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Getting Started with Google Data Studio – Mercer
The Agents of Change

Getting Started with Google Data Studio - Mercer

We’ve been told time and again that we need to be measuring our marketing efforts. But what exactly does that mean? Checking your Analytics is a good first step, but any measurement marketing expert, like (Chris) Mercer, will tell you that you need to go deeper and be able to turn that basic data into insight and outcomes, and use that to drive strategy for your business.

Luckily, doing this has never been easier thanks to products like Google Data Studio, which allow businesses to manage data from a variety of sources and across multiple platforms. It will save you advertising dollars, increase conversions, and redirect your marketing strategies based on what the data is actually telling you.

Rich: My next guest, co-founder of Measurement Marketing.io, is a sought after measurement marketing expert. He and his team have been helping marketers, marketing teams, and agencies ‘know, trust, and grow’ their numbers. First by planning out what’s important to measuring the marketing, then how to actually measure with tools like Google Tag Measurer and Google Analytics, creating dashboards that are useful, and pulling actionable insights from what’s being measured to begin forecasting and optimizing measurable results.

He spends countless hours reading, practicing, adjusting, and innovating to improve his skillset. He has a knack for teaching and is known for his ability to simplify even the most complex ideas for his audience. I was in his audience at Social Media Marketing World, and I can vouch for that.

He can be found speaking at conferences and events such as Traffic and Conversions, Conversion Conference, Social Media Marketing World, Content Camp, Digital Elite Camp, Baby Bathwater Institute, and others. His name is Chris Mercer, but he goes by “Mercer”. So please welcome to the Agents of Change Podcast…Mercer!

Mercer: Thank you, thank you. A pleasure to be here, man. Appreciate you having me.

Rich: Oh it’s great. Like I mentioned, I’ve actually known your name because Mike Stelzner told me I should reach out to you and then I had the pleasure of seeing you present, not on Google Data Studio, but Google Tag Manager I think it was. And it was a really good presentation. Very easy to understand no matter what level you were on.

Mercer: That’s cool man, appreciate it, thank you.

Rich: So Mercer, what drew you to the measurement side of marketing in the first place?

Mercer: It’s kind of an interesting origin story. I kind of went from corporate America into this online thing. And the way that I did that is I created a site to basically teach people how to do WordPress sites. IT was a WordPress membership site to show people how to do WordPress sites. And pretty quickly once that had been created, sort of that natural evolution where somebody is going to say, “This is great, but, how much for you just to do it for me?”

So we decided we’re going to do build out now, we’ll be a Dev agency. So we start bringing in some developers and we started doing WordPress sites. And what I wanted to do was separate ourselves out just from a competition standpoint. So I was like, well Dev is going to go commodity for the type of WordPress sites that we were doing, they weren’t overly complicated. And instead of being a commodity I said we’ll do the WordPress sites and we’ll optimize them, because conversion rate optimization was just starting to come into the states and people were just starting to hear about this thing called “split testing”. And we were like, “Hey, we’ll be able to build your site and we’re going to test it to optimize it.”

Well in order to do that, if I need to optimize a conversion rate on a certain page, I need to know what that conversion rate is. And so for us it just made a ton of sense to just use Google Analytics, it’s totally free. Se we set up Google Analytics, and at that time we thought the set up was just you put the code on that page and that’s it. And pretty soon we realized we’re not getting correct information so let’s dive into this and really understand how to use that tool to measure what was going on, the different behaviors that were happening. And when we set that up and we did it properly and we started showing some of our clients how everything works.

And almost immediately the conversation changed from, “Here’s the next new funnel we want to build out”, to, “Go back to that goal, how did you do that? How do we get e-commerce reporting?” And all of a sudden we realized that no one is doing this measurement thing, and we had people recommending people to come talk to me personally about setting up measurement on their site and understanding how to use these tools. And so I said alright, that’s where we’re going to pivot, and so that’s where Measurement Marketing,io was born, to fulfill that need. And we’ve been doing that for years now.

Rich: Yeah, and people still absolutely need this information.

Mercer: Absolutely.

Rich: I reached out to your originally because I wanted to talk about Google Data Studio. Can you briefly explain to the listeners at home what Google Data Studio is, and is it even possible for us to chat about it in a podcast?

Mercer: Yeah, it’s a great question. So I’ll step back just a moment and think about the Google Suite of products. Google has done an amazing job at providing products to help us measure our sites. Now of course they’re not doing this out of the kindness of heart, they want us to basically use Google Ads more, so that’s why we’re allowed to use these tools for free.

But what happened is, back I the day there was just Google Analytics. And Google Analytics would store all this information and reports and if anyone is listening to this and you’re eyes start to glaze over because there’s a lot of data there. And Analytics is great at that, but what ended up happening for most people is Google Analytics stored information, it didn’t necessarily tell a story. And so they came out with dashboards, and custom reports, and they tried to make that slightly better and slightly better within Analytics platform.

Well what ended up happening is you got third party vendors coming in like Tableau, and Geckoboard, and other places that were creating these dashboards that could bring in different data sources, and they could bring in some analytics, bring your Facebook Ads, bring in data from a spreadsheet or your YouTube channel, and kind of put it up on a board where you have this headline border where everything is stripped away and you just see what you need to see and that’s it. Just the important stuff and if you need to you can dive into it. Whereas in Analytics it was like, here’s this flat table with all this information and its instant overwhelm.

So Google saw this, and I think what they did is they said, we’ve got this Analytics platform that’s a massive database, basically, that’s designed to store all these different behaviors that are happening to people’s sites. What if we created a dashboard tool so that is what people would start using for their reports to make the reporting process a lot easier – and more importantly – more useful. And so that’s where Data Studio was actually born.

Data Studio actually evolved and continues to evolve as a management platform. They’ve got Tag Manager for collecting information. Now Analytics is really great for storing that information. And now Data Studio, where you visualize the information, and when it’s done right you can actually start creating these dashboards that instead of giving you this idea of data dump they give you the answers. You look at them just like a car dashboard. You’re driving and you look down at the speedometer and see how fast you’re going. You know if you need to slow down you hit the break, or if you need to speed up and hit the gas. And instantly you don’t have to think about it, you don’t need to drill down into things, you can create dashboards with data studio that essentially do that for your marketing. That was the overall concept. And that came out 2 years ago now and they’ve just constantly evolved this product. It’s a massive update, every month there’s like 6 or 7 changes or enhancement that have been coming out for years now with this product. So they’re in it to stick around for sure. Like I said, visualizing data is kind of its main forte, its claim to fame.

Rich: So again, we’re on a podcast, I certainly don’t want people to tune away from the podcast. But if this is such a visual product, how do we explain what’s really going on to the person that’s just listening to this on their earbuds.

Mercer: Well I guess in terms of Data Studio it would be impossible for me to say, “Well let’s imagine this template…”. You really can’t. Let’s face it, audio is not going to be descriptive when you’re trying to figure out where a specific report is.

But the specific report, that’s not the trick in my opinion, when it comes to stuff. The trick is the concepts, it’s the way you look at the tool, it’s the way you use the tool. Number one, it’s awareness of the tool. Most people don’t realize it exists. It’s something that’s out there that’s completely free, it integrates with your Google Analytics, your YouTube channel, your search console, and everything else that Google has. Not to mention it can integrate with a bunch of other data sources like Facebook and everything else that’s out there for third party connectors.

So one is just being aware of it. And I think that’s useful, audio or not. The other component to it is how you think about dashboards as a concept and how you actually go about figuring out what information needs to be put into that dashboard and how you use that dashboard, because that doesn’t matter. You don’t need the visual component of it to have an intelligent conversation.

Rich: Alright. So I love Google Analytics, personally. I’m in there all the time, I like looking at mine, my client’s, all this sort of stuff. I can set up dashboards in Google Analytics. Why am I not going to use Google Analytics, why do you feel that Google Data Studio (GDS) is better?

Mercer: I’ll qualify this answer. I’ll say it’s better for most people. There’s always going to be the outliers – the data analysts, the data scientists, the self-appointed numbers person that really would rather live in spreadsheets – those people probably wouldn’t use Data Studio. And to be honest, it’s not made for them, it’s not made to take your data which is essentially everything you have in Google Analytics, and then you move it to Data Studio which is not everything. You’re purposely visualizing certain components and that’s it. And it can limit you, and you wouldn’t want to use it.

 So I’ll start that out with the first answer, it’s not for everybody. But, it is for most people. And that’s where I’d qualify it for most people, because most people are not numbers people. Most people do not enjoy going through tables and tables on a spreadsheet and thinking through all that stuff. Most people see a bunch of numbers and data and their eyes glass over, they tune out.

Most people just want to know what to do next when it comes to their marketing. And that’s where Data Studio shines. Because in the build out of using Data Studio you can say; I want to be able to see a conversion rate of what my optic rate is. How many new leads I’m getting? Percentage of people that visit my site versus how many of those become leads? So I want to create a report that just shows that number.

Then pretty quickly you can set up a dropdown – and if I say “quickly”, it’s within a minute – I can put a dropdown in Data Studio that says, now instead of just knowing that my opt-in rate is say 27%, I now have a dropdown that I can select to tell me what my paid Facebook rate is, my YouTube channel, my Google organic search. And then instantly just sort of select and interact with the report, and then see that conversion rate change right before my eyes.

So two things are happening. One is, the individual that’s not a numbers person doesn’t have to deal with a ton of numbers, you instantly see the focus and you’re focused in on it. And two is, it’s interactive. So now you’re actually getting involved with the story that your numbers are trying to tell you, and you’re able to see this traffic source, or that traffic source, or mobile versus desktop, or whatever question you’re trying to answer.

Rich: Alright, so Google Data Studio basically allows me to ask a very specific question, and then it’s going to go to Google Analytics to pull the answer from. And then what I’m understanding, is you add a variable in there. And you had a couple good examples of where the traffic was coming from for channels, but I’m guessing if I’m a local business I could also find out in this case what my conversion rate is for people coming from the state of Maine. Correct?

Mercer: Yeah. Theoretically, yeah, absolutely. And this is kind of a cool thing about Data Studio, it was born as this nice little snap on component to Google Analytics. And it does an incredible job with all that data that just flows through it, they’re made to work together.

But, it doesn’t just have to be your Google Analytics. You can pull in other data coming in from your Facebook ads and how much you’re spending on Facebook ads versus how much that’s actually generating. If you have a spreadsheet that for some reason you want to make a little bit easier so you don’t have to live in the spreadsheet all the time, you can hook a spreadsheet into Google Data Studio.

Again, if you have other sources of traffic – maybe a YouTube channel – and you want to get an idea of how your YouTube videos are doing, you can hook in YouTube analytics directly into Data Studio. And what’s kind of cool about it is you can make one report with multiple pages and they all have different data sources. So one page might be the high level of what’s going on with your customer journey or funnel so you can see your drop off points, then you might build another report on page 2 that’s the top performing videos on your YouTube channel. Page 3 might be an overview of search and how you’re doing in search results. Page 4 might be about Facebook.

And so very quickly you’ve got this nice snapshot of how your marketing is doing through a variety of different angles and channels so you understand the story. Because when you understand the story, you can decide if that’s a good story or a bad story. If it’s a good story, awesome, let’s send more traffic. And if it’s not a great story, if the drop off is happening somewhere in the middle of the funnel when it shouldn’t be, then let’s go investigate that and figure out why.

Rich: So you brought up something interesting, and I was going to get to this about how to pull in data sources other than Google Analytics, but you mentioned to pull in data from Google Sheets. So I had this situation a few years ago where we had a client who was using Google Ads for a particular “Golf & Stay” package, and they were also using Facebook ads. And it turned out the Facebook ads were generating leads at a much lower cost and everything seemed to be working really well and we were thinking of going all the way over to Facebook. And then they noticed – because they were actually the ones doing the work – is the leads were cheaper, but when they figured out who actually ended up booking, it ended up balancing those things.

If you had somebody on your sales team that was actually loading into a Google Data Sheet whether or not something was converted, would that be something that we’d be able to measure then a little bit further than Google Analytics ever would be able to tell you that story?

Mercer: Yeah, or course, I mean anything you could normally find on a spreadsheet you can put into Data Studio. And I think that’s a perfect example of something where at the face of it, it looks cheaper. And then all of a sudden you realize if you follow this through the end point, does it actually result in more value or does it end up becoming more expensive.

So in the case of Facebook the leads were cheaper, but on the customer conversion end, it turns out it sounds like it was more expensive to actually buy on Facebook.

Rich: Yeah, it’s just about balance. So I know when I set up Google Analytics on a website, it’s just a matter of snapping in some code to WordPress or whatever the platform is. How do you get started creating your first dashboard in Google Data Studio?

Mercer: So this is actually kind of nice. They are getting better and better at onboarding people who buy their product. So I’ll give you where to go first. A) You could just Google “data studio” and it will pull right up. But the actual address is datastudio.google.com.

When you go there, if you haven’t signed in with your Google account already, it’s going to ask you to do that. Chances are you’re already signed in because of Google Analytics. So just type in “datastudio.google.com” and it will automatically pop it up and it’s going to ask you if you want to create a report, do you want to craft a template form the existing report, and they’ve made it really simple to do this.

Number one, There’s got to be a dashboard already created in your setup when you first get into it, and it’s going to be a walkthrough of all the different features and setting they’ll be able to use. It’s almost like a dashboard that teaches you to create dashboards. And they do a really good show of showing you all the buttons and dials.

Then directly above that you’ll see a list of templates, and these little thumbnails where they’ll show you here are all the different templates that are available to you just stocked within Google Data Studio. They have one for search console, they have one for analytics, they’ve got one for Google Ads, they’ve got ones that will show you some things that are possible. I believe there’s an e-commerce one that they have for pulling e-commerce information from Google Analytics, but just different ways to visualize it. And of course we already talked about how they have YouTube and other sources.

But those templates, you can go in there and you can essentially copy them over. Let’s say you were going to use hat YouTube one, you can copy it which takes 20 seconds to get that set up. And all you need to do is tell it don’t use the sample YouTube account, use my YouTube account. You connect it to your YouTube account and all that information just flows through.  So the report is essentially built for you, you just connect it into the right account, and you have all the information that you want. So it’s really quick to get started.

Rich: So obviously YouTube, Google Sheets, those are all part of the Google family. How hard is it, or not difficult, to pull in things like you Facebook Insights, or maybe data from Mailchimp or another email service provider?

Mercer: That’s a great question. So the short answer, the way that I like to shortcut it, is anything I can get into a spreadsheet I can get into Data Studio. So if I can export anything, like from Facebook or Mailchimp or wherever it is, if I can export it and it exports into a CSV file or spreadsheet, I can pop it into a Google Sheet and I’m off to the races, I have everything I need.

Now that said, one of the coolest features about Data Studio – and this is why I just love the direction this tool is going – it’s kind of like WordPress. So WordPress you’ve got this incredible platform, but they were smart enough to say we’re not going to make the end all be all with our little tiny team. We’re going to allow developers to come in and have these third party plug-ins, and that will help to expand the functionality of WordPress and make it even that much better.

Data Studio did the same thing with something called “community connectors”. And so they’ve reached out to the community and said we’ve got our built-in connectors, we’ve got all the Google stuff, but we realize we’re not the only data sources, there’s lots of other data sources out there. There’s even one for Asana that connects in for people using Asana.

So what they did is they opened it up to this community connectors and there’s a series of third party – and some of these are free, but others are paid, but they’re relatively cheap – and you can go out there and you can connect the data from almost anywhere into Google Data Studio. So your Facebook Ad Insights, Facebook Audience stuff, Bing, Pinterest, Twitter. It’s amazing and it changes all the time. I think they just recently came out with a Vimeo one for Vimeo videos.

So there’s always something else that’s coming out because they allow the marketplace to basically say these are the data sources we want, so that the third parties can fulfill that. It’s just a fantastic feature.

Rich: That’s a nice community built up there. So Mercer, if we’ve created a Data Studio dashboard that we like, how do we repurpose that for multiple websites? Can we just kind of “save as”, or do we start from fresh again?

Mercer: That’s a great question. So you can essentially, the way that the Data Studio report is built, the very first thing you do is you tell it where you need to get your data from, so you set that up. Let’s say it’s Google Analytics, well the very first question is going to be, which Google Analytics. It’s going to want to connect into the specific one you have set up. So you do that and you then built out your dashboard all around Google Analytics. What you can do is you can then copy that – and this is assuming it’s kind of generic – but you can copy that dashboard and if you wanted to for a client, you can copy it and then tell it instead of connecting to this Google Analytics, I want you to connect to this other Google Analytics account. And then that new Google Analytics account will take over and all that information flows through form the new Google Analytics account. And then if you want a third one you can copy again and switch out the data source itself, and all the data flows into the right spots and you’ve got everything built.

So in a very real way, you can create your hierarchy, your templates, and you might have an overview of different product funnels, and some specifics broken down over traffic source, and then one that’s a mobile versus desktop, and maybe one that’s new versus returning users, or by state or city as we talked about before. And then all of that is kind of generic, it doesn’t matter what analytics account you connect it to, all of that stuff is going to flow through.

So it makes it really nice. You spend a bit of time creating that first one, getting it tweaked in just the way you like it, and then you just copy it over and over. And again, you can do the same thing for the Google Ads, YouTube, or Search Console.

Rich: So the dashboard is really a faceplate, and then it’s really just about making sure that the electrical and the water lines are connected in the right place.

Mercer: Exactly right. That’s a great way of putting it. Because it really is, that is the end user product and you’re developing it. Again, it’s not for the data nerds, it’s not made for them. It’s made to get the C-Level involved, it’s made to get your clients involved. It’s made to get the people who are more on the strategy side of things, and maybe they’re not in numbers all the time but they still need an idea of how to put their hands on the steering wheel. That’s who it’s made for.

So it strips away all the stuff that’s not important, shows them just what they need, and then allows them to interact with it in a way that is easy. And because it’s easy, they’re more likely to do it and actually start taking action, which is the overall goal of these reports.

Rich: Mercer, I’m sure there are people out there who have multiple websites that normally Google Analytics you can only get the reports from one. Is there any way to pull in multiple Google Analytic accounts to the same Google Data Studio, or is it one and done?

Mercer: No. You can absolutely do that. You can have different data sources. Technically for all the different components, let’s say you have a bar chart that’s set up that shows your number of users over the week. You could create another bar chart underneath that also reporting users per week, but that’s on a totally different Analytics account. So kind of individual component by component you can pull in different Analytics accounts to that level. The use case may not be out there all the time, but you could do that. 

The other thing that they’ve done to kind of help with that is, let’s say you’re managing 6 different Analytics accounts and you didn’t want to build 6 different reports for each one, but you have one sort of Master report. There’s a little widget that you can pop onto your Data Studio report, and this works specifically with Google Analytics, it’s basically a dropdown. You click on it and you say, “Now do this analytics”, and then it spits it out and you’ve done what you need to learn. Now change it to this analytics and the whole thing changes on a new analytics report. It’s pretty fascinating what’s possible. And they are absolutely thinking everyday of a way how to make this more user friendly and easier to interact with, with tools like that to answer these sort of challenges.

Rich: So as I’m thinking about this, it sounds like really what we need to say is we need to figure out what kind of questions to ask. And I guess I’m asking, how do we decide what questions to ask? How do we have a simple chart that says, “spend more money on promoted pins on Pinterest”, or, “spend more money on Facebook ads”? Is that even possible?

Mercer: It is possible, but it takes a little bit of thought. This isn’t a short and sweet answer, as much as I’m going to try to make it that. But it does require a little bit of thought, so definitely one of those ‘easier to say than do’ things.

But essentially, the journey you want to take there is; 1) what are the results? And you want to get your results plotted out there first. So that could be a number of goals achieved in Google Analytics, it could be e-commerce sales, all that sort of stuff, the results metrics.

Then you want to have next to that the “how”. So not only here are my results, but here’s how I achieved those results. So let’s take a simple purchase. So somebody comes to the offer page and they presumably go to a cart of some sort, then they purchase, and ultimately hit the ‘thank you’ page. So you’ve got those 3 main steps. The offer page, the cart page, and the purchase page.

So the result might be you sold $100 worth of product, but the how might be you had 100 people see that offer page, and maybe you had 10 people see that cart page, and you had 1 person purchase for the average order volume of $100. So when you have the ‘how’ and the results, then it’s just a matter of breaking it down by various traffic sources and so forth and so on. And that’s where when you flip some of those traffic sources you would see we get a ton of leads from Facebook, but they don’t necessarily convert the same way that Google Ads might.

Which kind of makes sense if you think about it from the client pipeline perspective. People on Google that are searching for something have an issue they’re trying to solve quickly, and people on Facebook were looking at cat pictures before they saw the site. It’s a different mindset which makes sense that Facebook would take a little bit longer along the way. But you can absolutely build reports that will show you that.

Rich: This may be an agency question, but who owns these dashboards?

Mercer: That’s a good question.

Rich: Like if I’m an agency owner and I’m setting these up for my clients – not that anyone would ever need my agency – but if they did, is that my creative work or does that belong to the client? Obviously the data belongs to the client, the Google Analytics I assume belongs to the client. But I’m just wondering about these templates that we set up.

Mercer: Yeah, actually it brings up a really good feature of Data Studio. It works very similar to Google Drive. When somebody uses Google Drive and Google Docs, you have an owner, so I would create – let’s say – a regular Google Doc, and you and I would share it. I’d be the owner, but I could allow you to view it or edit it. It’s the same thing with Data Studio, so I can allow you to view or to edit, you have those permissions there.

Currently, they do not have a way to switch ownership of the actual report, though. So technically your email would sort of forever own that report. But you’re right in terms of they can disconnect the data source. They always own their own data.

Rich: I guess maybe it’s more a question of like, so if I’m going to do this for a client, do I set this up under my Google account, or do I get access to their Google account and do it for them?

Mercer: That’s up to you. We have done it both ways. Typically what we end up doing is just creating it under our own account. Because worst case, if you needed to transfer, they can copy it and now they own it. So if you ever did need to transfer, it’s not that big a deal. It’s not as easy as assigning a new owner like you can with a Google Doc, but you can definitely transfer it over in the sense of I’m the editor of that document and I can now copy that over and then I am the owner of it and the only one on it. And then I can make sure the data sources and everything are connected properly and I’m off to the races. So it’s not that big a deal and I wouldn’t think it’s too big of an issue.

Rich: Well this has been great, Mercer, and I definitely can visualize all the stuff going on. If people want to dig a little bit deeper, where can we send them?

Mercer: Sure! MeasurementMarketing.io is our site. In fact, if they go to measurementmarketing.io/aoc, we actually have a Data Studio building blocks tool that we will give you. Now it’s pretty interesting because Data Studio is a fantastic tool, there’s a lot to it. So we created these little building blocks templates to help you out with funnel diagrams and things like that. A lot of shortcuts to sort of help with the learning curve there, and that’s completely free.

Rich: Awesome! Appreciate the branding, too. Mercer, this has been great. Thanks so much for stopping by and I appreciate you sharing your expertise. 

Mercer: Thanks for having me, it’s been a pleasure.

Show Notes:

As a measurement marketing expert, knowing the right questions to ask is how Mercer teaches businesses to create success stories from their basic analytics data. To learn more about how to take a deeper dive with your business’s analytics data, check out his website and free tools to get you started.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing