Simbla, the Database Driven Website Builder

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Simbla is a website builder launched back in 2013 by a team on enthusiasts and innovators. Built as a hassle-free solution for individuals and companies looking to establish an online presence and boost their businesses, Simbla impresses with elegance and functionality. In additional to building websites, Simbla also allows anyone to extend their website with database powered apps. Now wait a minute! A website builder with database features?

I’ve never been a fan of website builders. Well, it’s not a surprise from someone who started exploring the possibilities of web development with Concrete5, the CMS made of blocks. In my case Concrete5 had all the features of a website builder including a easy to use drag and drop builder plus a lot more possibilities, unachievable by typical site builders, including a fully featured database.

So, when I’ve stumbled on a friend’s article on Simbla’s database features, I couldn’t resist test-driving the website builder.

Creating websites with Simbla

Getting started with Simbla is easy and painless. You’ll just have to register a free account, confirm you e-mail and login with the new account. As soon as you’ll login, you’ll get the option to either start with a template or start a website creation wizard.  As a first-time user, I’ve taken the long route, the set-up wizard:

  1. Name your site – here you’ll add a name your site;
  2. Add a Logo – upload a logo for your new creation. Here you are also given the option to add location, which will be later used to automatically add a your location on a map. Quite a subtle touch. I like that;
  3. Website type – here you’ll chose a page layout for your site (one page/multi page website);
  4. The page/section set-up – here you’ll add pages or sections to your site from a list of predefined page, but you’ll also get the option to add a custom page;
  5. Homepage – here you’ll get to customize de main layout of your website with some prebuilt samples for the header, content and footer area;
  6. Color set-up – customize the look of your site’s color scheme from a list of predefined options. Of course, you can create your own color scheme;
  7. Final set-up – where you’ll get the temporary link for your website.

As soon as you’ll land on your freshly created design, you can follow a short on-boarding tutorial where you’ll get a bird’s view on Simbla’s site building tools.

The main tools are are:

  • Worspace – the main building area;
  • Blocks – a selection of drag and drop content blocks;
  • Style designer –add a touch of personality and individuality to your website by customizing the color scheme, the fonts and sizes;
  • Preview – is a one click button that will show you a real-time preview of your website;
  • Save/Publish – after you’ve finished content editing or any customization click the save button to save you changes. Publish will push the update to your live site;
  • Pro mode – it’s where you’ll unleash and test your limits on fine-tuning your website;
  • Pages – a quick navigation shortcut for navigation your pages or creating new ones.

Here is what I came up in less than 5 minutes. It’s not a work of art but it’s a good start. While I may have to add a few tweaks here and there, Simbla generated a nice and modern layout, that scales out nice on different viewports.

The builder is based on bootstrap and is fully responsive. If you are not in a mood for creation or need a good base to start, have a look at the built-in themes. Designed to appeal to a wide range of users, you’ll find, without a doubt, a theme suitable for your needs.

There are a lot of option to tweak such as font selection, color scheme customization, three menu options, theme maker functionality, and more, that push Simbla in the top league of website builders. However, where Simbla outpaces the competition is in the built-in expendability features.

Apps

Simbla is not only a website builder but it’s also a business suite. To see that in action, head on to the Application menu and add an App. For now, you can choose from a Blog App, a Product Catalog App, a News App and a Lead Manager App. Three other apps, Knowledge Management, E-commerce and Site Analytics are in the release pipeline, and are expected to be released from beta in the following weeks. The new apps will make the competition nervous.

Simbla Blog App

The Blog App uses a cloud database to power your blogging needs. You can create and manage your articles in an easy to use interface. Reorder, change the author, publish or unpublish articles, the full power of essential blogging at your fingertips. You’ll also get all the options you’ll need for SEO such as SEO page title, keywords, page description and metatags.

The News App

It’s a complementary app to the Blog App, and can be used to showcase important news for your visitors. Think about it as a news ticker that leads users to your blog, but can be used as a standalone feature on your website.

The Products Catalog App

I didn’t got on my hand on this app yet, but, by the looks of it, it’s a great module to showcase your products. Judging by the fact that Simbla team is working on the module commerce, I assume that upon launching, you’ll be able to sell the products listed in the Product Catalog App. So,

The Lead Manager App

The lead manager app is an easy to use tool to keep track of your campaigns. Manage your leads from the leads section and view them in the Dashboard with some nice looking graphs. A great feature for any entrepreneur looking to keep things tidy.

All the goodies above are powered by Simbla’s Cloud Database feature.

Databases on Simbla

Simbla’s database implementation aims to empower site creators, business owners or enthusiast to build better online experiences. Based on the Parse Platform, Simbla delivers an incredible experience. Thanks to it’s database driven model, you’ll be able to:

  • Expand your business logistics with easy to use apps;
  • Prototype and build web applications to improve workflow;
  • Build unique apps with little coding knowledge (logic still required);
  • Develop complex web applications backed by a powerful JavaScript API (some coding skills required);

To test the database feature, you’ll have to set-up a database. You’ll do that from the create database menu. Then you’ll add a few users, assign roles and create same database tables. When you’re done, you’ll just have to connect your database to the site. If you installed one of the apps mentioned above, then you’ll already have a database with tables to tinker with. So, if you want to explore the database functionality in some real-work scenarios, install the apps I’ve mentioned above.

Anyway, thanks to a polished user interface, creating tables and entries is easy and efficient. In addition to that, you can import an existing database with the handy import feature, or export your database into a csv format with the export feature. You should node that while, unlike conventional database, Simbla’s cloud database is image friendly, you won’t be able to export images associated with the table. Anyway, why bother. After you’ll get used with the hassle-free database Simbla provides, you’ll hardly need to migrate to another platform.

Once you’ve created your database, attach it to your site, and after that, you’ll have the database content available for use.

App Widgets

The easiest way to test the database possibilities offered by Simbla, you’ll want to have a look at the “appwidgets”. This are content element used to create connection points with the database. So, what are widgets all about?

Registration Widget

The registration widget will add registration functionality to your website. You’ll just have to set-up the registration form and connect it to the appropriate user table. You can adapt this widgets to build up functionality to your website, for example a newsletter list, an event sign form, etc.

Login/Logout

This widget allows you to provide additional content to registered users. It also comes with a build in email verification. You can quickly customize the login labels and the redirect page.

Form to Database

The form to database is a feature that even some fully featured CMS, are yet to refine. It works by connecting a form to a database. You can add as many fields as you may need, and get all the information you need from your users. Great stuff.

Search

It’s a nice feature for big databases. Rather than having to navigate through thousands of rows, add the search functionality, and get the needed content in a breeze. Great for showcasing your products. There are only a few parameters to set-up. Yep, it’s that simple.

Database Gallery

A widget that sets the grounds for the upcoming e-commerce module. It allows you to showcase any content in a concise, responsive and interactive manner. Also a great tool to showcase your portfolios.

Charts

This widget will allow you to connect to connect to any database table and display data sets in interactive charts. Good luck Joomla users in finding a similar extension that looks equally great.

Counter

In addition to the Charts web widget, Simbla has implemented an additional widget to showcase data in a numeric format. Process and count certain fields and showcase them like a boss. And if you take into account the filter functionality, then you have an incredible tool at your disposal.

Dynamic Data Grid

The full power of Simbla is found in this widget. Display data and content that matters in an efficient and shiny design. It uses data from your database, and showcases to your visitor based on a series of defined fileds and object. You won’t believe the end result after you’ll drag and drop the grid on your site.

Dynamic pages

This widget extend the functionality of your project by creating individual pages that correspond to a certain row from your database. For example, a user will click on a field from a Data Grid, and will be directed to a page containing information from the chosen database. It’s great for any business dealing with various listings.

Pointer

Is a widget that connect different databases from your Simbla website. It takes data from a table and displays them in a current table. For example, if you own a car renting business, you can easily display the availability of a car in the car listing page. Why would you do that? It’s a great feature to keep your databases clean and organized.

Heavy Duty Database without any strings attached

If you need additional functionality than what is already provided by the web widgets, then you have a custom JavaScript API to serve all your extensive database request and operations. The API allows you to design complex CRM systems, booking systems, inventory management systems, etc. without having to dive into the SQL web. The built-in JavaScript editor will allow you to design request never thought possible on a website builder.

Pricing

If you’ll hurry, you’ll get a 75% deal on any Simbla plan. But even without the discount, you get a fair price for a lot of functionality. Judging from the extended database capabilities, the upcoming e-commerce feature will be, without a doubt, a success. So, act fast to get the E-commerce tier for 6$ a month. You should note that, for the typical crappy shared hosting offering you’ll have to pay around 10$ per month. However, even without a discount, you’ll get a fair price for an easy to use website builder, built on bootstrap, with some well thought SEO capabilities. In addition, you get a whole new world of possibilities that come with Simbla’s robust database features.

Conclusion

It is pretty obvious that Simbla plays in a different league. As such, you won’t get the typical conclusion you’d come to expect from reviews. Instead, I’ll point you out to Best escape room games, a website built on Simbla, that makes extensive use of the database feature. It’s a site dedicated to the popular “escape” game genre, if you are fan of the game, you may want to bookmark the website. Anyway, I have three books from this list, waiting for anyone who can replicate the same functionality on any of the other website builders. Challenge accepted? And because I am quite sure that I’ll keep the books, I am willing to gift them to anyone who is ready to showcase their Simbla based website. So, have a look at the on-line documentation and start crafting amazing experiences.

And the winner is…

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