pull it all together in one table by hour/day/week/month etc. Create a new data connection in your Data Studio report and link it to the table in your Sheet.

Connecting a Google Sheet to Data Studio
Connecting a Google Sheet to Data Studio

I’ll talk in more detail about the last method in future posts. In the meantime there are plenty of resources out there for connecting and using the API:



Hopefully this has given you some ideas for using the tool – and getting around some of the restrictions in the free version. I’ll write about any other barriers and workarounds I find in future, particularly as Google release new features.

Article Name
Tips for using the free version of Google’s Data Studio
Finding a way around some of the restrictions placed on the free version of Google's new Data Studio.
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