It just wouldn’t be Google if it didn’t have its own website builder. For those unfamiliar with Google Sites, 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.
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.
#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. Once you’re in the dashboard, you get a choice of templates: NGO, Church, Restaurant, Outdoor club, Soccer team, Classroom and more. Frankly speaking, many of the templates look uninspired. 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 Feature Set and 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.
With Google Sites you can 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. Here are some themes to prove our words:
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, you need to choose between the standard and unlimited Google Apps plans: $5/month per user and $10/month per user, respectively. The standard plan is discounted to $50/year if you choose to pay annually.
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.
No open use of CSS, limited use of HTML, limited e-Store and blogging capabilities. Outdated designs.
Google Sites Review: Conclusion
Google Sites is a great option for creating intranets as it makes adding content from other Google properties like Maps, Drive or Youtube easy. 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 business, when 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.
Do you use Google Sites? What are your thoughts?