Google Sheets as a Database: Is it Really Your Only Option?

Mariam Ispiryan • May 24, 2022 • 14 min read

Google Sheets is a great tool for individuals and small teams who are looking to quickly and easily set up their database for free. It provides real-time and async collaboration possibilities, and because of its similarities to Excel’s user interface (UI), it has a pretty shallow learning curve.


However, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. For example, a major disadvantage to Google Sheets is its limited functionality at an advanced level, which means it’s not very scalable and it’s not the best tool for building more complex databases.


In this article, we’ll go over some of the main advantages and disadvantages of Google Sheets, some popular use cases for the tool, and some of the best free templates you can use to get your database up and running. 


We’ll also be answering the question: is there a better Google Sheets alternative for your growing business?



If you’re looking for a specific answer, use the links in the table of contents below to navigate the article:

  1. Why use Google Sheets as a database: The pros and cons
  2. Who should use Google Sheets as a database
  3. Best free Google Sheets templates and how to use them
  4. Google Sheets database: Is there a better option for your business?
  5. Fill in the gaps with Airtable


Google Sheets isn’t scalable. It’s not a database either.

Choose a solution that grows with you.

Why use Google Sheets as a database?


Firstly, there are tools out there, like Airtable, that are database-spreadsheet hybrids. But Google Sheets isn’t one of them. The Google spreadsheet application was never actually designed to be used as a database.


That said, let’s take a look at some of Google Sheets’ biggest advantages and disadvantages to understand why some teams choose to use this tool as their database. 

What are the advantages of using Google Sheets as a database? 


When deciding between databases, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no such thing as the perfect software solution. The only one that ticks most of your boxes.


Teams choose to use Google Sheets as a database for the following reasons:


  1. Low cost. Many adopt this tool because it’s a free alternative to database management systems like MySQL, MS SQL Server, and Oracle, whose pricing can climb quickly as the data volume increases. 
  2. Easy to set up and manage. Google Sheets is very similar to Microsoft Excel, a tool that most people are familiar with. All you’d need to set up this platform is a Google account, which makes the learning curve pretty shallow and shortens the adjustment period.
  3. Cloud-hosted. Your data on Google Sheets is stored on a cloud-based database. This means that your information can be accessed on the Google cloud platform anywhere and from any device, as long as you have an internet connection. So the risk of losing your data is significantly reduced.
  4. Convenient. With more than 5 million businesses using Google Suite, or at least Gmail, adopting Google Sheets as a database is extremely straightforward. 
  5. Highly collaborative. Google Sheets offers various modes of collaboration and allows team members to collaborate either at the same time, or async. The spreadsheet is also easily shareable which contributes to higher collaboration and productivity. For hybrid or remote teams, this is an absolute necessity.
  6. Transparent. Any changes and revisions to your Google Sheets data are saved to the version history, making team collaboration extremely transparent. 
  7. Available integrations. Since Google Sheets is cloud based, you can easily integrate it with other tools. For example, you can use Zapier to automatically update your data into your CRM.



One of the main reasons I considered Google Sheets as a database option is because we were already using Google products for other things… It’s easy to use, integrates well with the other Google productivity products we use, and most people are comfortable working in the Google environment so it makes it easy to collaborate with members of my team.

-

Nelson Sherwin

HR Manager at PEO Companies.

What are the disadvantages of using Google Sheets as a database?


While Google Sheets might seem like a very convenient option to use as a database, it does have certain disadvantages. Some of the cons include: 


  1. Limited functionality. Spreadsheet apps aren’t designed to be used as databases, so compared to more sophisticated database management systems, Google Sheets’ functionalities are limited. For example, you can’t store videos or images, and there’s no built-in interface for querying or updating the information. 
  2. Limited storage. Google Sheets’ limit on data volume makes the platform unsuitable for large teams and companies looking to scale. The platform has a limit of 10 million cells, while the Airtable database has a limit of up to 50 million cells(Airtable’s enterprise plan allows for up to 500 fields and 100,000 records).
  3. Not Scalable. Because of its limited storage capacity, Google Sheets isn’t scalable. Additionally, if many team members are working on the spreadsheet at the same time, the software slows down and you might get more errors.
  4. Security concerns. As opposed to a dedicated system that requires user authentication and designated permissions, files on Google Sheets could be shared with anyone via email. And while Google does have measures in place to protect your data, if your business email is hacked, your data can easily be leaked or tampered with.
  5. Performance. Since Google Sheets wasn’t designed to store large amounts of data, it’s not really possible to design a complex database. The platform gets slower and slower the bigger the dataset, which is annoying for teams of all sizes. 
  6. Prone to chaos. Speaking of large amounts of data, when your data volume grows, you might find yourself scrolling through hundreds, or thousands, of rows and columns. It’s not that intuitive to make such huge spreadsheets readable or digestible.



For larger projects, with more data… Google Sheets struggles to keep up. The more data you add, the more duplicates and mistakes you start to see.”

-

Ravi Parikh

CEO of RoverPass.


Pros ✅ Cons ❌
Low cost Limited functionality
Easy to set up and manage Limited storage
Cloud-hosted Not scalable
Convenient Security concerns
Highly collaborative Slower performance
Transparent Prone to chaos
Available integrations

Google Sheets isn’t scalable. It’s not a database either.

Choose a solution that grows with you.

Who should use Google Sheets as a database?


Overall, using Google Sheets as a database is a decent option for individuals and small teams who are looking for a free and easy-to-use solution for a new project that isn’t expected to scale. 


So, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to use Google Sheets as your database. 

1. Power your no-code web application


Your Google Sheets database can be used as the data source that powers your no-code web app. One way to do this is through Google’s own AppSheet. 


AppSheet is a no-code platform that allows users to build simple mobile and web applications directly from their own data. On a free account, users can create a basic prototype of their app. Although, more advanced automations and features are only available to users with a Core subscription, starting at $10 per month, per user. 

By connecting your Google Sheets database to AppSheet, you can create small, no-code, web applications quickly.



However, if you’re looking to build more advanced and highly customizable apps, you need to move away from using a spreadsheet tool as a database. Instead, opt for database solutions that are more suitable for web app development, like Airtable. 

create a web app from an Airtable template

 Airtable still has the familiar spreadsheet-like interface, while actually being much more suitable for web app development.



2. Build your inventory database 


You can also use Google Sheets to build your inventory database. An inventory database is used to store all the information about your inventory, like quantities, vendors, and stock. This database needs to be accessible, accurate, collaborative, and up-to-date. 


And since most businesses already use Excel, the transition to a cloud-hosted solution will likely be a smooth one. And once you build a nice interface for the database, which you can do through AppSheet, you’re good to go. 


However, it’s important to note that because of Google Sheets’ limited functionalities as a database, this solution is only recommended for smaller businesses. 


Here’s where a no-code database solution like Airtable has an advantage. It’s still simple to use and has a familiar interface, but it allows for much more complex functions and supports 5X the data volume.

List of Airtable templates

Airtable supports a higher volume of data and allows for more complex functions, which is needed by companies who wish to scale. 



Speaking from experience, sometimes the spreadsheets also begin to crack when there's too much information, as Google Sheets cannot handle volumes of this scale.

-

Joshua Rich

CEO and Founder of Bullseye Locations.



3. Google Sheets as a CRM 


Your Google Sheets database can also be used to power your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform. You can use your Google sheets CRM to:


  • Stay connected to customers
  • Store and manage leads 
  • Optimize your schedule 
  • Prioritize tasks 
  • And gather customer data in one source of truth 


Using Google Sheets as a CRM is perfect for smaller teams with a limited budget, who need a fast and easy way to get things up and running. Softr simplifies this by providing ready-made templates filled with mock data to help you set up your CRM in a matter of minutes. 

Softr CRM template

With Softr, you can easily turn your Airtable, and soon Google Sheets, databases into powerful CRMs to help improve the customer experience and increase sales. 



4. A database for WordPress 


Using Google Sheets as a database for your WordPress website is great for collecting form submission leads. You can connect Google Sheets to WordPress using form plugins like


  • Contact Forms 7
  • NinjaForms
  • GravityForms
  • WP Forms


By connecting your Google Sheets to your WordPress website, you can store information like contact form submission data without having to set up and maintain a complicated database system. 

sync your Google Sheets database with WordPress

You can sync your Google Sheets database with WordPress using plugins, and automatically gather form submission information.

Image source: SheetMonkey.

Google Sheets database: Is there a better alternative for your business?


Overall, Google Sheets is a good option for small-scale projects or for managing data that doesn't need to be updated frequently. However, if your business is growing, you need a scalable database platform, unlike Google Sheets. 


Some of the gaps that users might feel with Google Sheets include:


  • Prone to human error
  • Small selection of templates 
  • Limited customizability 
  • Inability to handle large volumes of data 
  • Lack of a user-friendly interface


However, these gaps can be easily filled by Airtable and Softr. Since Airtable is designed as a database-spreadsheet hybrid, unlike Google Sheets, it’s highly scalable and customizable. 


In Airtable, visual elements like pivot tables and graphs are easy to create and make spreadsheets much more scannable. And with Softr, you can turn your Airtable bases into no-code, full-stack, web apps, without any coding experience.

One of the best things about Airtable is its flexibility.

Connect your Airtable database to Softr and build beautiful no-code web apps in minutes.

Fill in the gaps with Airtable


Google sheets can be a fantastic option for a simple database. Its advantages include:


  • Can be accessed from anywhere 
  • Free
  • Real-time collaboration possibilities 
  • Familiar interface 
  • Convenient


If you’re part of a smaller team with a relatively non-complex database that doesn’t need constant updating, Google Sheets can be a great solution. Users utilize the platform to build CRMs, inventory databases, content calendars, WordPress databases, and traffic reports. 


However, since Google Sheets wasn’t designed to function as a database, it has limited storage capacity, is highly prone to chaos and human error, and its performance takes a hit as the database grows. 


So if your team is looking to scale any time soon, you’d be saving yourself a lot of time in the long run if you choose to use more sophisticated database solutions like Airtable.

One of the best things about Airtable is its flexibility.

Connect your Airtable database to Softr and build beautiful no-code web apps in minutes.

Thanks to insights and inspiration to:


Ravi Parikh, CEO of RoverPass


Nelson Sherwin, HR Manager at PEO Companies 


Kenny Kline, President & Financial Lead at  BarBend


Khunshan S. Ahmad, Marketing Manager at The Stock Dork


Joshua Rich, CEO and Founder of Bullseye Locations 


Austin Dowse, CEO of Aimvein


Ling Ling Fung, CEO of Metrobaby


Mimi Paul, System Operations at Starkflow

Frequently asked questions about using Google Sheets as a database

A database is a collection of information stored electronically, and it allows users to store data such as client emails. In theory, a database should make it simple for teams to manage and retrieve information.

A relational database stores and retrieves data according to established relationships between datasets. For example, Airtable, a relational database, can link records from one table to another, creating a relationship between those two tables.

Google Cloud provides a wide variety of relational and nonrelational databases which users can try for free. However, database pricing can climb quickly based on your storage needs.

No, you can’t create a relational database in Google Sheets. While it’s an advanced spreadsheet application, it doesn’t have the capabilities to be used as a relational database.

Yes, you can easily import Excel data into Google Sheets by going to File>Import>Upload>Select a file from your computer. After selecting the desired Excel file, pick your Import location and then click Import data>Open now.

Some of the differences between spreadsheets and databases include: 1. In spreadsheets, each cell contains data that can be edited In a database, cells contain records that come from external tables. 2. Spreadsheets are static documents, while databases can be relational. 3. Databases are less flexible than spreadsheets. 4. Databases are built for collaboration, while the collaboration capabilities of spreadsheets are limited.

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