The phrase "pivot table” can be incredibly intimidating, especially for those who’ve had little experience using Excel. A few years back, whenever I’d heard a coworker talking about using pivot tables, I’d secretly sigh in relief. “Thank goodness I don’t have to build pivot tables,” I’d tell myself. “They sound ridiculously complicated.”
But that’s the thing with tools and tactics that are foreign to you: You’re inclined to distrust them, to be afraid of them, and to assume that they’re beyond your understanding. When it comes to pivot tables, however, I can assure you that these doubts and fears are 100% misplaced.
One of the biggest obstacles to becoming a successful pivot table user is taking that first leap: diving into a spreadsheet and building your very first table. When I did this, I was completely shocked by how easy it was.
Of course, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, there are some added complexities that you may need to address (like adding a "Calculate Field"or computing median values). But at its core, a pivot table is just like any other Excel table -- the main difference being that with a pivot table, you can easily move or “pivot” data to glean new insights.
A pivot table is a versatile reporting tool that lets you summarize large amounts of data -- and extract relevant information -- without having to use formulas. As mentioned above, by pivoting fields of data (using Excel's drag and drop interface), you can organize that data in many different ways.
In the video below, we use a pivot table to summarize data from a blog performance report. Specifically, we organize the number of views, links, and comments associated with each blog post by post title (as opposed to by URL, which is how the data is organized in the original report). By default, Excel calculates the sum of the values in your pivot table, but you can easily change this calculation to maximum, minimum, average, and more, depending on what you're trying to learn.
Author's note: Keep in mind there are many different versions of Excel, so what you see in the video above might not always match up exactly with what you'll see in your version. That's why we encourage you to download the written instructions and demo data so you can follow along.