Google Sites is an online open source platform for building static websites. It is fully configurable platform that is targeted to users with no programming knowledge or experience. Platform was launched in 2008. Today close to half a million sites are built on this platform. While most such sites are limited to community websites or just random small websites, the platform offers capabilities to create a very fancy, content rich and professional looking website. Here is our review of the technology:
Appearance and configurations capabilities
Google Sites platform offers over thousands of configuration options to bring any wildest design or layout idea to reality. You can either tweak the template or a theme or simply built a new page using Google Sites menu of Insert/Edit/Format. Amount of configurations are overwhelming. But among many here are few that I liked the most:
- Ability to chose template/theme and then modify it
- Ability to create your own page templates. Page template will be act as a page sample that you create once and then reuse. This is useful if you want to have different page types, say one for text, one for photo/media preview and one for displaying dynamic content. Instead of recreating each page every time from scratch you can use your own template
- Ability to attach files. Say you have a word document, like your resume. You can attach it for your site visitors’ download. All with one click of one button.
- Easy way to insert tables. I am a big fan of tables and as you noticed from this blog. Sometimes wish WordPress.com would have that. Today I hand type each table in HTML. I love to use tables to organize content. Google Sites has easy way to add tables and then fill them with your content hassle free.
Ease of use
I give it 5 stars. There is absolutely no need for HTML or CSS knowledge. Of course if you are happen to be geeky designer guy/girl – there is an HTML button to modify the source. But if you are not – you will be very excited to modify every pixel of the page via Google Sites configuration menu. Your web experience can probably be limited to using e-mail and visiting enough of other websites – that little.
Via very intuitive menu you will be building a site just like writing a Word document. Register a site, chose theme, configure navigation menu, add pages and modify them… step by step. You can change colors, fonts, add various media elements, documents, links on your website without even feeling that you are actually building a real website.
Integration with other technologies
Google Sites offer thousands of built in integrations with third party platforms and technologies. There is easy one click integration with Google Ad Sense, Google Ads, Picassa Albums, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Documents, Google Checkout now, Google Calendar and others. With one click of a button you can add a block go your webpage displaying content that derives from one of these technologies. Similar to Blogger, Google Sites calls these blocks Gadgets.
There is also integration with PayPal, Amazon Products and hundreds of third party widgets like news sites, financial applications and various thematical services.
It is quite fascinating but you can control who has access to your site. Either make it public or share with selected people only.
Custom URL is free provided that you already registered one with a third party registrar. Google sites offer free site mapping to your custom URL. There is video tutorial explaining how to map. However unlike with Blogger, Google Sites does not offer registrar service, so you will need to use Yahoo, GoDaddy or anyone else to get the domain name and use their service to change name servers.
This feature puts the Google Sites to the professional level of web site development. Most of the websites written today don’t have recorded history of changes. But what if you want to revert to how it was before? Instead of redoing it back, use Revision History that contains all information of prior versions of your site.
According to Google Sites “There is no limit to how many pages you can create in Sites. You can store up to 100 MB in your Site” You can see how much you have left by going to More Actions > Manage Site > General under Site Settings. With static content you probably would be good with 50-60 pages or even more.
A site name can’t conflict with other Gmail usernames
Google assumes that one day everyone who has Gmail will have their own Google site. So, say you want a site google.sites/site/japansesword.com but as long as some one registered an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org you won’t be able to use this name for Google sites. Even if there is no google.sites/site/creativegardener.com Google Site yet. This limits site name choices terribly. Not everyone would want to purchase custom URL. I would be surprised that even 1 out of 10000 Gmail users will ever have Google site.
No integration with Blogger
It has been evident with recent Blogger issues that Google put the development of this technology on hold. Fact that Blogger is second to WordPress on blogger platform usage was not enough to put it on Gadget list.
Low integration with Social Media Sharing technologies
While there is integration with Twitter and YouTube, I didn’t see Facebook and other social icons on gadgets list. One would think this is what everyone is after today, but Google Sites took a defensive approach and purposefully excluded competing technologies from the gadgets list. I mean a simple Share button would be enough. Of course, with some extra digging you can always use native widgets offered by these companies, but today companies like WordPress and other commercial web development platform adopted support for social media as a must have.
No help or support
No one is arguing that technology is open source, but Google has failed in the area of help and support once again. I didn’t see any Help or Tutorial button on the main menu and had to search the web to find it: http://www.google.com/support/sites/ Some dashboard areas have links leading to tutorial articles and technology is very intuitive to use. But once you have a serious issue or simply have a question, you are in trouble.
Google Sites is excellent technology to get a site of various complexity up and running with no programming or design knowledge. In a matter of few hours you can have a simple few page static site on the web. In a few hours more you can have eCommerce site configured or some very cool promotional website with video and document sharing capabilities.
I think Google Sites is a huge step forward and rival to WordPress due to extended hosting offering, configuration capabilities and ease of use. Compared to WordPress.com there are much more capabilities to build a simple static site.
Please read our article on WordPress and Blogger comparison to learn more about these technologies.