Static reports are dead: Here’s why you need to move to Google Data Studio
So many agencies and marketers are still using old school static reporting. Why? With enhanced shareability and real-time analytics, the time has come to move to dynamic dashboards.
There are several dashboard options on the market, but for this article, I’m going to focus on Google Data Studio (GDS). Other options are usually expensive, difficult to customize and less flexible in their data connections. GDS is free, tends to perform well overall and the reason I benchmark with it.
Key advantages for dynamic dashboards
Real-time reporting: Unlike static monthly reports generated at the end of each month, GDS provides real-time reporting. Some data sources are refreshed every 15 minutes, others are longer, but the lag is not more than 12 hours for most sources. Report dates can be adjusted on the fly, allowing you to view the previous month or any time period you like.
Interactivity: Aside from dynamic timeframes, you can also setup the report to filter by dimensions. With the click of a button, you can adjust all graphs and tables to only show traffic filtered by devices or traffic sources. The viewer can interact with the dashboard and drill down into more specifics. In this clickable example, Google shows how interactive charts work. In the below dashboard screenshot you can see a filter for “age group.”
Templates: Possibly the most powerful feature of GDS is the ability to connect your data sources with existing templates. As an agency, this means you can use one template and duplicate it for multiple clients. While static tools often come with templates, since GDS is free and open to the market, there is a wide third-party user base creating and sharing their templates. Google Data Studio features templates from the community that anyone can use. And full disclosure, I have also developed templates specific to digital marketers.
Pricing: Being a Google product, GDS is free to use while many of the static reporting tools are costly. For any Google product integration with GDS, you don’t need a third party. But if you want to integrate other non-Google data sources, it will often come at a cost.
Third-party connectors: While third-party connectors cost money, they do provide added usability, allowing you to connect GDS to a wide variety of platforms. GDS has over 100 connectors available at the time of writing.
Shareability: A static report is usually emailed as a PDF or excel file. Beyond generating a printable file, GDS can be shared via a link and with password protection if you want it. It can also be embedded on a website. Here’s an example of an embedded dashboard on my agency site.
Transparency for clients: When a client can check in whenever he or she wants, there is more transparency between the agency and the client. It also gives the client a greater sense of control that they know where and how their budgets are spent.
Time savings for marketers: The ability to template your work and share between multiple clients is very efficient. Using an already-made template (there are lots of free and low-cost templates available) saves you from developing your own new reports. The sharing options also save time on sending, tracking and following up emails every month.
Some agencies run static reporting in Excel which might have certain flexibilities in data calculations. But these can usually be performed in GDS. The main issue is its limitations compared to other Business Intelligence tools. For instance, data preparation and blended data need improvement in GDS. And it needs a better content management system to make content handling smoother. However, that’s a topic for another article. For digital marketing reporting purposes, and especially those that want to get up and running quickly and easily, GDS is still the best tool in the market.
When choosing a template, these are the issues I’ve identified that need careful consideration:
- Data connection and integration
- Presenting data with the relevant visualization (charts and tables)
- A background theme to tell your story and provide the right flow
There may already be templates created that match your needs. But even if not, adjustments to existing templates are usually easy and can be launched quickly. Build on the work that has already been done by others to get started with dynamic templates in GDS.
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