Tableau vs. Google Data Studio: Which Dashboard Software Is Right for Marketers?

Cort McElmury Alight Insights

Looking for the best dashboard software for your marketing team? Here at Alight, we use both Tableau and Google Data Studio, and while each can create polished, professional marketing dashboards, there are significant differences between the two. 

  • Tableau has been around longer and offers a richer set of features, which allows users to build more complex visualizations. 
  • Google Data Studio might be newer — it only exited beta in 2018 — but it’s also easy to learn and use. And it’s free. 

In our official Tableau vs. Google Data Studio blog, you’ll learn …

  • Why Tableau’s power and scale are a massive benefit — and a potential roadblock for some marketing teams
  • What Data Studio does really well and where it tends to fall down
  • Which solution is more likely to be the right tool for you


Tableau pros and cons

Tableau is one of the best-known applications for building dashboards, and for good reason — it’s a powerful, flexible solution for blending and visualizing data, with a rich and growing feature set. In 2019, for the seventh year in a row, Tableau was named a Leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms

CAPACITY AND CUSTOMIZATION

Marketers often work with larger, more complex datasets involving a wide range of sources, and Tableau was designed to function under that heavier workload, at speed. 

It’s important for dashboard software to provide that kind of capacity, especially once a user undertakes more advanced forms of analytics. Tableau plays nicely with a universe of data sources, as well as languages like R and Python. (For marketers, though, we recommend employing a separate data platform for aggregating and harmonizing data, such as our ChannelMix marketing intelligence platform.) 

Tableau also provides an almost limitless ability to customize how your dashboards look. 

LEARNING CURVE

What’s not to like about Tableau? Well, there’s a learning curve, at least for many of the marketers we’ve spoken with. Tableau’s interface is designed to be intuitive, and it includes features like the Show Me button, which lets users create graphs and charts with a few clicks. But it does take time to get comfortable using all the features that Tableau provides. 

USER BASE

If you start researching Tableau, you’ll notice pretty quickly that most people who use it really, really like using it. The company has amassed a massive user community through its annual conference, user groups and online presence. In 2018, there were more than 86,000 paid customer accounts for Tableau, plus another 300,000 or so people who use Tableau Public, the free version of Tableau for building shareable vizzes. 

So if you’re trying to find an answer to a Tableau question, or if you need to hire a Tableau practitioner, there’s a larger population of people who can help you. 

Google Data Studio pros and cons
EASE OF USE

Compared to Tableau, Google Data Studio doesn’t provide as many tools, though new features are being introduced regularly. The upside is that it’s easy to learn and begin using Data Studio to build dashboards and add, remove or tweak individual elements.

GOOGLE CONNECTIONS

And there are benefits to being part of the larger Google family. Data Studio integrates seamlessly with products like Google Ads, Google Analytics and Google Campaign Manager. And like other Google apps, it’s extremely easy to share a Data Studio visualization with a collaborator and allow them to make edits. 

PRICING, COMMUNITY AND DATA

Unlike Tableau, Google Data Studio doesn’t cost a thing. Also, unlike Tableau, there’s not much support available if you have a problem or question. Data Studio’s user community isn’t nearly as active as Tableau’s. 

With both Tableau and Data Studio, you can choose either a live connection to your data sources or an extract — a “static snapshot” of your data, as Google puts it. Using an extract lets you query your data faster, but Data Studio limits your extracts to 100MB, a relatively low ceiling.

You also won’t be able to use features like parameters or Level of Detail (LOD) calculations to add interactivity to your Data Studio dashboard, the way you can in Tableau. 

So, Tableau vs. Google Data Studio — which dashboard software wins?  
THE CASE FOR TABLEAU

Tableau is a better choice for midsize to large enterprises and agencies that desire a greater degree of customization in their reporting, which tends to be more complex.

A large agency, for example, could serve dozens or even hundreds of clients, each with their own unique requirements for their dashboards. Tableau’s power and flexibility ensure that your team can solve essentially any problem that your users hand you.

This is not to say that a smaller team can’t or shouldn’t use Tableau. But larger organizations are more likely to have the resources to employ someone whose job revolves around reporting. They can devote the time necessary to mastering Tableau and maximizing their investment in the platform. 

THE CASE FOR GOOGLE DATA STUDIO

Because of its simpler learning curve, Google Data Studio might be a better choice for newer marketing analysts — or people who are not marketing analysts and have no desire to be marketing analysts.

Or maybe your reporting needs are relatively simple. Perhaps you operate a boutique agency, or you oversee marketing for a small business, and your end users only want the latest results from a few sources like Google Analytics or Google Ads. In that case, Data Studio could be an efficient way to share performance data with them. 

Plus, it’s hard to beat free. For a smaller organization watching its spending, Data Studio makes financial sense. 

A smaller company could start building dashboards with Google Data Studio and when the time is right — i.e. they have more budget, more clients or more challenging projects — transition over to Tableau. 

Looking for a faster way to build marketing dashboards? 

Alight Analytics offers quick-start dashboards for both Tableau and Google Data Studio. Need sophisticated channel- or campaign-level reporting on paid media, organic social, paid social, web analytics or paid search? You can be up and running with Alight’s dashboards in just days. Learn more here.