Deep Dive: Google Data Studio for Local Search

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This is our Deep Dive Into Local from January 28th, 2018. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.

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Dana DiTomaso joins Carrie Hill for a discussion about the pros and cons of using Google Data Studio for Local Search & SEO reporting. They discuss some tips and tricks for integrating 3rd party data into your reports, as well as some tactics to improve client communication via Google Data Studio!

Carrie: Here we go. Hi, everybody. Welcome to Deep Dive with Local U. I am so happy to be joined today by Dana DiTomaso from Kick Point in Edmonton, Canada. Edmonton, Alberta. Right? Edmonton, Alberta?

Dana: Yes, that's right.

Carrie: The other day I tried to tell somebody that Joy lived in Edmonton, but she lives in Toronto and I got them all mixed up.

Dana: That's very far from...yes.

Carrie: I know.

Dana: Darren Shawn and I are both in Edmonton.

Carrie: I just admitted I'm really bad at geography, so.

Dana: That's okay. I think a lot of people assume that Canada is just this frozen wasteland and we live in one little dot, and you know, it's mostly true.

Carrie: I should know better. I'm from northern Minnesota, like, almost Ontario, so like, I should know better.

Dana: Yeah, that's practically Canada.

Carrie: Yeah, right?

Dana: Yep.

Carrie: Anyway, Dana is here today to talk with us about Google Data Studio for local businesses and why it's such a great way to build reports and to convey information to your local SEO clients. Also, I'm really happy to share that Dana's gonna be talking about Google Data Studio at Local University in Santa Monica next week, so I'm sure she's very excited to escape the cold Edmonton winter for a little beach time for a few days, right?

Dana: One hundred percent, yes. When you said where it was, like, "Sign me up. I don't care what I'm talking about. I would like to come." Yep.

Carrie: So, anyway, I think we'll just dive back in here, and the first thing that I would ask is, why Google Data Studio over, like, all the other options, including just native Google Analytics?

Dana: Yeah. There's more you can do with the data than Google Analytics, and I like the ability to pull together multiple data sources into a single report, which is nice, and also, it's free. So other tool providers, I think the daily reporting tool providers should be getting nervous, probably, about Google entering their space, and I think you have to definitely step it up with the kind of reporting you're providing because Google Data Studio might be replicating what you do already on a base level.

And honestly, for local businesses, it might seem still a little difficult to use, but I think on the agency side, you should 100% be looking into Data Studio for reporting.

Carrie: I would agree. I think that for like, you know, Joe down the street with a coffee shop, building a Data Studio report would be a little overwhelming, but they do have the gallery, like, you can share with your clients a link to a report and they can see it very easily. I love that feature of it and it's easy to update. They can change their own dates. You could set it so, like, it's [inaudible 00:02:43].

Dana: Yeah. Honestly, that's the biggest thing is for them, instead of saying, "Okay, well, here's the fixed time period that I'm reporting on in this totally artificial monthly, or whatever it might be," then the client can just go in and switch it to whatever makes sense to them, like every six weeks. And actually, Google Data Studio just released that you can do some cool custom time period comparisons now in Data Studio.

Carrie: Oh, nice.

Dana: So, yeah. Yeah, big improvement. Which Is actually great, because one of the reports I had to do was for a festival and because the festival's on slightly different dates every year even though it's the same number of days, I had to create two separate charts, and make them transparent, and lay them on top of each other, which is obviously not ideal, but with this update... So, Data Studio's evolving all the time, so something like that is a bit easier to do this year than it was last year, for example.

Carrie: Awesome. What do you think are some of the best features or limitations that agencies or users of Data Studio should know? Like, what are the best parts of it and the [sound effect] parts of it?

Dana: Yeah. Not everything can be put into Data Studio yet. So, for example, one of them is HubSpot, and I mean, by the time this is published maybe HubSpot has come out with a connector, right? It's entirely possible. There's a really nice connector from Supermetrics that will take in any API source, so you can build your own JSON query. Again, that's a bit more advanced, but really, you don't have to be a programmer when it comes to API stuff when you're using the Supermetrics plugin. You can go to the JSON API reference provided by the tool provider, and then you can build your own queries and put that out that way. That's how we work with STAT Search Analytics, for example, is using their API to put into Data Studio. So there are lots of stuff you can do.

The other problem, I think, with Data Studio is that it is definitely nerdy and if you are concerned about math, or building queries, you haven't worked in SQL before, it might seem really intimidating, but I think that this is where grabbing one of those default reports is really helpful. I've also done some Whiteboard Fridays on Moz on basic calculated fields in Data Studio and how to build, actually, a local marketing dashboard in Data Studio, which is what I'll be expanding on in Local U.

Carrie: Oh, awesome. And I think that...you know, one of the things that I think as agencies, we get a little hesitant about...I know I have to keep reminding myself, there's nothing wrong with me, like, hiring Dana to help me build some reports for my agency. I don't need to know everything about everything. You know what I mean?

Dana: Yeah, I think that's totally fair. And the thing about Data Studio is that once it's built, it's built, right? And it's yours and it'll work forever, in theory. So I think that that's the biggest thing. The only thing is, if you're using an add-on like Supermetrics, which is paid if you're going beyond one data source, then you're gonna have to pay for that, but otherwise, most of the native Google connectors are quite good and free, and you can do a lot of good reporting through that. The only thing that sucks is there isn't a native connector for Google My Business, which I feel like is an oversight, which is why we turned to Supermetrics for their Google My Business connector.

Carrie: Right. For sure. But like I said, I think that, you know, as an agency or if I'm an in-house but I have multiple locations and I need some help building a meaningful report, there's nothing wrong with hiring somebody to help you do that.

Dana: No, totally not.

Carrie: I think we get so stuck in the, "I need to know everything about everything" mentality, "I can't ask for help." And I would just encourage people, if you're not nerdy, if this is not your wheelhouse, if you feel like you're overwhelmed by it, then get some help with it. There's nothing wrong with that.

Before we start making our Data Studio dashboard, do you have a checklist or a list of things that kind of...the prep work? I always tell my clients, "I can't build you a dashboard. I can't build you a report until I know what's important to you. I know what's important to me. If I tell you what's important to me, you might look at all that stuff and go, 'Ooh, I have no idea what you're talking about.' Tell me what's important to you." So, what do you recommend people do to lay the groundwork for an effective report?

Dana: Yeah. So, usually, I ask the client, "What makes you money?" Honestly, because, obviously, that's what's important, and then, how can you then take that and make it into metrics that are gonna make sense to them, to answer the question, are you making money, right? An essential factor of the report is, how can you make money? Are you making money? How can you make more money? Right? So these are the questions that the report should answer.

Carrie: So kind of a combination of key performance indicators and action items, and how does that translate into data. One of my big preachy things about analytics is I can give you numbers, and tell you data, and show you data. If you don't do anything with it, it's totally wasting your time. So, I think that that's super important to kind of translate.

And that's one thing I do like about Data Studio. It's easier to look at, it's easier to read, and it's easier to kind of add captions and directions into reports and things as an agency where I can say, "Okay, this data tells you this." And you can label it and add a paragraph like, "So, this is how we decide if phone calls from this data or from this website are effectively converting." I think the native Google reports that we used to have emailed by a pdf and all that stuff, there was limited space where you could annotate each section of the report, whereas now, you could put as much as you want. You could make a whole page about one report with a big long paragraph of explanation, if you want to.

Dana: Well, or you could link to a Google Doc where you update that all the time with notes for the client, right? So, one of the things that we do for client delivery is we keep a rolling document of all the stuff that we've done on behalf of that client or things that that client should be doing based on what we've noticed. And then, that's something that we send off to the client and remind them it exists once a month and say, "Hey, by the way, don't forget about this doc."

The other thing about Data Studio is you can put Google Analytics code in there so you can actually see if they've opened it, which, I mean... And then you can create a Data Studio report seeing if people go open your Data Studio reports, so it's like Data Studio report inception.

Carrie: That's so helpful because sometimes, you feel like you're sending...it's the same way with an email. You send it and it just kind of disappears into the ether, and you hope they're looking at it and doing their homework, but are they really?

Dana: Yeah. And I mean, something that we say here at Kick Point all the time to the team is, "Remember, you are one-thirty-sixth of this person's life." You know, so obviously, what we do is massively important, but what they do, they've got tons of things going on and we are just a tiny part of that. So, for us, to make it as easy as possible for people look at stuff really non-obtrusive unless we need something, so that we're saving the, "Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Can you give me this?" for when we actually need something, as opposed to, "Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Guess what? Yeah, you know you're busy. You know you're making money. Here's the report proving it." Like, of course they know that, right? And I think that that helps them see that stuff's happening but it's more passive, and you save the annoying parts for when you really need something, like, "Your Google My Business is suddenly set to Closed. Let's fix that," or "That competitor dragged your pin somewhere that it shouldn't have been," or, "There's lots of spam," or whatever it may be like. Save the annoying emails for something you need urgently.

Carrie: It keeps them from getting what I call ad blind, or email blind, where they see an email from Dana and they're like, "Ugh. Another email from Dana. No more."

Dana: Yeah. "Some annoying technical graph again," yeah. I think that that's the important thing when it comes to that. And the other thing to it, I mean, this is more client relations than Data Studio, but just ask your clients how often they wanna hear from you, right? Some of them just like to bug you, and some of them would rather have a structured call. Just respect that.

Carrie: For sure. What do you think are some tips specifically to local that help in Data Studio? I know the geographic pieces of Data Studio, making them really visual is helpful for my clients, but what are some other tips that you recommend people kind of include in their reports for local?

Dana: Yeah, for sure. So, I think including Google My Business data is helpful, particularly things around impression data, and it helps explain the data that we get from Google, because a lot of people think that we get more information from Google than we actually do. So by laying out the cards on the table and saying, "Here are the eight data points that we actually have access to, and six of them might not be correct, and this is the limitations," I think that also helps them understand what we're working with when it comes to these limitations, so I will include lots of Google My Business information as well, and things like Search Console, and Google Analytics, and really explain how all these different pieces work together.

So, from a local perspective, this person really cares about, say, phone calls, let's say. So, if we have a tracking number in their Google My Business, which, you know, a tracking number with the secondary phone number, very key. [inaudible 00:11:06] use your real phone number, not just the tracking number. Let's be clear on that. And if that's your CallRail, then I can pull that call information from CallRail using their Data Studio connector onto the same dashboard. And so, I can see, for example, how many phone calls that Google My Business has reported, versus the number of phone calls that CallRail has reported, and that's actually a really nice introduction to "This data is not correct" for clients, because those two numbers are never gonna match up, and you can try to make them match up, you'll go crazy.

So, instead, "Here's the tool that we're choosing to trust and this is why." You know, for example. I think that's really valuable for the client to understand the level of unknown, because particularly if they've worked with bad SEO companies in the past, they may have been told, "This is how this is," or, "We guarantee these rankings," or...right? They have a lot of certainty in the information that they present. And then, when you work with an ethical SEO, they are honest about the limitations of the data, and so it's more fuzzy, and so people say, "But this other SEO company told me this." And so, I think by laying it out for them, it really helps explain what you're saying, and so, they can understand and trust you a little bit more.

Carrie: That "it depends" factor, because I think, like, all good SEOs say that it depends. They preface a lot with, "It depends," and I think that's like I told another client. I feel like we all...most of the clients or the leads that we get come in, they've dealt with a bad SEO at some point in time, and I feel so bad for people who have come to us and they're like, "And they told me that Data Studio is the best..." well, not Data Studio, but "GMB Insights is the best information that I..." and I'm kinda like, "Eh, well...not really."

Dana: "Best." [inaudible 00:12:43].

Carrie: You know, and they get all this bad information, and so, when we can prove to them or show them examples of how this isn't good data, or this is okay data, but here's the caveat to this, I think that anything we can show them with proof helps engender them to us, helps endear them to us as a partner in their business. I think we have to think more like clients as partners rather than clients as "people who pay me to do stuff for them." And so, I think the more data that we can show them in an understandable format, which I think Data Studio does a good job with, as opposed to the awful pdf or spreadsheets that you dump data out of Google Analytics into a spreadsheet and showed it to them and they're like, [sound effect].

Dana: "Sure, this seems fine. Here's another check, I guess?" Yeah. Well, and I think any...

Carrie: [inaudible 00:13:41] "Oh, it's green? The little box is green. Is that good?"

Dana: Well, and I think some clients, too, some of them have different interest levels in learning this stuff, right? We have some clients who are super into this stuff, and actually...we have one client who actually went to SMX and took training courses on Google Analytics because he wanted to learn to do it himself, which is awesome, and here you go, and I'm happy to answer super advanced Google Analytics questions, that's great. And we have other clients who are like, "Did the phone ring? That's all I care about."

So, for those clients, you can certainly build multi-page reports, but make sure that first page is what that client truly cares about, and then, the other stuff is the more advanced stuff. If they wanna get into it, if they have a specific question, they can go in there and take a look. Maybe they'll only look once every six months, but it's fine because it's there. And I think that openness is a good thing to have with clients, particularly, for example, when things go wrong, because then both of you can see that you're working with the same data and are on the same page about what's going on.

Carrie: I love that pagination feature in Data Studio too, where you can change the names on...

Dana: Yes, we do that a lot.

Carrie: I actually have a report where the first page is, "Stuff you care about." That's what it says, "Stuff you care about," and the next page is, "Stuff I care about." This client's a long-time client. We have that kind of rapport. He knows that I'm paying attention to different things than he is, but if I start talking to him about the things I care about, he just kinda glazes over. But I want him to have access to that data just in case, because it has happened where a competitor or another SEO will call and say, "Well, what about this, this, and this?" and he'll say, "Yeah, Carrie handles to that. That's on her side. I don't deal with that but I'm happy with how it looks," because I give him access to that data if he wants it.

I like that being able to label those pages as, "This is what you care about. This is what we should care about together. These are questions or these are things we're working on." Like, you can build a whole Data Studio page on the things you're trying to improve that year. What are our goals for this year, this six-months period, or whatever? I think that's really helpful in client communication, when you can kind of change how things look in a meaningful way instead of, like I said, just spitting pdf or spreadsheet reports at people and expecting them to understand what's on there. "I don't have any clue."

Dana: "Here's the report. Good luck. That'll be several thousand dollars."

Carrie: Yes, "And an invoice." So, anything else, you know, you wanna add? Anything new, or maybe tease a little bit about what's gonna happen in Santa Monica? We love that.

Dana: Well, in Santa Monica, I'm gonna talk people through a dashboard that we have created that is pretty reproducible for local businesses, and it doesn't have to be just one location. It can be several locations, it's just you get one location per page, in that case.

Carrie: Oh, nice.

Dana: Yeah. And so, it's really just an overview, you know. Did the phone ring? Are people contacting you? Are people filling out your form? And showing you some of the...and they're really only basic calculated fields in there, so it's a nice introductory report. So, for example, for the, "Did people contact you?" we'll often take the number of taps or clicks on a mailto address and add that up to the number of times that people filled out your contact form and present that as a single number, right? And that is really valuable. And I mean, on top of that, too, it's important to have good tracking with...so, for example, using Google Tag Manager to automatically track when people tap on phone numbers or mailto as links, or as events in Google Analytics, that's really important as well.

So really, I mean, if we're backing up way further, the first step is to make sure you've got that data captured appropriately in Analytics, and then you go into Google Data Studio. So, yeah.

Carrie: I'd agree. I just looked at a huge Analytics account for a big retailer, nationwide. No goals, no events at all in their Analytics account. And I just wanted to cry because I'm like, "I can't tell you how you're doing. I don't know."

Dana: Well, hey, at least they have Analytics, right? Because...

Carrie: That's true. I don't know if I trust it, but that's fair.

Dana: [inaudible 00:17:34]. Yeah. Well, you know what? I actually find...so, the first place I look when I'm looking at Analytics is I go into admin and I see all the filters and everything else that they've set up, and if it's totally clean, I actually really trust it because that means that nobody has screwed with it, so at least I have raw data to work from, and then you can go from there. But, yeah. That's unfortunate for that client that they haven't.

And there's so much power in Analytics, I don't think people realize until you show them what you can do with it. And even things, for example, when we're talking about goals...this is really gonna vary from client to client. So, for example, one of our clients is a convention center. Here in Edmonton, we have...both the convention centers this year in Edmonton are clients. And for them, they have a lot of pdf downloads of things like menus for weddings or floor plans, because event planners love downloading that stuff.

And normally, we wouldn't count pdf downloads as a reportable goal. It's just a thing that happens, like content engagement. But for them, it's really important, so one of the nice things is we can go into Data Studio and say, "Well, for this particular piece of this pdf, if name equals this, then we want to count it as this type of information," so then, we can say, "Here's the number of visits you had to the wedding page. Here's the number of people who filled out the form. Here's the number of people who downloaded this specific wedding pdf," for example. That gives them the reporting that they need, and then the weddings person can look at that, and then you've got a different person for conventions and for meetings. Because you also have to reflect the client side of things, where maybe they have different people who care about different stuff, so giving them what they need to know as one tiny part of their own reporting can really help them too.

Carrie: For sure. I really like...you said something earlier that I thought made a lot of sense, too. If you have multiple locations, a different page in one report for all your locations. [mind blown sound effect] you know, that's huge.

Dana: I mean, it's gonna get to the point, if you have several hundred locations, then you're gonna have to break that down for sure. And so, the way we've done that for clients that have several hundred locations is we'll break it down by...usually, it's separated into regions, for example. And so, whatever locations each regional manager handles, then that'll be each Data Studio report, and then you roll it up that way, for example.

Carrie: Sure. Sure. I think that's great. So, a lot of great information on Data Studio. I'm really excited to see your presentation because I'm a data nerd, even though I'm not awesome at Data Studio, I like Analytics and I think it's really important to show our clients how we're doing. That's how we retain them. You know, I feel like if they're just writing a check and sending it off into the ether each month...that might be okay for the first three to six months, but if they don't feel like they're getting any feedback on what their money's buying, they're not gonna keep writing those checks. I think that's important.

Dana: Well, and one of the problems with SEO is that, after a certain period, if you do a really good job, where else you gonna go, right? And so, definitely, you do hit that period with clients. And I mean, for us, it's why a lot of our stuff isn't monthly retainer. We'll do one-time stuff and then, really, it's like, "How many more citations are you gonna build, realistically in your life?" Right? "So let's move on to something else." And I think that that's something important particularly for local clients to see is that you are gonna have to move on tactics at some point, but if you have one solid report, at least you can tell when you're getting diminishing returns from AdWords, for example, or Google Ads, rather, and then it's time to move on to another advertising channel or maybe you should start considering sponsorships, because you put that off because you knew there was easy pickings in the ad space.

Carrie: Or, "We have this dialed in. What's the next thing we're gonna tackle? Is it content? Is it Facebook? Is it social or...what's the, you know, we feel confident about this and how it's performing, what can we do to keep growing?" Because there's only...I mean, there's...I don't wanna say...there's only so many clicks you're gonna get from Google Ads. What's the next thing you're gonna [inaudible 00:21:06].

Dana: You can't make people search for things, right? This is what we say. You can't make people Google stuff. I mean, you could if you ran, say, huge offline campaign with TV, billboards and whatnot, but it's very rare that most local chains are gonna do that or can afford to do that, right? So a lot of it is at the whims of what people are Googling. And that's where the report really comes in, because if you have that solid foundation in your report, you can always keep an eye on it. Because at some point, something will change.

So, for example, I think this was last week, now Google is reporting differently on UTM'd links in Google My Business for example, right? That's gonna screw up a lot of data and reports. So it's really good to be able to go in there and say, "Hey, FYI, this looks terrible. This is why," right?

Carrie: Right. For sure.

Dana: But this is something where everybody's monitoring tools, I imagine, went off and said, "Something horrible has happened. It looks like your GMB just disappeared," but no, it was this tracking change, and that's why people were able to pick up on it so fast. But imagine if you got to the end of the month and this had happened, you know, on say, the 2nd of January, and you had no idea that this had happened, and now your reports all look like crap, you know it makes you look like a bad SEO. So that's the other thing with Data Studio, because you can have that constant time periods and it can be, you know, month to date constant link, then you can always pick up on stuff as it happens.

Carrie: For sure. Great. Well, thanks for joining us for the Deep Dive today, Dana. I really appreciate your time, and I can't wait to see you in Santa Monica, and hopefully...

Dana: Me either.

Carrie: ...we'll see lots of people. Yeah, Colorado's been a bit snowy this year. I'm looking forward to a little beach.

Dana: Yeah, that'll be pretty nice.

Carrie: My husband said, "It's probably gonna be 50 degrees." I'm like, "Well, it's 20 here, so that's okay."

Dana: See, I'm trying to do my American...

Carrie: Conversions.

Dana: ...Fahrenheit math. I think it's been around 0, say, 0 Fahrenheit, so.

Carrie: Fahrenheit? Yeah.

Dana: Yes.

Carrie: I lived in it for many, many years in northern Minnesota, and Colorado is much more temperate, but there are days mid-winter when I'm like, "Ugh, can I have some sunshine please?"

Dana: Yeah, I totally get why people go off to Mexico for vacations now. [inaudible 00:23:05] when I lived near Toronto.

Carrie: Right? My mom just moved to Phoenix from Colorado. They used to go down just for winters, and they sold their house in Colorado and they're in Arizona year-round now, but they go up to Flagstaff area in the summer, which is a lot cooler. And I'm like, "So, you're not coming back to Colorado at all?" and she's like, "No."

Dana: That's fair. I totally get that. Yeah.

Carrie: Well, thanks for joining us, Dana. Have a great rest of your day. We'll see you in Santa Monica next week.

Dana: You bet. Thanks so much.

2 Responses to “Deep Dive: Google Data Studio for Local Search”

  1. Great discussion, thanks.
    I use Data Studio and really like it. Makes me look very professional.
    Do you see Google charging for this tool in the future? Once they get us hooked of course.

    • I don’t think they will, I think it’ll be free just like Analytics or Tag Manager. I suspect in the future they’ll have a paid version like Analytics 360 that has additional features, but there should always be a free tier.

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