Head of SEO at Novos, Dan Cartland, talks through how – by using Google Data Studio – he went from hating reporting to loving and automating it.
With advice suitable for Google Data Studio beginners and experts alike – Dan walks through some of his top tips, with examples, on how to get the most out of this powerful data visualisation tool. And how you can use it to save time; make your data more useful and accurate; win-over clients or colleagues; and improve your SEO efforts.
Video & Slides
- Download the slides to accompany Daniel’s talk: Local SEO After Checklists. (4MB PDF)
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Cheers, thanks a lot for having me, it’s great to be here.
I’m here to talk to you about the secret weapon that is Google Data Studio and how you can use Data Studio to save loads of time and loads of effort.
So, to introduce myself (I don’t have a name badge yet but I’ll pick one up straight after the talk), my name is Daniel Cartland, I work at an e-commerce SEO agency called Novos.
In today’s talk, I’m going to run through Data Studio, here’s what you can expect: a run-through of what data studio is, some basics such as how to set up a report, and pull through some really useful things, we’ll be diving a bit deeper into categorising information and how to do that, connecting to your favourite web crawlers such as DeepCrawl and Screaming Frog, adding commentary that stays with your report, and finally making your report really user-friendly.
So at this stage you might be thinking, okay he’s doing a report, he’s doing a presentation on a reporting platform – he must love numbers, he must have an affinity for data.
I hate reporting
Well this isn’t actually the case. I hate reporting, and that’s sort of the reason that I found Data Studio. The reason I use Data Studio is because I really hate reporting, and it makes it way easier.
Why do I hate reporting?
It takes loads of time, I find it incredibly boring, it takes loads of time – I don’t know if I mentioned that already, and it’s also dangerous. You might be sitting there thinking okay you know yeah it takes loads of time, yeah it’s pretty boring, but how’s it dangerous? Well, who’s ever received an email that looks a little bit like this:
This is the kicker…
“Thanks in advance!”
So you don’t really have a choice in the matter, you have to pull this data.
I’m going to talk to you about Data Studio and how this can really help with situations like this, to free up your time and spend it on something more useful – whether that’s really analysing the data rather than pulling it, or it’s just something else that you do in your day to day job.
This is why Data Studio is really useful – compared to sort of an Excel report that’s really static and clunky and doesn’t look great and that’s probably gonna crash right before you’ve saved it so you have to do it all over again. Data Studio is automated, it’s shareable, it’s scalable and it’s very very flexible, so you can dig into the information and see exactly what you want to see.
What is Data Studio?
You know, this all sounds great, but what exactly is it?
- It’s a reporting platform from Google
- It connects to APIs, so it connects to APIs on Google’s platform such as Search Console
- Data Studio also connects to external APIs such as Sistrix (shoutout to them!)
- You can put through loads of data and have it all in one place
- It also allows you to customise your visualisations, so in Google Analytics you might just have a sort of generic line graph, and in Data Studio you can really play around with how you visualise information. What is the best way for you to show that information to your boss or to your client? How do you get your message across?
- And perhaps most importantly – it is free
All your data sources in one place
So these are some of the sources you can pull through, obviously you’ve got Analytics, Search Console, Google Sheets as well.
And this is a really great way to connect to other tools that maybe don’t have their own API – things like DeepCrawl and Screaming Frog which I’ll talk about a little bit later. If you’re connecting to those, you’ll pull them through via Google Sheets.
But also, a lot of ranking platforms have their own APIs or make it very easy to pull through ranking data. It also pulls through Google Ads if you’re running paid campaigns – I’m not going to talk about that today because I’m an SEO, but I understand there’s some people that like paid search. You know… won’t hold it against you!
Data Studio is really powerful, it has all your data sources in one place – you don’t have to open several different tabs and dive into data and get lost – everything you want to see will all be contained in your Data Studio report.
How do you set up a report?
Now I’m not going to go into too much detail, because I do think the best way to get your head around data Studio is to really try it yourself.
But I’m gonna sort quickly jump in on how to do it and some things to consider.
So head to Data Studio, set up a new report, create a new data source – at this stage you have to authorizse Data Studio to see all your data. Log into your Google account and you’ll see a screen that looks a little bit like this – so a load of green boxes, a load of drop downs.
And I remember when I was just sort of getting into Data Studio, I was incredibly daunted by this. I was thinking – right I’m falling at the first hurdle here, I don’t know what any of this means!
But don’t worry about it at this stage, just add it to report. It’s essentially just saying this is the information you can access through Data Studio, this is what we’ve pulled from your data source.
Now my top tip at this stage is to name everything. You can see in the top right, it says All Web Site Data. This is what your Data Studio is named.
When you’re first getting started, it won’t make much of a difference. But if you’re working for an agency or you’re pulling in multiple data sources – it can get confusing very very quickly, so you want to make it a really clear and concise name – what is that data source you’re pulling through?
Similarly, if you do create filters, anything you’re creating – make sure you name it in a really clear manner. Trust me, I learned the hard way when I had about ten data sources that were all website data, and had to go through trying to figure out which was for which client.
Don’t do what I did, start off on the right foot and name everything!
So once you’re in you’ll see something like this. You can add a chart, it’s really easy. Select the visualisation you want, just click on there.
On the right you’ll see something like that – you can select your dimensions. Again, it’s exactly the sort of stuff you’d see in Google Analytics and you can split it by the metrics you’re after.
This is things like page views, sessions, bounce rate, time on page… you can pretty much spit up however you want.
The beauty of it is you can report on exactly what you want, and we’re going to talk about some features of Google Data Studio – probably some more advanced features of it today.
But I think this is really the crux of the talk – what do you spend time reporting on that you don’t want to spend time reporting?
Report on what you want
What, when you’re in Google Analytics sort of going down a rabbit hole, what could you pull and see really clearly straight off the bat in one report? What’s something your clients always ask for, what’s something that your boss always asks for? What’s something you always look for?
And again, if you can automate this and find that information really easily – this is what’s going to free up your time so you can spend it doing something else, or analysing that data to find things that going to push your business, push your website forward.
So put your basics first – I’ve got a couple of examples here – here’s a Data Studio for Novos, the company I work for.
It’s really simple, we’ve got KPIs and sessions which are always things that I have to look at, so why not make it really easy? I can just log into my date studio and see it right there.
Top landing pages, device split… as I say we’re an eCommerce agency, so for that sort of thing you might want to dig into revenue, transactions, conversion rate.
Over the course of a month I can see which days where I performed particularly well, maybe there was a traffic spike, maybe I own a lot of revenue on one particular day. I might want to dig into that a bit further. I can really clearly see it all in one place.
You might have noticed that in both of these reports I have also split my data by Segments – I’ve categorised my data.
This is another really powerful feature in Google Data Studio, rather than pulling reports into Excel, applying filters, totalling data, you can categorise your data once, and then every time you come back to it those same categories will be there.
You can then easily track categories over time and compare different categories.
How’d you do this?
So pages can be grouped using regular expressions. I’ll give you a couple of examples of how I’ve used this and why I think it’s very powerful.
Brand vs Non-brand
One is brand versus non brand split from Search Console. So what I’ve basically said here is whenever my query matches Nov for Novus, count it as branded. If not, count it as non-brand.
The reason I’ve chosen Nov rather than the full Novos is because the amount of times people misspell brand names is quite shocking, so I’m just trying to capture all the data I can and make sure it’s all really relevant.
If you’re sitting there thinking this is all well and good, but this looks pretty complicated – I don’t know the regular expression… Well neither do I, but I’ve managed to get through this with a few Google searches and a couple of bits of knowledge.
Dot Asterix matches any character any number of times, so that’s what I’ve used here. If Nov is included anywhere in the query, that’d be counted as branded traffic or branded searches, and the pipe means “Or” and I’ll show you an example of that in a little bit.
To give an example of what this looks like in a report – this is my search console data, I’ve got my queries and everything showing.
I can select a filter and filter it down so I’m just looking at branded searches. It’s really easy to dive into your data to find exactly what you’re after.
If you’re an SEO agency, you might be more interested in non-brand traffic – you have a bit more power to influence non branded traffic, so you might be more interested in seeing how that’s increased.
It will have increased obviously, because your SEO is working on the account!
Website content sections
Similarly, content sections.
Here I’ve split my website by the categories you get in Shopify. But equally it’s really flexible, if you’re an e-commerce website and you have a subfolder for t-shirts, a subfolder for shorts and a subfolder for sunglasses, you can split your information up to reflect those subfolders.
And again, that means you can analyse them at the category level.
If maybe t-shirts one month has seen a particular increase, I can see that really really clearly. I can dive into a bit more to see which products have driven this – maybe I want to push them a bit harder, maybe I want to find out why people are buying this particular product.
You set it up once, and you can keep going back to it rather than having to pull all the raw data every time and analyse it that way. This is exactly why Data Studio is so great – spend your time analysing your data instead of preparing it.
A few more examples of how you can use Data Studio and how I’ve used it in ways that I’ve found really really useful:
Applying multiple filters
So in Search Console and Analytics, I think you have the option of adding two filters, whereas in Data Studio you can add as many as you want. What this means is you can get really really granular data, really really granular insight.
So for example, here I’m looking at two different content segments – just new visitors and any people visiting from the desktop.
Again, if we think back to the email at the beginning – if your client’s asking something really specific – great! They can dive into it themselves, feel free, You won’t have that back and forth anymore you won’t be having to spend your time pulling the data yourself.
It’s really user friendly, really easy for them to dig into the data themselves.
Easy to access all of your data
If this isn’t enough, you can have a search functionality.
Everyone I’ve worked with and myself included, there’s always like a specific landing page that they’re championing. Maybe they’ve asked the client to set it up, they said yeah this is going to be the big money-maker, and they’ll always want to check on that one specific landing page.
Well they can do that really easily, there won’t have to be the back and forth – everyone can dive into the information they want, you can dive into the information that you find the most useful really easily.
Things like queries, landing pages, particular products, or even country data – it’s really flexible and saves loads and loads of time.
You can make your chart look good with interactive data.
So you can see I’ve got a date filter at the top – I can set it so you can select a date range from the graph itself.
What this means is, if I see a particular particular peak on the graph, I don’t have to worry about changing the date range and figuring out which dates it’s between. I’ve made you go straight to the source, highlight it, and it’ll update all the other information around it so I can see what’s driving that – what’s really driving up that traffic, driving that increase.
Again this is saving loads and loads of time.
This is another really powerful feature. What it does is use a single graph or a single visualisation with ever-increasing levels of detail.
In my example here, what I’ve done is I’ve plotted my sessions and my revenue across a course of a month. We are asking okay, what days are people visiting the site?
And I can drill down and see another layer of data on top of my monthly data – okay people are visiting on Tuesday – maybe I want to plan a campaign around a Tuesday, as that’s when I know people will be receptive – people are visiting the site and spending money on the site on those days. I might want to stay away from Friday evening when everyone is out having a beer.
If I want more than that… what time of day? For an email campaign – what time of day do I send it? Well, Drilldown even further.
I can see hour on hour average data and again, if we compare this to if you were pulling in the raw data, you have to pull three sets of data, find it in analytics, pull it out, total it, somehow create three charts around it.
Whereas in Data Studio, once it’s set up you can keep visiting this data, you can change the date range, it’s really easy and there for you to analyse.
Another great use of Drilldown, is if you categorise your information – for example…
I can see my t-shirts are selling really well, I can then set my landing pages to Drilldown, so I can then see which landing pages are driving that year-on-year increase or month or month
So again, all in one place – really is really easy to visualise.
Crawl Me Maybe
I started my career at Screaming Frog, so I do have a bit of an affinity for web crawlers and the information they provide.
I’ve been trying to pull these through into Data Studio for quite a while, and I finally cracked it. It’s actually not as hard as I thought it was!
DeepCrawl Report Connector
DeepCrawl have a really great guide on how to do it, and DeepCrawl in particular is very very powerful, because once it’s set up, it’s completely automated.
What I’ve used is Zapier, and I’ve said every time a new crawl completes for a particular website, it’ll update a new row in Google sheets. I’ve connected my Google Sheets to Data Studio, and so I can pull through data such as the number of pages that are resolving on the site, the number of pages that are redirecting, the number of pages that are resulting in 404 errors.
And I can plot this over time. I can see if my number of resolving pages completely skyrockets – uh-oh, what’s happened here? Maybe someone’s opened a parameter, equally if my number 404 pages shoots up, I can dive into that and ask okay where are they coming from?
These are the sorts of things that you check anyway when you’re looking at crawls, but you can make it really easy to spot the trends as you go.
Screaming Frog Connector
Screaming Frog is slightly more manual, because I haven’t figured a way to pull it directly in, but it’s a very simple sort of copy and paste into a Google Sheet once you’ve got your export.
You can automate it as much as possible – if every week you have to run a health check on your website, maybe schedule it to run on a Sunday evening. Schedule it to export your report of choice (which is all functionality within Screaming Frog).
By the time you get in Monday morning – great your reports ready to go! Open it up, copy and paste it into Google Sheets and you’ve got the information there ready to go and ready to analyse.
Using Zapier you can actually set it up so you get a text when your crawl’s completed. I’m not sure why you want to do it but it made me laugh… it’s sort of like peak SEO isn’t it. Getting excited over getting a text that your crawl’s finished. But yeah, have a bit fun with it.
Add commentary, forever
You might be thinking at this stage, this is great but you know, I get paid to give some insight – I need to add commentary, I need to explain the trends, I send an email with my reports explaining exactly what’s going on.
Well Data Studio can help there as well.
What you can do is set up a Google Sheet again that matches your commentary to a particular date.
Why this is really useful is because it means that if you change your date range, it will pull through that commentary with it. So instead of scrolling through thousands of thousands of email archives to find out why six months ago there was a dip in traffic, you can just increase the date range on your report and it’s right there.
Example here: when I’m just looking at October, it’s only pulling through one comment… Wow how cool, I agree. Whereas when I increase the date range it pulls you the relevant data with it.
To take this to the next level, you don’t even have to store your sheets somewhere different, you can embed URLs in Data Studio, and if you insert the editable Google Sheets URL.
Data Studio Inception
What that means is you can edit Google Sheets to update your data to do commentary within Data Studio. This is kind of confusing, but I like to refer to it as Data Studio Inception. Basically all it means is you can have everything in one place and it’s really easy to do.
You can then hide the page when you’re sending over the report, so whoever you’re sending it to doesn’t have to see these – you keep it nice and clean. It’s really functional and again really aesthetic.
Making your report user friendly
Finally I get to touch upon making reports user-friendly.
So I learned the hard way that aesthetics do mean a lot in business.
I was fairly new to SEO and I just ran a meeting – my first meeting. I was talking about strategy and I was saying “oh create this landing page and your visibility is gonna skyrocket”. I’m thinking, I’ve nailed this, I saw the promotion on the horizon, I can’t wait for the feedback.
I go back to work and got some feedback… but unfortunately all they said was I’d use the wrong brand logo. So I learned that the hard way – aesthetics do matter.
And again, it’s really easy to make your Data Studio reports really visually pleasing and really aesthetic.
Create a dashboard
For example: Create a dashboard. So if you’re sending this report to multiple people in a company that each have a different product area or different area of interest, you can link off to particular reports.
You might have an organic report and a paid report – they can just click on that area of interest and be taken straight there. They don’t have to worry about scrolling through everything.
Some other use cases of this – if you’ve got your SEO strategy maybe in Google Slides – linked to that. Any time your client will know where to find your new SEO strategy, they can check in on that without having to sort scroll through their folders, or send you an email saying can you send it over again, it’s lost somewhere. Everything’s in one place.
If you’re running an outreach campaign and you’ve just secured a massive link from a national website – again why not put that in there and link to that? It’s really is put everything in one place and it’s really usable and really user friendly.
How to link?
Well unfortunately, Data Studio doesn’t yet allow you to link from images or shapes, so you can have a little bit of a hack-y way around this. I learned this from Mehdi – I’ve never actually met him, but he’s a Data Studio wizard, so definitely check out that link if you’ve got time.
But you can basically create a text box, fill that with text, link from it, and then set the opacity of the text to 0%. Essentially what that means is it looks exactly like you’re clicking on the button, but you’re not.
Little bit of a hack, but it works really really well.
Make it branded
As I said earlier, the little things can matter.
What are your client’s fonts? What colours do they like using? Showing that you’re aligned with their brand can really go a long way and make your report powerful. It probably shouldn’t matter – it should be the data that counts, but it does. So why not get on board with it?
So how might you pull a few of these things together to make a useful report, maybe as a one-off case? Website migration for example.
Use case – Site Migrations
No matter how well prepared you are for website migration, they do often go wrong. Maybe your staging environment is inexplicably completely different from your live environment (we’ve all been there).
What I might do is connect to DeepCrawl, so as soon as my site goes live, I can crawl the site, get that information presented in a really visual way.
In my example here, I’ll know my number of 200 pages has dropped massively, my number of 404 pages has shot up. I want to investigate this.
Maybe I haven’t linked to a category page, and maybe one of my redirects hasn’t gone through properly, resulting in a 404.
What I can do is then add some commentary tied to your dates – I can say on the 30th, this is where the migration went live. On the 31st, I’m saying this is what we’re seeing and these are the fixes.
I can communicate with the devs and say to the client that these are the fixes we suggest you implement. I can embed a URL so they can check it out for themselves, and I can link to the list of 404 that I want them to fix – it’s really easy.
But I don’t have time!
I’m a busy person, I don’t have time to set up these reports, set up a new report for every client every time I have to do something.
Well you can scale up really easily.
You can literally copy and paste the report that you’ve got, match up the data sources, and again you’ve got a new report for a new client.
You can also beg, borrow and steal reports. I wouldn’t recommend stealing reports, but I guess in theory you could. There are loads and loads of templates out there, and again you can just copy it over.
If you’re interested in say a site speed report, google it and you can find the template, copy your data sources, and you’ve got it there ready to go in literally minutes.
Switch data sources
You also switch data sources within Data Studio. So if you’ve got maybe an international website, you can switch between the UK version of analytics to your German version of analytics, to your French version analytics really easily all in one place.
I’ve blurred out the client there (they didn’t ask me to but everyone seems to do it, I guess it gives a bit of an air of mystery), but it’s really functional and really easy.
Share your reports
You can share your reports and add people to view them. If your client or your boss is worried about security, you can assign only certain people to view the reports.
Similarly, if you want to add in commentary to it – if you’re just sending a report over every month, schedule it to be sent out on the first of the month. You don’t have to worry about – you won’t get that email chaser, “Where’s my report? I’m in a meeting I need it!”
Again, making life really easy, saving loads of time (and you can also download as a PDF).
Time savings add up
So what I’m trying to say here is time savings really do add up.
We work around 261 days per year – it’s kind of depressing but you know, can’t do much about it. But…
[tweetshare tweet=”If you can save just 10 minutes every day (and I think that’s easily easily achievable using Data Studio), that’s 43.5 hours a year. – @DanielCartland at an #Optimisey event” username=”optimisey”]
And I’ve done the math here to put it into a bit of context – this is completely true and verified – this is equivalent to about 87 beers every year, that’s a lot of beers. If this isn’t enough for you, if you’re saying I’m trying to run a business here, you know beers are great, but I’m trying to run business…
If you have five employees, they spend a day reporting every month and you charge about £400 pounds a day, over the course of the year this will save you around £12,000 pounds – so a significant amount of money.
Thank you for listening and hopefully I have described to you the story of how I went from hating reporting to loving reporting via Google Data studio thank you very much.
Have you used Data Studio? Are you going to try after reading/listening to Dan’s talk? Do share your experiences or comments below.
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