Why you shouldn't use Pivot Tables in Looker Studio? (and what to replace them with)

I know, bold statement. Why on earth shouldn't you use pivot tables in Looker Studio (formerly known as Data Studio) if Google provides them as a nice built-in feature?

Well, this is exactly what we're going to discuss in this (at once quite short) article. I do understand that pivot tables are great in Excel for data analysis, and that in some cases they are doing the job, but they have so many limitations that I came to this sad conclusion. They don't fit any data visualization needs that a simple table on steriods couldn't serve better, and with style!

No worries, I also have a solution for you so by the end of the article, you won't be totally lost.

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Pivot tables limitation: only 5 per pages

Yep, you've read just right. You can't have as many as you want (and it used to be only 3 back in the days, so in a way we could say we're blessed)! It's a bit frustating to start building a dashboard and then reaching this limitation in the middle of it. And why is that, may you ask?

Pivot tables loading times are long, very long

Yes, this one is tricky as I can't be totally sure, but after several years in the field, I can tell that pivot tables take longer to load than nice & simple tables with the same data in it. Might not be totally accurate, but really feels like it. And could be the reason you're limited in usage. Think about it. Makes sense, right?

Pivot tables are limited when it comes to formatting

Do you want to center your labels and metrics? You can't. And that's very frustrating when you're attached to detail. Plus, you can't color the whole line when using conditionnal formatting. You can with regular tables, but not with pivot tables, don't ask me why...

Pivot tables columns sizing is a real pain

Just try it, really, it takes a lot of magic to be able to size and ensure it looks good on the screen. Not an issue on regular tables. Again, at this point I guess you know what my solution will be.

There are no comparison in Pivot tables

In regular table, you've got the nice comparison date range feature, which allows you to make quick comparison against previous year or previous period (or a custom period as well). I'm not a huge fan of it, but can be of use sometimes. It just doesn't exist for pivot tables.

Pivot tables navigation: endless up down left right scrolling

If you've got one metric, one line, one colum, you can somehow navigate easily as long as you don't have too many combinations (and that would be the only case where I'd advocate for it). But when you start having several lines/columns and several metrics, you're doomed, you'll spend your time scrolling in all directions and won't get any grasp at your data.

So then, what should I use to replace Pivot Tables?

Regular tables! In this article about how to do a year to date, year over year comparison in Looker Studio?, I explain how to recreate a fake this year metric. Actually, it could be applied to any dimension, you just have to modify the formula a bit and you can show only one channel, one country, ... It's good if you've got a limited number of values in your dimension. But if you were to have more, then I'm not sure pivot table would have been the right dataviz anyways. Maybe a line chart or a bar chart would do the job better.

So, what do you think now? Convinced?!!

Looker Studio Pivot Table

In this article, we've reviewed all the reasons why you shouldn't use Pivot Tables in Looker Studio (but they are definitively fine in Excel, don't get me wrong), and how you could replace them with regular tables.


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