Google Sites – is a website builder, simple enough to be mastered by newbies yet it provides a no-hassle and intuitive web development and hosting platform. It’s the reincarnation of Jotspot, which was acquired by Google back in 2006. Today, Google’s site builder looks nothing like Jotspot, other than the fact that both are hosted wiki systems which allow collaborative content creation, modification, and extension.
Google Sites has quickly become a popular platform for creating intranets and school sites, and even a casual glance shows that the builder has made some improvements since our last review of Google Sites about a year ago. If you need a more complex website like an online store or a blog, for example, it doesn’t make sense to look for the required functionality here. The system is mostly used to launch simple websites for everyday use.
The system is undoubtedly a great solution for a corporate intranet, but is it suitable for creating a business website? We decided to put Google Sites through its paces once again to answer this question.
In June 2017 Google has announced Websites with Google My Business – a separate service within business section, which allows to create a free website for the company, registered in Google My Business. From now business users can create a company’s website inside their google account. Nothing special, the interface is almost the same as classic Google Sites. This version is lack of the most part of useful business tools, comparing, for instance, with uKit – a specialized business website builder. Sol let’s proceed with the review!
1. Pros and Cons
Depending on your needs, Google Sites may come as a simple, intuitive, and easy-to-use website builder. However, with the high level of simplicity, the system lacks some crucial features that prevent it from being a full-cycle solution for scaling projects.
| ✔ Free website builder.|
✔ Perfect for newbies with absolutely no technical skills.
✔ Page editing is fast and simple.
✔ No software installation or download needed.
✔ Integration with major Google Services.
✔ Simple access despite the location.
| ✘ Limited customization and design features.|
✘ A few ready-made templates to choose from.
✘ Not good for business and eCommerce.
✘ No access to the source code.
✘ Dated template design.
2. What Is It Good for?
The platform was designed to build straightforward websites with a clear and simple structure. Google Sites comes with maximum simplicity, which makes it perfect for users with no web design or programming background. The platform will perfectly suit those who want to build their first-ever sites.
It might be good for experimenting with different layouts and understanding how web tools actually work. On the other hand, the website builder is not a good option for digital shops or business projects that might need to be scaled in the long run.
The system will work well for blogs, portfolios, even sites, small business cards, educational, non-profitable, and other projects. It will make no sense for experienced users craving advanced design and customization tools.
3. Ease of Use
Google Sites was developed with newbies in mind. It will take a couple of minutes to figure out how the system works even if you have never dealt with such technology before. All you need is to open the editor in your browser without software download or installation. Inline editing will make it easy to make changes and save them automatically.
The system does not require any manipulation to access it. All you need is to have a valid Gmail or Google account to skip the signup stage. Open the platform in any browser, choose a template or start building a new site from the blank with the help of pre-designed blocks in combination with the WYSIWYG editor.
The dashboard looks pretty clean and intuitive. Here you may choose a template or start designing from the ground. Google does not limit users with the number of projects they can start. Each new website will appear in the dashboard with a chance to edit or update it whenever you want.
Even if you choose a ready-made layout, you will still be able to insert additional elements and blocks. They may include text boxes, HTML code, and images. Users will have a chance to change the page layout and structure. What’s more, your website will provide a connection with Google Drive by default letting you upload media files right from the cloud storage.
We should not expect much customization tools. However, the website comes with automated integration with all major Google services. So, it will be easy to add Google maps, sheets, calendars, or create a video section with YouTube connection. Simply choose the service you want to connect from the list and add it with a click.
At the final stage, users may want to add a logo and upload a favicon. All projects go live with Google default domains. However, you may add a custom domain in case you have it. Use the preview feature to check how your website will look on desktop, smartphone, or tablet and publish it. Unfortunately, the system does not have a mobile editing mode.
4. Features & Flexibility
When you create a new page for your site, you can choose from a number of different page types, depending on what type of content you’re looking to add to the page. Specifically, you can create the following page types:
- Web page. You can arrange this page type as you want: write copy, embed gadgets, attach documents, and also let other collaborators comment on your pages.
- Announcements. This page type is designed for posting news. Much like a blog, it displays posts you add in chronological order.
- File cabinet. This page type lets you store and manage files, making it easy to share them with other users of your site. Your collaborators can subscribe to the page to get notified when files are added, changed or removed.
- List page. Items added to the list are easy to add, edit and remove. Similar to the file cabinet page, users can subscribe to get notifications.
- Start page. This page type contains two sections: one that can be customized to show a personalized set of gadgets, and another where users can add content that all viewers see.
Once you have organized your pages, you can start modifying them and uploading your content in a visual way. The builder offers a well-structured set of features. The ‘Insert’ button contains 3 sections (Common, Gadgets, and Google), each hiding more choices: HTML box, Charts, Calendar, Recent posts, Drive, Hangout, Map, Youtube etc. Beware, though, not all of the third-party gadgets work as planned: we added a Click-to-Call gadget to our test site, and it didn’t work. It seems like they stopped curating the Gadgets library a few years ago.
The website builder abounds in features that bring its functionality to a decent level. Have a look at some of them to know what you can make use of, when working on the development of your website:
- Google Gadgets. These are the integrable tools that are similar to standard widgets or extensions (calendars, calculators, news feeds etc.) you can use to give your website extra performance.
- Google Webmasters Tools. Whether your website comes with a custom domain or with sites.google.com in the URL, Google Sites will make it simpler for the search engines to index it (this automatically boosts your website ranking in the search results).
- Google Analytics. The system allows setting up Google Analytics and connecting it to your free Google account to make it possible for you to track website statistics.
- Google Suite Integration. This is one of the most essential features of the system, which allows integrating any G Suite extensions into your website (including Google Docs, Maps, Drive etc.) without the use of third-party plugins and add-ons.
- HTML/Script Integration and Editing. With Google Sites, you can either manually write scripts or select and integrate custom HTML blocks for your website to make the most important processes automated.
What’s more, the website builder makes it possible to add multiple contributors and subscribe to site changes. Good news to those who want to get under the hood – the builder lets users edit some of the HTML codes. The advanced editor comes equipped with a handy Preview button.
When your site is ready, you can publish it on your own domain. By default, each Google Sites website is public on the web. If needed, you can change access settings and make your site visible to specific people only or anyone with the link, similar to Google Drive.
5. Design & Templates
Speaking about designs, it’s important to notice that Google Sites makes a distinction between themes and templates. Themes govern the overall look and feel, colors and images of the site, while templates are all about the layout and page types. So when you click on the Change page template button you’re actually about to change the page type (described earlier), not the base theme. In order to change the base theme, go to the Themes, Colors, and Fonts section.
As for the templates, to select the one, you will need to visit the template Gallery inside the dashboard, not the editor. Here we have 13 different layouts, which is very few. The baseline options include pre designed mockups for portfolios, events, personal pages, holidays, dining, and some other fields. All templates are responsive and run well on various devices considering different screen dimensions.
6. Customer Support
Google Sites offers a built-in Help section where you can quickly find a tutorial on how to edit your site. There’s also a huge Help Center comprised of detailed how-to articles. You may also send feedback and automatically include a screenshot of your current page. The built-in screenshot settings let you highlight areas of the page relevant to your feedback as well as blackout any personal information.
7. Plans & Pricing
Google Sites is free to use. What’s more, it does not limit users with the number of websites they want to create. Launch as many projects as you need with only a valid Google or Gmail account. With this simple building tool, you will get your personal cloud storage connected to Google Drive where you may store data and media files (up to 15 GB) to upload them directly from the Drive.
However, for growing projects, you may need more resources and capacity. This is where Google G Suite monthly plans may come as an affordable solution with the following offers:
- Basic ($6/month) – Offers a set of professional business apps and 30 GB of storage space;
- Business ($12/month) – Provides enhanced set of business apps with unlimited storage space and archive;
- Enterprise ($18/month) – Offers premium business apps with extended management and functionality options.
When your site is ready, you can connect a previously purchased domain name or buy a new one through Google. Google partners with multiple domain name providers to help you get through the process and set up Google Apps for your new domain.
8. Website Examples
Despite some limitations in terms of design, scalability, and customization, Google Sites can still be a good solution to create simple and engaging projects. Let’s have a look at some of the best website examples.
Jivrus Technologies – software development
Filip Rzepka – filmmaker
Avox Architects – an architectural firm
Xu Chu – professors’ group
E-gaming Experts – online gaming and betting
Flipping Retail – consultation and branding firm
Here we gathered comparisons with main Google Sites competitors among the most popular website builders:
Actually, any of contemporary SaaS services will be a clear winner comparing to Google Sites. Comparisons with Wix and WordPress clearly demonstrate this fact.
Google Sites is a great option, when it comes to creating simple websites with minimalistic design and limited functionality. The system is easy-to-use, which makes it a nice choice for inexperienced users or for those, who wish to avail nice result without serious time, effort and money investment.
The platform makes adding content from other Google properties like Maps, Drive or Youtube easy and quick. It’s free, so you can use it to plan meetings, share info, establish collaboration on a team project or stay connected with family members.
However, we can’t recommend it for the development of full-featured business websites you plan to launch to boost your company reputation and generate profit. There are so many feature-richer alternatives out there. Google Sites does offer excellent collaboration solutions and tie-ins to various Google Apps, but its competitors offer more control over site design and a better interface. Just browse the web to find decent website builders to come up to your web design needs.