Become An Expert Data Analyst Overnight Using Google Spreadsheet Report Tools

Ryan Dube 10-05-2013

google spreadsheet reportSome people like golfing. Some people enjoy surfing. Still other people are running enthusiasts. And then…there are the data hounds. Those are the people that see opportunity for discovery in every table and spreadsheet filled with seemingly meaningless and unrelated information.  Once you play around with data – reorganize, repackage and resort – you can start connecting the dots and extracting clues that lead you to important and useful answers.


That’s the beauty of data – something that most people look at and find boring, or overly complex, data-analysts find beautiful and revealing. We’ve covered a number of useful tools for analyzing data here at MUO, such as Bandalizer for CSV data files, which of course Excel can handle How to Convert Delimited Text Files to Excel Spreadsheets It's easy to convert a delimited text file to an Excel spreadsheet. Here's how to do it using three different methods. Read More as well. Data analysis lets you do things like niche analysis 4 Websites To Conduct A Niche Industry Analysis Read More research, and of course create cool data visualizations 5 Coolest Places To Find Visualizations On The Web About a month ago, someone contacted me about whether I wanted to publish one of their infographics on my site. Before then, I had never really had much of an interest in such visualizations of... Read More .

However, did you know that one of the greatest tools of all to conduct data analysis is actually Google Spreadsheet? The reason for this isn’t only because a Google Spreadsheet report can do nearly everything you might want to do with Microsoft Excel (although you can), but it’s actually because of a few very cool reporting tools that comes standard in Google Spreadsheet.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to use Pivot Report, graphs and charts in Google Spreadsheet, a few examples of how you can use them to analyze seemingly complex data, and how you can end up with some really awesome charts and graphs in the end.

Using Pivot Reports to Perform Wonders

If you’ve never used pivot reports, then you’re in for a real treat. In this example, I’m going to use Adsense data that includes three fields I want to analyze – the number of ads clicked, the number of ads viewed, and the length of my article titles.

What I’m curious to find a correlation for is whether title length of the article affects the number of Adsense ads that are viewed or clicked. It’s this kind of seemingly unconnected data that a pivot report can calculate and reveal.


google spreadsheet report
When on the table with that data, just click “Data” in the Google Spreadsheet menu, and select “Pivot table report…” in the drop-down menu.

google spreadsheet report editor
This will open a new sheet where you can start building your new pivot report. A “Report Editor” opens up on the right side of the sheet, which sort of acts like a wizard that guides you through creating your new report. You’ll want to start out by adding the rows – the main data that you want to start with. In this case, I want to know if title length impacts ad performance, so the rows in this case would be titles.

Next, you want to add values to the report. As you add new values, it’ll fill out the report with those values from the original spreadsheet, except the data is calculated in the way you define it in the report editor. In this case I use “SUM” because each title only has one value anyway. However, now I can sort by the title length under the Title row setting at the top.
google spreadsheet report editor
You may notice some “junk” data in your sheet – things like zeros, or fields where there’s just no valid data. You can actually tell the pivot report to ignore those bad values by clicking on the “Add field” in the Filter section of the Report Editor. Then you can deselect all of the items that you want the report to ignore.

google spreadsheet report editor
Now that you’ve summed and sorted all of the data, things may become much more clear. Suddenly you may see patterns, such as the fact that titles between 60 to 80 characters tend to perform much better for some reason (for example).


google spreadsheet pivot report

These are things that just aren’t quite as clear in the messy, chaotic spreadsheet world where the data is unsorted and unfiltered. Pivot reports are extremely flexible, and will let you do other things with each column of data like summarizing by count, average, max or min, standard deviation, and a whole lot more. The power of pivot reports really comes out when you start messing around with the data and watching what amazing things come out of it at the end.

Using Charts and Graphs in Google Spreadsheet

Another good way to analyze data is in a more graphical form. When you’ve got the data sorted the way you like using a pivot report, it’s time to start charting that stuff. Google Spreadsheet comes with a good array of charting tools to help you out. To get to those, just highlight the data that you want to chart, click the “Insert” menu item and choose “Chart” from the list. A chart editor will pop up, with a preview of your data charted in the right pane.

google spreadsheet pivot report
You can run through all of the chart types available to see what offers the best representation of data that you’re looking for. There are line charts, bar charts, pie charts, and even some really cool gauges and also map charts that I’m looking forward to playing around with at some point.  However, for my purpose here, the area line chart comparison really revealed what I wanted – two hot spot areas that seem to imply better ad performance at two specific title lengths of articles.
google spreadsheet pivot report
This is pretty interesting stuff, and not something that would be so easily revealed in a table full of raw data. Another cool tool that’s available in Google Spreadsheet to graphically display data is a function called “Sparkline”. This function actually lets you transform a cell in the spreadsheet into a bar chart. All you have to do is type something like the following into a cell:


“=sparkline(E8:F8, {“charttype”,”bar”})”

What does this do? Well, basically it lets you chart data right in the cell. In this case I’m comparing the numbers in column E and F and using a bar chart to show the percentages. Column F is represented in blue and E in orange, so with just a glance at your spreadsheet,  you can quickly identify where the scales have tipped when comparing data or identifying “alarm” conditions.
google spreadsheet report
These are only a few ideas to make use of Google Spreadsheet to analyze data using powerful tools like pivot reports and the charting tools. Google Spreadsheet is fast becoming (or maybe it already is) a major contender in the data analysis business, and it’s accessibility online means that it’s also convenient and easy to use no matter where you are.

When you’re in a hurry and need to process a lot of information quickly while on the go, that’s a huge deal. And the fact that you can simply import data or a CSV file into the first sheet, and all of the pivot reports and charts get created automatically for you — that’s just pure gold dust.

So if you haven’t used it yet – I highly suggest giving Google Spreadsheet reports a try to automate your data analysis chores. And if you have been using it for a while but didn’t know about these tools – by all means, give them a try. You’ll be glad you did.

How do you make use of Google Spreadsheet? What are your favorite tools that you couldn’t live without? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!


Image Credit: Businessman Hand via Shutterstock

Related topics: Google Docs, Spreadsheet.

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  1. Jesus Isidoro López López Lizárdi
    June 22, 2013 at 1:49 am

    I have not used the whole set of features of Google Spreadsheet, because I thought it was not as powerfull, now I can see that it is a complete Spread sheet Solution is capable of do many things as Excell, definitively I should explore more the Google Spreadsheet application.

  2. burtfisher
    May 26, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Being able to upload a file to Google Drive and click a few buttons does NOT make someone an "expert data analyst". Being able to use statistical modeling tools is a great thing to do, but that is all it makes you: a tool user.

    The article hinted at the goal of this exercise when it says "how you can end up with some really awesome charts and graphs". I suggest an even easier way is to buy a copy of USA Today and cut out something from the front page. They always have awesome charts and graphs, and just like the example here, someone has already done the work for you!

    Or you could crack open a book on statistics and learn about it yourself. Just a thought.

    • Ryan Dube
      May 28, 2013 at 11:44 pm

      Honestly - the title was tongue-in-cheek. Who would honestly be silly enough to think that you can become a professional data-analyst by reading one article? Is the light-hearted humor of over-dramatic phrases in titles lost on many? I hope it's just a few.

  3. Nevzat A
    May 20, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Google Spreadsheets has passed a long way, I like to have such a powerful tool using online and cross-platform!

  4. dragonmouth
    May 11, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    And reading Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica will make one an instant expert on classical mechanics.

    • Ryan Dube
      May 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      Well, you'll certainly appear to others as though you're more of an expert than you would if you didn't use pivot reports.

  5. Graham Richardson
    May 10, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    Having just left a comment on the previous article saying how good the pivot tables are I now see this great follow up. I can see I am going to have to dive a little deeper into the graphs side of things too!