Google Analytics to Tableau

This page provides you with instructions on how to extract data from Google Analytics and analyze it in Tableau. (If the mechanics of extracting data from Google Analytics seem too complex or difficult to maintain, check out Stitch, which can do all the heavy lifting for you in just a few clicks.)

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics (GA) lets you track the performance of websites and applications and measure advertising ROI. It includes a tag manager, an analytics dashboard, and a tool to optimize websites based on GA data.

What is Tableau?

Tableau is one of the world's most popular analysis platforms. The software helps companies model, explore, and visualize their data. It also offers cloud capabilities that allow analyses to be shared via the web or company intranets, and its offerings are available as both installed software and as a SaaS platform. Tableau is widely known for its robust and flexible visualization capabilities, which include dozens of specialized chart types.

In addition to its business software, Tableau also offers a free product called Tableau Public for analyzing open data sets. If you're new to Tableau, this offering is a great way to experience Tableau's capabilities at no cost and share your work publicly.

Getting data out of Google Analytics

It can be tricky to extract data from Google Analytics because the APIs don't allow us to extract event-level data. It would be great to just extract page_views or visitors, but that option is available only on the paid tier of Google Analytics, which carries a hefty price tag. Therefore, the data we'll be working with is rolled up into an aggregated format.

The gateway to your Google Analytics data is the Google Core Reporting API, which lets you make calls to retrieve data.

Example Google Analytics code

The GA API returns JSON-formatted data. Here's an example of what that response might look like:

{
  "kind": "analytics#gaData",
  "id": string,
  "selfLink": string,
  "containsSampledData": boolean,
  "query": {
    "start-date": string,
    "end-date": string,
    "ids": string,
    "dimensions": [
      string
    ],
    "metrics": [
      string
    ],
    "samplingLevel": string,
    "sort": [
      string
    ],
    "filters": string,
    "segment": string,
    "start-index": integer,
    "max-results": integer
  },
  "itemsPerPage": integer,
  "totalResults": integer,
  "previousLink": string,
  "nextLink": string,
  "profileInfo": {
    "profileId": string,
    "accountId": string,
    "webPropertyId": string,
    "internalWebPropertyId": string,
    "profileName": string,
    "tableId": string
  },
  "columnHeaders": [
    {
      "name": string,
      "columnType": string,
      "dataType": string
    }
  ],
  "rows": [
    [
      string
    ]
  ],
  "sampleSize": string,
  "sampleSpace": string,
  "totalsForAllResults": [
    {
      metricName: string,
      ...
    }
  ]
}

Loading Data into Tableau

Analyzing data in Tableau requires putting it into a format that Tableau can read. Depending on the data source, you may have options for achieving this goal, but the best practice among most businesses is to build a data warehouse that contains the data, and then connect that data warehouse to Tableau.

Tableau provides an easy-to-use Connect menu that allows you to connect data from flat files, direct data sources, and data warehouses. In most cases, connecting these sources is simply a matter of creating and providing credentials to the relevant services.

Once the data is connected, Tableau offers an option for locally caching your data to speed up queries. This can make a big difference when working with slower database platforms or flat files, but is typically not necessary when using a scalable data warehouse platform. Tableau's flexibility and speed in these areas are among its major differentiators in the industry.

Analyzing Data in Tableau

Tableau's report-building interface may seem intimidating at first, but it's one of the most powerful and intuitive analytics UIs on the market. Once you understand its workflow, it offers fast and nearly limitless options for building reports and dashboards.

If you're familiar with Pivot Tables in Excel, the Tableau report building experience may feel somewhat familiar. The process involves selecting the rows and columns desired in the resulting data set, along with the aggregate functions used to populate the data cells. Users can also specify filters to be applied to the data and choose a visualization type to use for the report.

You can learn how to build a report from scratch for free (although a sign-in is required) from the Tableau documentation.

Keeping Google Analytics data up to date

At this point you've coded up a script or written a program to get the data you want and successfully moved it into your data warehouse. But how will you load new or updated data? It's not a good idea to replicate all of your data each time you have updated records. That process would be painfully slow and resource-intensive.

Instead, identify key fields that your script can use to bookmark its progression through the data and use to pick up where it left off as it looks for updated data. Auto-incrementing fields such as updated_at or created_at work best for this. When you've built in this functionality, you can set up your script as a cron job or continuous loop to get new data as it appears in Google Analytics.

And remember, as with any code, once you write it, you have to maintain it. If Google modifies its GA API, or the API sends a field with a datatype your code doesn't recognize, you may have to modify the script. If your users want slightly different information, you definitely will have to.

From Google Analytics to your data warehouse: An easier solution

As mentioned earlier, the best practice for analyzing Google Analytics data in Tableau is to store that data inside a data warehousing platform alongside data from your other databases and 3rd party sources. You can find instructions for doing these extractions for leading warehouses on our sister sites Google Analytics to Redshift, Google Analytics to BigQuery, and Google Analytics to Snowflake.

Easier yet, however, is using a solution that does all that work for you. Products like Stitch were built to solve this problem automatically. With just a few clicks, Stitch starts extracting your Google Analytics data via the API, structuring it in a way that is optimized for analysis, and inserting that data into a data warehouse that can be easily accessed and analyzed by Tableau.