How to Use Pivot Tables in Google Sheets: Step-By-Step Guide

Reporting Nov 22, 2021 14 minutes read

Table of contents

    Need some help with data processing and using pivot tables in Google Sheets?

    Then you are at the right place.

    Spreadsheets are very useful for organizing data, but when you have too much, Google Sheets can become rather difficult to manage. But this is where pivot tables and our guide come in.

    In this guide, we will share a step-by-step process of how one can use the Google Sheets pivot table function for making data organization easier and more effective. After reading this article you should know all the basics of pivot Google Sheets data sets and understand the basic concepts of using the Google Sheets report editor.

    So, let’s get started!


    What Are Pivot Tables?

    A spreadsheet is just a set of columns and rows. When you add in some formulas, it becomes easier for people with data entry skills to understand the numbers inside cells — but when your spreadsheet starts getting large enough that reading through every little calculation gets difficult (especially if they’re all on different pages), pivot tables come into play.

    Pivot tables are undoubtedly one of the most useful tools for organizing and interpreting information on spreadsheets. it makes reading through bulky amounts much easier while still providing valuable insights to readers who don’t want or need all those extra numbers clogging up their brain.

    Benefits of Using Pivot Tables

    Pivot tables are a fantastic way to organize large data sets so you can easily see what’s going on with your numbers. They also provide other benefits including sorting, analyzing, and managing information all at once.

    Sorting Data

    By using the Google Sheets pivot table function, you can sort your data in whatever order works best for you. This is especially beneficial if you want to pull out specific information by sorting it first and then creating another pivot table based on that criteria. Sorting at its core is simply changing your spreadsheet’s data set so everything shows up correctly without any confusion or misinterpretations. Pivot Google Sheet tables make the task very easy with their efficient layout design which allows quick number-crunching while maintaining readability of results.

    Analyzing Data

    Pivot tables give you the power to analyze your Google spreadsheets data and see it from a different perspective. These tables provide insights on how data can be used for business, marketing, etc., which makes them an invaluable tool when you are trying to streamline your decision-making process.

    Managing Data

    Pivot Google spreadsheet tables can easily manage large amounts of data while still allowing the user to understand what they are looking at. The Google Sheets report editor is an easy way to get started with making changes and new reports, so users don’t have to spend hours trying to figure out how pivot Google Spreadsheets works on their own.

    Related: How to Use Google Sheets + Databox to Track & Visualize Performance

    How to Make a Pivot Table in Google Sheets

    You don’t have to be an expert Google Sheets user to make a pivot table. All you need is the Google Sheets report editor and some data that needs organizing. Once you have your data and spreadsheet ready, follow these steps:

    Step 1: Creating the pivot table

    Start by opening up your Google Sheet file. Then, find the pivot table icon in the top menu bar to activate it. Once you’ve done that, click on “pivot table” and choose which data set you want to use for the Google spreadsheets report editor.

    Create the pivot table

    It should be the one where there are different values associated with each row of numbers. If needed, add or remove columns from your Google sheet before continuing forward so everything fits together properly within your spreadsheet’s layout design.

    1. Select Data and click on Pivot Table. 

    How to create a pivot table in Google Sheets - step 1

    2. Choose between how you want to insert the pivot table (New sheet or existing sheet).

    How to create a pivot table in Google Sheets - step 2

    3. So you just created a pivot table, but the table is empty because you haven’t added any columns, rows, or values to it from your data set.

    How to create a pivot table in Google Sheets - step 3

    In order to fill this table, you have to use the pivot table editor shown on the right side of the screen.

    That’s it!

    Step 2: Using the Pivot Table Editor

    The Pivot Table Editor helps you to add or remove data to your pivot table with two different options available. You can choose Google’s suggested rows, values, and goals or edit your pivot table manually.

    We’ll go through both of these options.

    Suggested pivot tables

    Google’s built-in AI makes creating your pivot table a breeze!

    To use it, you will need to go through the same initial steps when adding your data and values, but instead of adding them one by one – which can take hours if there are many items – Google automatically generates pre-built pivot table suggestions.

    pre-built pivot table suggestion example

    Usually, the suggested pivot table objectives are precise. But check everything before you move further.

    The other way to create a pivot table is with the Google Sheets Explore tool – a great feature for analyzing data and getting valuable insights from it. 

    To use the Google Sheets Explore tool, click the star-shaped icon on the bottom right of the Google Sheet.

    You’ll find the Explore window with a few recommendations regarding your data. 

    You can click to generate the specific table and visual presentation options of your data in various recommended formats. 

    Google Sheets Explore tool

    Manual options

    The other option is to edit the pivot table manually.

    But before diving in, make sure that these are what each option means:

    The four different headers will appear at the top of all created pivots – keep an eye out for them so they don’t get lost among other options on the screen.

    Pivot tables in Google Sheets - four different headers
    • Row label – The column headers of your Google spreadsheet data set.
    • Column label – What each row in your Google Sheets pivot table represents, or its values. You can add new ones under this category by clicking on any blank area inside of this section. The more rows and columns there are, the more information is available to sort through.
    • Values/goals – Where all numbers are placed after being sorted out based on either their value or goal. If not already filled out with preset categories for sorting purposes, select “value” from the dropdown list above it before starting another manual process if needed.
    • Filters – You can filter results from your pivot table. For example, you can apply a date filter if you only want to view the projects that you’ve done or delivered in December.

    Step 3: Building the report

    The next 3 steps will help you to create a readable Google Sheets report.

    But first, under the Pivot table editor, select Rows and Values to add the data.

    Building a report from the Google Sheets pivot editor- step 1
    Building a report from the Google Sheets pivot editor- step 2

    This is how should your pivot table look like now.

    Building a report from the Google Sheets pivot editor- step 3

    On to creating your report:

    1. Add rows

    Add Rows category within the Pivot table editor.

    Add Rows category within the Pivot table editor

    Select one row for the pivot table to include the data from chosen column into your pivot table. That data will appear as row headings.

    2. Add columns

    You’ll see the Values data displayed aggregated information for every column. 

    Add columns within the Pivot table editor

    3. Add values

    Click on Values. You will see the same column headings list.

    Select one and the pivot table will summarize that specific column. 

    Add values within the Pivot table editor

    Reading the pivot table

    Open any spreadsheet or other document containing a pivot table. The page field sorts data by main categories from the set, making it easy to find what you’re looking for.

    Column fields are at the top of the pivot table.

    Row fields are located along the left side of the pivot table. These two sets of fields are calculated within the body of the pivot table.

    Data items are in the body of the pivot table. Data in the center of the pivot table is the actual calculated data based upon the row, column, and page field headings.

    Take a look at grand totals such as “Total” or “Grand Total” rows and columns. This is the result of the summarized or calculated data.

    You can also sort data by specific headings by clicking the drop-down arrows beside any column or row heading.

    Related: 13 Ideas on How to Use Google Sheets In Your Business

    Google Sheet Pivot Tables: Tips and Tricks

    We’re not magicians, but we’ll show you some great tips & tricks that can help you save time processing numbers in your Google Sheets Report Editor.

    Hopefully, this list of tips and tricks will make your data processing endeavors smooth.

    It includes tips on using multiple value fields, changing aggregation types, adding filters, using multiple row fields, and copying pivot tables.

    Multiple value fields

    You can get a clear picture of how sales prices are distributed into different categories by adding more value columns. Click Add in the Values section of the editor and you can create value columns.

    Pivot Table values menu

    Changing aggregation types

    You can produce fresh insights by changing the aggregation type of one of the columns, e.g. change the SUM to AVERAGE instead.

    Pivot Tables change aggregation

    You can select desired aggregation options. Click on SUM (or AVERAGE or other selected column) and choose from the menu:

    Pivot Table aggregation menu

    Adding filters

    A nice feature of Pivot Tables is that you can create “named sets” which are just like named ranges, making it easy to have filters based on the same set of values. In this example we will show a count of properties for each property type:

    Pivot Table with no filter

    We see all 15 properties from the dataset.

    If we choose the filtering by Agent, we will see the data from just one of the Agents.

    Google Sheets filter menu

    Click on the “Status > Showing all items” and uncheck the items you want to discard.

    Keep selected the data that will be used to create the Pivot Table.

    Pivot Table Filter menu

    Now you see just Jenny’s selected properties.

    Pivot Table with filter

    Multiple row fields

    This one can be very helpful when it comes to different sorting reviews.

    In the example below, when you add a second-row field, it appears as sub-categories, so that between the two columns in your Pivot Table all the unique combinations of the two fields are shown.

    Pivot Table categories with sub-category

    Copying Pivot Tables

    There’s a quick trick for copying an existing Pivot Table, rather than starting over.

    It also gives you the option of moving your Pivot Tables to a different tab.

    Click into the top left corner cell of your Pivot Table and click copy (Cmd + C on a Mac, or Ctrl + C on a PC/Chromebook). This adds the Pivot Table to your clipboard and you can paste it wherever you want in your Sheet (Cmd + V on a Mac, or Ctrl + V on a PC/Chromebook).

    1. Find the copy option for your Pivot Table by clicking the top left corner cell of the Pivot Table
    2. Select Copy (Cmd + C on a Mac, or Ctrl + C on a PC/Chromebook).
    3. Paste it wherever you want in your Sheet (Cmd + V on a Mac, or Ctrl + V on a PC/Chromebook).

    *Note: Ensure that there is enough space available wherever you wish to paste a copy of your Pivot Table.

    Related: 40 Advanced Google Sheets Tips for Marketing Pros

    How to Refresh a Pivot Table in Google Sheets (and Why)

    The good news is – You don’t need to manually refresh pivot tables!

    But… There are a few cases in which you might need to force a refresh:

    Case 1: Your pivot tables have filters

    If you have filters in your pivot table, your data won’t be updated when you change the original data values. To fix this problem, you need to remove the filters in your pivot table. Check out how to remove those filters below.

    How to Refresh a Pivot Table in Google Sheets - case 1: Your pivot tables have filters

    Make changes to the original data set.

    Add again the filters within the Pivot table editor (Click the Add button in the Filters category).

    Case 2: Adding new rows that are outside the pivot table’s range

    The pivot table only takes the data from the original dataset within the pivot table’s range into account. If new rows of data are added outside of that range, they will not affect the pivot table. You can adjust the pivot table range to fit your data by adding blank rows above and below the initial data so it can be extended as needed or within the pivot table editor.

    How to Refresh a Pivot Table in Google Sheets - case 1: You’re adding new rows outside the pivot table’s range

    However, if you leave blank rows in your original worksheet, the pivot table will also show blank rows. To avoid this, you can either add a filter to display only the rows with values or edit the range directly to include your new rows.

    Case 3: Your original dataset has functions such as TODAY and RANDOM

    If you have pivot tables that update automatically, a simple change to the original dataset won’t update the pivot table. One solution is to avoid including functions such as TODAY and RANDOM in your data or by using cloud pivot tables to update the pivot table.

    If you have any of the issues mentioned in the original dataset sheet, both methods will automatically update your pivot tables to the desired version.

    How to Build a Cloud Pivot Table

    Information stored within a database is often too large to work with using a regular spreadsheet. And while Google Sheets does have a five million-cell maximum capacity, a better option to summarize and analyze large amounts of data is to use Cloud Pivots.

    Handling large amounts of data with a Cloud database is much easier than a spreadsheet because Cloud databases let you do things like:

    • Query information to see information from another place.
    • Sort your data based on any factor.
    • Filter your data to see only the “important” parts.
    • Use mathematical functions to manipulate your data.
    • Data analysis often requires users to work with smaller slices of information.

    To build a Cloud pivot table, select the underlying data you wish to visualize. 

    Example: Using Salesforce – Select the objects and fields. 

    How to Build a Cloud Pivot Table
    An example from, building a cloud Pivot Table using data from Salesforce

    You can build the same Cloud Pivot Tables for databases.

    • Step 1: Select the table and fields you want to include in the pivot table.
    • Step 2: Select the columns and rows you want to include in each of your measures.
    • Step 3: Choose a calculation method for each measure. Example: If you want a total for a particular column, select Sum, then select a field from that column to include in your sum.
    • Step 4: Set an auto-refresh schedule.

    How to Format Pivot Tables in Google Sheets

    Everything starts with the “Format” option in the menu bar.

    From the drop-down menu navigate to the “Theme”.

    How to Format Pivot Tables in Google Sheets

    It will take you to the “Themes” window and there you need to click on the box with a downward arrow located at the bottom of this window. This is where you need to select the theme that you’d like to be applied on your pivot table.

    Pivot Table Google Sheets - Themes window

    Takeaway: It doesn’t matter what kind of data Google Sheets has, but if you use the right visual display, it will make it far more evident and easy to interpret.

    Related: How to Create A Bar Graph (and more) in Google Sheets

    You can also customize the visuals of your pivot table like shown below.

    Pivot Table Google Sheets customization
    Pivot Table Google Sheets customization options

    If you are creative enough you can make amazing themes individually.


    Visualize your Google Sheet Data in Databox

    What if you could take the same data from a Google spreadsheet and instantly visualize it an easy-to-understand dashboard with just a few clicks?

    That’s exactly where Databox can help you! It allows you to layer key metrics on top of your spreadsheet or pivot table. This means that instead of looking at rows and rows of spreadsheets, you can bring in actionable performance insights that help you make smarter decisions.

    Databox integrates with Google Sheets to make your data easy to navigate, analyze, and pull insights from. Our tool can help you automatically pull data from any spreadsheet, calculate custom metrics, and more. The combination of tools opens up possibilities around real-time or historical reporting, displaying multiple worksheets in one place, and creating dashboards that will help teams visualize their performance.

    Try it today – sign up for a free trial now and join our family of 120,000+ satisfied Databox users.

    Article by
    Djordje Cvijovic

    Grew up as a Copywriter. Evolved into the Content creator. Somewhere in between, I fell in love with numbers that can portray the world as well as words or pictures. A naive thinker who believes that the creative economy is the most powerful force in the world!

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