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. Ease of Use
If you have a Gmail or any other Google account, you can skip the signup stage – the builder is available for any existing account. Luckily, there are a few new themes that has that modern look and feel. For our test site we chose a business theme.
When you’re done with the basic settings, you can start actually customizing and building up your website in a WYSIWYG editing environment. While you’ll be able to add, edit and remove images, copy and various widgets, much of the page won’t be editable, especially your site’s design settings.
All in all, it’s quite easy-to-use and requires no special skills. The builder has a look and feel of most Google applications, making the interface familiar and intuitive. The toolbar icons are very similar to Google Drive.
2. 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.
The choice of themes has been significantly improved since our last review, but it’s still mediocre. 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.
With Google Sites you get far less customization options than with Wix or Weebly. You can choose between nine 1-, 2- and 3-column layouts, enable/disable custom footer, add sidebars and also change fonts, colors and backgrounds.
Mobile view. The optimised view isn’t provided automatically. You have to manually enable it in the control panel. Otherwise, your site visitors will see the normal, desktop version of your site on their tiny screens.
Desktop vs Mobile
4. 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 black out any personal information.
5. Pricing Policy
Google sites is a free application that comes as part of the Google production suite. If you’re a free user of Google, your site storage is limited. To increase it and to gain more functionality, you need to upgrade to one of the paid plans G Suite offers. These include:
- Basic ($5/month or $50/year) – Offers a set of professional business apps and 30 GB of storage space;
- Business ($10/month or $120/year) – Provides enhanced set of business apps with unlimited storage space and archive;
- Enterprise ($25/month or $300/year) – 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.
6. Pros and Cons
Just like any other website builder, Google Sites comes with a set of pros and cons that matter a lot, when it comes to selecting the system. Let’s enlist them below to have an idea of the advantages and disadvantages of the service:
| ✔ Ease of use;|
✔ Website analytics;
✔ Shared website access;
✔ Free hosting;
✔ Drag-and-drop editor.
| ✘ No open use of CSS;|
✘ Limited use of HTML;
✘ Limited eCommerce;
✘ Limited blogging options;
✘ Outdated designs.
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.