Looker vs Tableau - How to Pick Which is Right for Your Business
Data visualization allows the brain to process a large amount of data in one glance.
Detailed charts and graphs help businesses make effective business decisions faster.
However, data is only helpful if we are able to adequately communicate the information to our teams showing both the big picture and the steps necessary to achieve future goals. This is where tools such as Looker and Tableau come in handy.
There are a number of data visualization tools available, each with varying features. The task of picking which one can be overwhelming. In this article, we are taking a closer look at the difference between Looker vs. Tableau to compare which visualization is better for your business objectives and unlocks more opportunities with dashboards.
Marketers love these two platforms because of the simplicity of use, high standards of customer service, and the beautiful, interactive visualizations they are capable of producing.
Criteria to Consider When Deciding Between Looker and Tableau
- Your existing infrastructure
- Company size
- Data analytics needs
- Types of graphs, charts, or storyboards that work best to communicate with your team
- Types of accesses you will need, whether on-site or stored on the platform’s cloud
How to Transfer Data to Looker or Tableau?
While these data visualization tools are great for building charts and graphs that tell your company story, it can still be a tedious challenge to gather your data from various data sources and send it all to your visualization or BI tool (business intelligence).
That's where tools like Improvado save the day. Improvado is a tool that helps marketers automatically link all data to a single digital marketing dashboard, or to visualization or business intelligence tool.
Both Looker and Tableau are compatible with Improvado. This means you can rely on Improvado to automate the process of sending raw data into whichever Data Visualization tool you choose, whether it be Tableau, Looker, Google Data Studio, PowerBI or any other. Turn your data into beautiful, easy to interpret visualizations.
Looker is a powerful data analytics platform that was acquired by Google in 2019 and is now part of the Google Cloud Platform. The platform helps analysts in data discovery, exploration, and visualization activities.
Looker is a browser-based platform. The data modeling process is based on Looker's unique modeling language—LookML. It's a language for describing dimensions, aggregates, calculations, and data relationships in the SQL database.
LookML for data modeling is a no-brainer for Looker users. Querying is relatively fast and effortless once you get used to the language. Besides, Looker provides a turn-key integration with GitHub (and you don't even need to know how to use git itself).
Moreover, the platform provides Looker Blocks which are pre-built data models for common analytics patterns.
Instead of writing queries from scratch, you can use already existing models and modify them according to your needs.
Here are different types of blocks provided by Looker:
- Analytic blocks. This directory contains blocks for different types of analytics.
- Source blocks. Here you can find analytics for third-party sources (Twitter Analytics, YouTube Analytics, Improvado Advertising Analytics) based on data schemas created by Looker's partners.
- Data blocks. Pre-built public data patterns (e.g., weather and demographic data).
- Data tool blocks. Ready-made techniques for specific types of data analysis (e.g. cohort analysis).
- Viz blocks. Custom visualization types that you can use to visualize your query output.
- Embedded blocks. Pre-built blocks that allow you to embed data to custom applications.
Looker doesn't have native support of machine learning algorithms.
However, since Looker is a part of the Google Cloud Platform, it's closely linked with BigQuery. This enables analysts to use BQML (BigQuery Machine Learning) to build and execute Machine Learning models using SQL queries.
Later on, you can visualize the output of models in Looker.
Besides, Looker also works with other AI and ML tools from GCP, such as Vertex AI.
In one of the case studies, Google explains how to use BQML and Looker to create the explainable AI for the banking industry. The machine learning model can identify fraudulent transactions based on the transaction amount, time of the day, distance, etc. Here's the explainable AI dashboard in Looker:
Another case study by Google shows how to build an interactive machine learning model using Looker and Vertex AI.
"I'm running Looker instance for more than 400 users. From my experience.
- It scales really well. If you use a good warehouse, you don't need to build any aggregates, cubes, etc. Tools that use intermediate databases can't run analytics on very big datasets.
- Quite flexible in terms of modeling. Anything you can do with SQL you can do in Looker.
- Good for data governance. The whole workflow is very simple. All of the KPIs in dashboards come from data models. If something is wrong, you change it in one place, and once you push it production, the dashboards get the update KPI, so it's much easier and faster.
- Self-service BI. Looker is more about self-service bi than data visualization, so your users will drag&drop dimensions and measures, LookML will generate a SQL that is executed in your warehouse. Then you select visualization on top. If your data warehouse is fast, they'll get quick results in real-time so they can do a lot on their own.
- Version controlling / git. You can collaborate on projects, so if you have a bigger company, it's kinda must, in my opinion.
- Automated testing, ci/cd. We do quite a lot of that, have a separate beta instance, test your content via API, etc.
- Works in a browser. You don't have to install extra software. You can work on Mac, Linux, etc. Develop code in any tool you want.
- Enterprise features. SSO, IAM, row-level security, etc.
- Good API. You can do quite a lot via API (accessing the data, managing users, instances, testing content, etc.).
- Good community, support, and marketplace. It's not the biggest community, but I've had a good experience so far. In the marketplace, you can find re-usable models, so if you use Shopify, you just copy the model into your repository and get the basic dimensions and KPIs.
- You need to invest in a tool and learning. Like it's definitely a large investment, which might be a blocker for startups. I think not a lot of people really know the tool.
- Requires a large team to get the most out of it. Looker is not a one-stop shop. We still model our data in dataflow&dbt and then hit Looker to do the last mile. More reading: https://blog.getdbt.com/-how-do-you-decide-what-to-model-in-dbt-vs-lookml--/
- Some development tasks take more time compared to other tools. Tools with legacy architecture that load your data into the intermediate database have some built-in calculations that you can run really quick, like all of "period vs. period comparison", "running sums like a year to date, etc.". In Looker, you need to write that in SQL from scratch. You'll re-use it later, but you have to do the initial work. I prefer it like that because I can control the code of the function but again takes more time.
- Visualizations are not as good as in Tableau. This is not a blocker for us, and there are like 20 visualization types https://docs.looker.com/exploring-data/visualizing-query-results/visualization-types, but for some companies, it's a blocker.
- Vendor lock-in. I guess with every tool there is this risk that switching to the other tool might be painful but yeah. Like going from something like Looker to a different architecture might be complicated.
- It might be overkill. I wouldn't use it for a small team, where I don't need the whole governance, version control, and scalability. There is a cost associated with it and a learning curve to implement, so yeah, just not for every size. I mean, I would still use it for medium-sized and large companies, but not for a "budget" or "super small" project"."
Looker's prices adjust according to your needs and your team size. That's why, the company doesn't reveal the price on its website.
However, during our research we found some reviews from analysts that can give you a basic understanding of the platform's pricing.
Another good thing to know is that if you have an investor from Google, you can get Google platform credits, which can be used to pay for Looker.
However, you don't have to rely on the experience of others. The pricing differs from company to company, so t's better to contact the company directly.
How to Transfer Marketing Data to Looker
One of the main questions remains unanswered: how to transfer data from your data sources to Looker without spending half of the workweek?
Of course, you can do everything manually, but with so many companies implementing a modern data stack, you'll be wasting your competitive advantage and time on manual data management.
Companies that are first to get insights, are first to get more revenue and boost their growth.
A reliable ETL platform is an essential part of a healthy analytics process. Instead of decluttering metrics aggregated from tens of sources and trying to organize them in a data warehouse, data scientists can focus on the actual analysis.
Here's how we approach this problem at Improvado. Improvado is an ETL platform for sales and marketing data that allows users to merge insights from 300+ sources in minutes.
The data pipeline normalizes gathered insights, loads all data to the user's data warehouse (such as BigQuery, S3, Snowflake, etc.), and automatically transfers data to Looker.
Here's how you can connect Improvado and Looker in under two minutes:
From this point on, you can use Improvado's pre-built data extraction templates that allow you to connect any available data source by making just a few clicks.
After you configure all required connections, the data will automatically flow to your warehouse. Mind that if you use BigQuery, you can also use its ML functionalities to create more complex queries and create more detailed dashboards.
The last thing you need is to build comprehensive dashboards in Looker. You can use Improvado's set of marketing dashboard templates and customize them in any way you need.
If you are looking to transform data into beautiful visualizations with actionable insights that make an impact then Tableau may be the BI tool you need.
As a visualization tool at its core, Tableau offers instantaneous and insightful visualizations. The platform provides drag-and-drop functionalities that significantly facilitate the dashboard creation process.
There are different ways how you can use Tableau:
- On-premise Tableau Server hosted on the company's PC.
- Tableau Server deployed in the public cloud.
- Tableau Online is fully hosted on Tableau's servers.
Apart from visualization, Tableau offers an interesting approach to data exploration. The platform allows building data views automatically by simply asking questions. This feature is called Ask Data. It answers your questions by drawing up new visualizations.
As for machine learning functionalities, Tableau falls behind Looker in this matter. Even though Tableau has incorporated some AI features for data analysis, it doesn't have the same capabilities as Looker in a bundle with BigQuery.
However, third-party integrations can slightly improve the situation. Tableau integrates with Aible, a cloud-based AI solution. With its help, you can build predictive models. Another way to run predictive analytics is by integrating Python. However, it requires your analysts to have deep expertise in engineering, which is often a luxury that companies can't afford.
Experienced analysts and data scientists aren't always happy with Tableau despite broad visualization capabilities.
Some specialists consider Tableau a weak tool in terms of data exploration.
Others believe that it's only good for very basic analytical tasks.
At the end of the day, opinions differ. You can try free trials of both tools and decide which will be better for your specific tasks.
Here's a list of benefits and drawbacks according to our personal experience.
- Beautiful, interactive visualizations that are easy to interpret
- Additional visualization features include storyboarding and Spatial File Connector (which extracts geospatial data)
- Intuitive analysis with a point-and-click user interface that provides the big picture of company trends and future possibilities
- Fully customizable dashboards
- Easy embedding
- Single sign-on
- Intuitive and user-friendly
- Online analytical processing functionalities provide access to databases and web-based analysis
- Allows business users to convert reports into different file formats and share the analytical findings
- Integrates with a large number of data sources
- Sometimes large data files can take several minutes to load
- Graphs are somewhat limited at times
- Insufficient capabilities in terms of machine learning
- The dashboard can be slow at times.
Tableau offers two different sets of prices. The first set of prices is for installation on-premise or on a public cloud. The price ranges from $12 to $70 per month per user, depending on the package of your choice.
Tableau also offers a separate set of prices for using the platform deployed on Tableau's servers. The price ranges from $15 to $70 per month per user, depending on the package you choose.
You can find all features included in each package here.
How to Transfer Marketing Data to Tableau
Despite all the differences, there's one absolutely similar characteristic for both Tableau and Looker. You need to supply your dashboards with fresh data continuously.
There's no better solution for this issue than the ETL platform. A well-built data pipeline will help you get data from all your data sources to Tableau and a data warehouse of your choice.
Improvado can help you transfer data from marketing and sales sources right to your Tableau dashboard.
First, you'll have to connect the ETL platform to the BI tool, which normally takes less than a couple of minutes.
Then, you have to establish a connection for all of your data sources to load it in a unified data warehouse. As in the case of Looker, you might use BigQuery, Snowflake, and 10+ more data warehouses.
However, querying data in GBQ might be too expensive since the platform charges you for each processed data row. That's why, Improvado offers a ClickHouse-based managed data warehouse, where you can execute as many queries as you want without burning a hole in your pocket. Besides, it's also faster than the majority of cloud-based solutions on the market.
With all connections configured and insights prepared you can start visualizing. Build the dashboards and Improvado will automatically fill them with data.
It’s hard to make a clear call into which platform has better visualization capabilities since they both do it so well. Tableau uses structured and unstructured data to create visualizations and has the added features of storyboarding and Spatial File Connector. Looker creates customized visuals and also allows you to choose from a library full of blocks with pre-made dashboard and visualization templates. Improvado provides a number of Marketing Dashboard templates that are available as Looker Blocks.
Looker is better when it comes to analytics. While Tableau is excellent with analytics Looker has the advantage due to its platform-exclusive analytics function, Looker Blocks. The blocks are pre-built but fully customizable to the user's needs.
As for Tableau, it offers vast opportunities for different data manipulations, SQL queries, forecasting, etc. It’s still a great solution if you plan to work with large datasets, complex data views and integrate third-party tools for your analysis needs.
Online Analytical Processing or OLAP
Tableau is the clear winner of this category because it works with OLAP cubes, while Looker attempts to work around OLAP. For companies that require the use of OLAP then the choice is clear.
Looker tries to replace conventional OLAP functionalities with custom solutions for data examination. However, if OLAP is irreplaceable for your analysis, Tableau suits you the best.
While you can use or build custom API connections to various outside systems and platforms, most people opt to utilize Improvado as a way to automate the process of extracting and aggregating data into their tool.
As for the comparison of Looker vs. Tableau, Looker provides more integrations with third-party software and it’s easier to connect it with other solutions compared to Tableau.
If you still need more research to decide which tool to choose, this might help you:
💬Tableau VS Looker discussion on Reddit
📔How to Choose Viualization Platform [CheatSheet]
✔️Get free consulting from experts who have done it before
The Final Decision
The final decision of whether to use Tableau vs Looker rests on your specific needs. After taking into consideration your marketing and data needs, company size, data analysis, and preference for visualization which of the two BI tools (business intelligence) will you choose?
Whether you settle on Tableau vs Looker the good news is that both are fully compatible with Improvado. Improvado offers customer support, customization, and the smoothest data aggregation and visualization out there. It is fully compatible with the BI tool of your choice. Rely on Improvado to automate the collection of data over multiple marketing campaigns and feed it into Tableau or Looker for excellent visualization.
What is Looker good for?
Looker is a robust business intelligence and visualization tool that helps companies create illustrative charts and diagrams for a better understanding of their efforts. From the user’s standpoint, the app provides a clear and straightforward interface, works in a browser tab, and improves team productivity when it comes to dashboarding.
How much does Looker cost?
Looker doesn’t disclose pricing information on their website. To get the price tailored to your requirements, you should contact the company directly. However, third-party resources claim that the price for a team of 10 members starts at $3,000/month.
Is Looker owned by Google?
Yes, Google acquired Looker in February 2020.
Is Looker the same as Tableau?
Even though both of these tools have the same purpose, they still have some differences. It’s hard to compare Looker vs. Tableau because the real benefits of these solutions rely heavily on your business requirements. Due to Looker’s simplicity, the software doesn’t require a desktop version. However, it lacks flexibility in several points.
Tableau is a solution with more advanced features. Still, the large data files may take up to several minutes to load, and massive dashboards can be slow at times.
How is Looker different from Tableau?
Tableau utilizes both structured and unstructured data to visualize data and has the added features of storyboarding and Spatial File Connector. Looker creates customized visuals and also allows you to choose from a library full of blocks with pre-made dashboard and visualization templates.
How Improvado integrates Tableau or Looker with my data ecosystem?
Improvado streamlines marketing data from all your current data sources to load it into the data warehouse. From there, normalized and cleansed insights are sent to Looker or Tableau. With the help of prebuilt marketing dashboards, analysts get detailed charts and graphs in seconds. Thus, they can focus on the analysis instead of routine data manipulations and data cleansing.
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