In some cases, CMS solutions like WordPress don’t really fit your workflow. When managing lots of similar content types using WordPress custom posts, the UI is bothersome. Imagine trying to quickly update tens or hundreds of custom posts. It’s a significant effort even for seasoned editors. In such cases, the content management system’s workflow works against you and your team.
When sharing important content on your websites like apartment availability, prices, events dates, and ticket prices they need to be up to date, especially when your sales department is often changing prices or updating images, dates, or other details.
On such occasions, we try to find alternative content solutions, that fit one's desired workflows. Some teams use purpose-made software like CRM systems. Most of the small teams we work with prefer the flexibility of spreadsheets.
The benefits of using spreadsheets as a database
While creating posts or pages within spreadsheets isn’t a good idea, working with entries like apartments or events makes much more sense. Services like Google Sheets, Excel Online, or AirTable can supplement your CMS quickly.
Better collaboration & quicker changes
Spreadsheets work great when collaborating with your team. Cloud-based solutions make it possible for multiple users to access them at the same time. Making changes collaboratively is much quicker than using other CMS solutions like WordPress. Since it's a spreadsheet it's also easier to make changes, like updating images, attached pdfs much faster.
Additionally, when using spreadsheets instead of a standard CMS you can edit one data source for multiple websites. While it's possible with other CMSs it would require more effort and could cause issues in the future.
Easy data authoring, custom workflows setup
Spreadsheets make it extremely easy to update data structures as well. To add a data point, no migrations or clicking around is required, it's as simple as creating a new column.
Creating custom workflows is also incredibly effortless. With Google Sheets, you can use existing sheets to work as a data source for other sheets. With Zapier you can integrate the data directly with other services as well.
Utilizing integrations and Sheets extensions will enable you to create tools to automate part of tasks for your team and increase productivity.
AirTable - spreadsheet on steroids
For some clients Sheets may not be enough, that's where AirTable comes in. AirTable basically takes the idea of spreadsheets and adds more content options like images, relations, and more. AirTable is basically an SQL database with UI on top.
With REST API it's possible to plug some data from internal systems and display them directly on your website. AirTable offers a robust set of templates to kickstart your efforts on the platform. It's possible to power your marketing, sales, product management, and more with AirTable.
Using AirTable and Google sheets looks great on paper, but let's take a look at some examples of our work where we used that approach to help our clients.
Real Estate Listings powered by Google Sheet
The best case study for using spreadsheets instead of the standard CMS is managing real estate listings. One of our is a real estate company that develops new locations in Poland. With a lot of apartments and houses available in different locations, it was obvious for us that any CMS out there is simply not the good way to go.
We used Google Sheets to handle the management of available units for sale. Our client's team could easily update the floor plans, image pricing, and availability without actually entering the CMS.
Real Estate Listings from different investments
Another great example of this approach is from another project for the same real estate developer. Once new investments began, we used the same setup with Google Sheets to display the offer on different websites.
The next natural step was combining different sheets into a singular solution that allows potential clients to browse all available listings. Google Sheets in this case is also managing filters in the search.
Event Calendar powered by Google Sheets
The last interesting example is a Google Sheets powered calendar. While working with Dionysus, they wanted to have an option to list upcoming news. With a statically built website, we wanted to make sure they can provide the most up-to-date details without waiting for the website to rebuild.
In this case, the spreadsheet works also as a tool to manage the calendar. Dionysus team can add more details to their calendar, while the website only displays the relevant information.
Google Sheets vs AirTable
There are some differences worth considering when choosing which tool is better for your usage. Google Sheet's biggest issue is the need to publish your spreadsheet online, this means it can't contain any confidential information. AirTable on the other hand is an additional tool that may add some costs, its adoption also might be harder since it's a new tool.
Google Sheet Advantages:
- Included in Google Workspace suite
- Most people are comfortable working in spreadsheets
- Unlimited calls
- Can't upload images or create simple relations
- Your sheet has to be publicly available to use as an endpoint
- Can be used as a robust system to power your business and enhance productivity
- Support for additional content types like images and relations
- Great REST API
- Premade templates
- Additional tool for the team
- Might be an overkill for a simple system