Technical

How to make a pivot table and chart in Excel

by on 3rd January 2019

For those of you that have been following my work for the past decade (or more), you’ll know that much of my early work was teaching SEO’s how to use Excel. It seems that despite the long period of time between 2008 (when this article was originally penned) and today, not a great deal of Excel stuff has changed. That’s except for the version of Excel we’re using and the data sources we’re analysing.

This tutorial teaches you how to make a pivot table in Excel and how to create a pivot chart with the data. The outcome, this type of a rankings distribution chart:

classic ranking chart from circa 2008

The chart above shows search volume and ranking position in Google on the secondary axis. At the time, it was my favourite type of SEO chart as it was particularly useful for the keyword research presentations of the day.

Back then, we used Google Keyword Tool data and rankings gathered from AWR reports. Today, it’s a little different. We’re going to grab data via the SEMrush API (using a methodology very similar to this one) which comes ready with rankings and search volume data all in one.

Should you need to use a separate source of ranking data, then you might need to use VLOOKUP to consolidate your dataset into a single Table. Follow the links provided and as soon as you have a full data set, return to this post.

Here’s how to build a pivot table in Excel:

  1. Gather your data.
  2. Create a table.
  3. Head to Insert > Pivot Table and add to a new sheet.
  4. Add axis fields, values, column labels and filters.
  5. Add filters by dragging important fields into “Filters”.
  6. Use sort to arrange your table in whatever order you choose.

I’m going to take the process step by step in my installation of Excel 365. The process will also be more or less exactly the same for versions 2013, 2016 and 2019.

Gather your data and create a Master table

Pull down some keyword data using your keyword research weapon of choice. Today, we’re using SEMrush. Here’s an animated gif of the process I used with SEO Tools for Excel and the SEMrush API:

extract data with semrush and seo tools for excel

Using SEO Tools for Excel to export data via the SEMrush API.

You don’t have to use tables, but I really like to. Amongst other reasons, tables seem to be highly performant, less work for you in this particular use case and they can be fun to name.

Once you’ve got your data, make a Table by selecting the whole dataset (CTRL+SHIFT+DOWN then RIGHT), then CTRL+L creates the table:

making an Excel table

Name the table something memorable, like “rankings”.

Create a Pivot Table on a new sheet

Now we have all of our data nicely arranged in one place, let’s get to the fun part. We’re going to add a pivot table to a new sheet.

Head to Insert > Pivot Table and add to a new sheet, just like this:

Insert pivot table dialogue

When you click “OK”, you’ll be presented with a blank Pivot Table “field list” and a Pivot Chart “filter pane” on the right of your screen and a very blank looking space on the left called “PivotTable1”.

blank pivot table

Add axis fields, values, column labels and filters

If you’re new to Pivot Charts, you’re about to experience a bit of a penny drop moment. We’re going to look at which items of data should be placed where and you’ll see very quickly how a pivot table works.

The PivotTable Field List uses drag and drop functionality to enable you to populate those little white squares with values. As you add values, the table on the left begins to form.

Start by picking up your keywords by dragging the “keyword” field into the “Rows” box. Next, drag and drop your search volume figure into the “Values” box.

Provided you’re looking at “Sum of Search Volume” and not “Count of Search Volume”, your table on the left will start to make a lot of sense:

brand new pivot table drag and drop

You’ll very quickly notice that you’ve created a thing of beauty.

A pivot table with all of the keywords in your list and all of their corresponding search volume values.

I call this the pivot-table-penny-drop-moment. Having all of your values in a pivot table might not be what you intended, though, which is where the Filters come in.

As you can see, I dragged the “Position” field into “Filters”. This adds a helpful drop down above the Pivot Table, which I can use to filter out the very low search volume values.

using filters in a pivot table

To create a filter, follow the yellow arrow (in the screenshot above) to the filter drop down and check the “Select Multiple Items” checkbox. You’re now free to clear out any irrelevant data from your table, in my case, low search volme data.

Finally, drag down the “Position” values into “Values” and you’ll have a pivot table, with keywords, search volume and rankings ready to build a chart.

Create your pivot chart

Head to Insert > Column or Bar chart to insert your chart. It may look a little rough around the edges though, so let’s make it look a lot nicer than this:

an ugly bar chart

First, we need to organise the keywords by search volume so we can look at our chart as a tail graph. Highlight your search volume data (the column you’d like to sort in volume order) and select “Data > Sort“.

This will improve matters slightly, but there might be a few too many keywords in the chart. Try filtering out the lower volume terms, at least for the time being.

Sort out the rankings by keyword

The only remaining challenge is to arrange the rankings in such a way that they make sense, visually.

You should never compare fundamentally different types of values on the same chart axis, so let’s create a secondary axis for the ranking values.

First, you need to select and format the rankings data series. You could use your right mouse button on the chart and select “format data series”, but that’s fiddly and unnecessary.

Instead, select your chart and navigate to the “Format” pane.

You’re looking for the “Current Selection” drop down on the far left-hand side of the screen. Select the drop-down and click your rankings data series, now, select “Format Selection”.

format selection

We’re going to place the data on a secondary axis, and change the chart type to a line chart. Finally, we’ll remove the lines in the rankings chart to leave only the markers.

format on a secondary axis

Dealing with the secondary axis and changing chart type

Your pivot chart, by default, shows both data series as bar charts. We need to select our series once more (using the Format Selection drop down), and then right mouse button click on “Change Series Chart Type”.

change series chart type

Select “Custom” from the options in this dialogue and select the Stacked Line option for your secondary axis:

These pivot charts use a reversed secondary axis to place position 1 rankings at the top of the chart.

To be able to do this, we’ll need to edit the secondary axis.

Right click on the secondary axis in your chart, and choose “Format Axis“. Setting your minimum value to “1.0” will exclude all of the zeroes in your rankings data and setting a maximum of say, 15 would exclude any ranking higher than 15th. You choose the range that’s right for you.

Finally, scrolling down these options will reveal a checkbox: select “values in reverse order” and you’re almost done.

Finishing touches

One tiny point left to do, we should change the chart type so our secondary data makes a little more sense.

Select the rankings data bars and navigate to “Design > Change Chart Type”. Select the line graph option with visible data markers in the line. Now, take out the line colour from inside “Format Data Series > Line Colour” and you’re done.

Here’s the chart I reproduced while I was writing the blog post:

And there you have it. How to make a pivot chart and table in Excel. Have fun making your own!

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