Technology   |   March 28, 2019

The Pros and Cons of Google Data Studio

A 3 minute read by Chris Campbell, Manager, Analytics

In 2016, Google launched Google Data Studio 360 within its new premium application bundle, Google Analytics 360 Suite. On top of that, Google launched Data Studio in public beta for advertisers using the free version of Google Analytics. Back when I used Data Studio for the first time, I loved the simple chart designs and user-friendly layouts — a refreshing turn from major report builders like Tableau and Microsoft PowerBI. Like any new product launch, there were few limitations, but also some solid benefits. Below is a list of some of those initial problems from 2016:  

  • Public beta users were limited to 5 reports
  • Reports could not be embedded into a web page
  • Merging Data from two different sources were not possible
  • Could not download reports in PDF

Now, it’s 2019 and Data Studio has changed for the better. Here’s a rundown on some improvements made to Data Studio along with some pros and cons.

PROS OF DATA STUDIO

1. It's Free!
Beyond Tableau and PowerBI, there are many dashboard report builders that are either require a paid subscription or are free with severe limitations. Data Studio is not only free but also works well with their other analytics and advertising offerings (i.e. Google Analytics, Google Ads, Search Console, Campaign Manager, etc.), which are used commonly across the web advertising industry.   

2. Flexible GA Integration and Live Editing
When editing Google Analytics data in Tableau and PowerBI through their built-in Google Analytics connector, you're limited to a maximum of 10 metrics and 7 dimensions. Depending on the level of detail that you need for reporting, that may not be enough. Another disadvantage is what occurs after building the report. For example, when you’re building and publishing a report in Tableau, which may require maintenance and cleanup in 3-6 months, your report builder application will only show the original data back from when you first built the report. Data Studio, on the other hand, works really well with Google Analytics. You're not limited to the number of metrics or dimensions from a data pull. Additionally, if you create a GA report that requires cleanup and maintenance in the months after first being built, you have the ability to see the most current data to make those proper edits. In seeing Data Studio mature, this flexibility has made it a great tool for GA-only data.

3. Ease of Use and Collaboration
Every Dashboard report builder requires some level of understanding when you first use it. That being said, Data Studio's layout and design interface enable simplicity in building your first report. On top of that, getting other team members to build, edit, and collaborate in your report is fast and simple. You just have to add their gmail (Google-Only email) address.  

For other services like Tableau and PowerBI, to get others to collaborate, email addresses can be added as long as they don't hit a limit to the number of licenses that your paid subscription holds. Additionally, some official training is essential when using these other applications to their fullest extent.

CONS OF DATA STUDIO

1. Still missing key features
Google has come a long way in 2-3 years, but they still have a long way to go before they can be competitive to the level of Tableau and PowerBI. One of the biggest missing features up until July 2018 was the ability to merge data or combine sets of data from two different sources. Despite this new feature, their merging options are still limited in comparison to their competitors.  

Another feature I'm hoping to be in Google's pipeline is "publishing" your reports.  For example, if you're expanding a report that you have already developed for a client, your client could see your "update-in-progress" live, which may cause confusion. Preferably, the client would see all of the expanded changes after they have been published. Of course, there are plenty more features that are still missing, but these are two examples.

2. Communication
As mentioned before, Google consistently updates Data Studio. Unfortunately, these updates are not notified within their report builder. This can get confusing whenever there are tweaks within the interface or newly added features you were not aware beforehand. If you are looking to use Data Studio as your choice, I highly recommend reviewing their Data Studio Update page, where they detail the newest features.

Despite these drawbacks, the positives behind Data Studio far outweigh the negatives. The software has grown immensely since launching in public beta in 2016, and their team is still launching new features. While there will always be a need for services like Tableau and PowerBI, Data Studio has grown to be a capable alternative in a short amount of time. I look forward for what's to come in the future.