3 Advanced Google Data Studio Tricks You Need to Know

  ●   August 17, 2022 | Analytics
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August 17, 2022 | Analytics

At Semetrical, creating tailored reporting dashboards is a huge focus when it comes to data analysis and monitoring. Over the years, we’ve picked up quite a few tricks through both our own experience as well as research, that allow us to display data in a way that makes our dashboards more informative and user friendly.

The title may look like clickbait, but I can assure you that it’s not the case. If you’re reading this, then it means you’re about to be lucky enough to learn these tricks and use them yourself. You may have come across some of these yourself, but these are bound to help some people out!

Anyway, let’s get into it – the 3 tricks we’ll be covering are as follows;

  1. Custom Side Navigation Bar
  2. Metric Summary Visuals
  3. The Illusion of Speed

If you type ‘dashboard’ into Google and run an image search, you might notice a common feature throughout – a side navigation bar. 

In Google Data Studio, whilst there is the option to fix a navigation bar to the side of the report, it feels disconnected from the dashboard. You’re unable to customise it to fit in with the aesthetic of the rest of your dashboard and for us, it just doesn’t quite hit the spot.

This got us thinking – how can we replicate this functionality, but also make it fit the style of our dashboards? As a result, we have developed our own workaround in order to build an integrated navigation system. Not only does it look better, but it can be fully customised to fit your desired brand guidelines – and we’re going to share the secrets behind it!

This is an example of how it looks once finalised. As mentioned, it’s fully customisable, as ultimately it’s a clever combination of text, shapes and hyperlinks that varies from page to page. In order to achieve this, you’ll need to make use of the report and page-level features. The approach can be split into two stages; design and functionality.

The Design:

  1. Add a white rectangle on the left-hand side of the report – make this report-level.
  2. Add the relevant design features (logo, top horizontal bar, report headings, border shadows) – make these report-level.
  3. Add textboxes for the desired page titles – make these report-level.
  4. Add light grey circles next to all page titles – make these report-level.
  5. Finally, for the page you’re on, add a coloured circle and line next to the title and leave this as page-level, as this will have to be moved for each page.

The Functionality:

  1. Add text box.
  2. In edit mode, click the text box and then click the ‘insert link’ icon in the text properties sidebar and select the page you want it to link to. Set the display text to numerous zeroes.
  3. Place and resize the text box over the page title in the sidebar it corresponds to.
  4. Then, make the following changes in the sidebar:
    • Set overflow settings to hidden.
    • Change background opacity to 0%.
    • Reduce left, right and top padding to 0% and line height to 0px.
    • Set font size as the smallest available.
  5. Make this report-level, so you only need to change it on one page to affect all the others.
  6. You can then copy this and paste it over the next heading, only changing the page the hyperlink references.
  7. Important to note – if doing this all at once, the hyperlink may continue to revert to its old link. This is, unfortunately, normal behaviour, so make sure to check they stay set over the course of a few days. Once they are set, they won’t revert in future.

There you have it, you can now expand upon this method in order to enhance your dashboards! The main purpose behind integrating a sidebar into the dashboard is its aesthetic edge and sense of familiarity. You can find more google data studio dashboard examples in my previous blog, which also referenced the ‘Laws of UX’ and how to leverage them whilst building a dashboard. This tackles both Jakob’s Law and the Aesthetic Usability Law at once.

2. Metric Summary Visuals

This is our favourite way to display KPI metrics so that you can understand performance at a glance and focus on actionable insights. This trick utilises changing the colours of metric callouts, so you can only see the percentage or actual change.

Say for example you wanted to look at specifically sessions, we would need to produce three separate callouts to create the view above. This is how you would go about doing so:

  1. Include the raw number and label, but hide any comparison labels.
  2. Copy and paste this callout and make the font colour transparent. Enable period comparisons and select ‘previous period’.
  3. Finally, copy this again but change it from the previous period to the previous year.

It’s a simple but powerful visual hack, and you have the option to add more or fewer metrics to this callout summary. That being said, there is a limit of 50 callouts on a single page, so bear this in mind.

3. The Illusion of Speed

If you’ve used Google Data Studio before, then it’s likely you’ve run into issues around report speed and loading times. In particular, we’ve noticed it can take a while for the colours of filters to load quickly, causing a transparent background and rendering the text illegible for the first few seconds of the report.

At Semetrical, these are placed at the top of the report and are the first things to see – so it doesn’t look great if it takes a long time to load. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to prevent this as it will affect different users based on their computer and WiFi speeds.

Therefore, what we like to do in addition to giving the filter a white background is to place a white shape matching the filter size behind it. This is simply because shapes load faster, and therefore, when a user accesses the dashboard, the writing will be legible from the start – creating the impression of faster loading times. You can see the results scanning through the dashboard pages in the GIF below:


Overall, these three tricks can give your dashboard a unique edge over the standard templates due to their trickier than usual implementation requirements. With GA4 soon to be replacing Universal Analytics, now’s the perfect time to upgrade your dashboards for GA4 reporting too. If you need any additional support from a reputable analytics agency, get in touch today!

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