Google Sites – Our Review

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.
 

Access control

 
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

 
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.
 

Revision history

 
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.
 

Storage

 
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.
 

Odd limitations

 

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 creativegardener@gmail.com 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.
 

Conclusion:

 
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.

5 Comments to “Google Sites – Our Review”

  1. Google sites has now had thirty months to provide a good website platform. They are close, but there are showstoppers.

    -) Their HTML editor uses deprecated HTML tags. This makes it difficult for the HTML interpreter to keep up with your changes, and it often shreds your formatting.
    -) Google will NOT recognize HTML comment tags. That’s right: You can not use comment tags on a sites website. In fact, Google THROWS AWAY CONTENT between the HTML comment tags it finds.
    -) Google has decided that they won’t allow JavaScript calls — not even to their own captive libraries.
    -) Google will not recognize cascading stylesheets.
    -) You can only edit their content column — not the nav column or the header block.
    -) Sites templates are poorly designed and are VERY DIFFICULT TO CUSTOMIZE in any practical way.
    -) Google provides very basic docs for new sites users, but nothing at all for users who have been working on their sites for a month or two and need more information about what Sites supports.
    -) Google provides no tabs page template and no ability to do rollover icons.
    -) While it is easy to embed a google docs file on a sites website, they use iFrames to do it. This generates clunky windows and a second scrollbar that ruins any intelligent template layout. It’s just awful.

    … and Google provides NO contact point where you can report bugs.

    scribble

  2. Wow, @scribble, you seem to have tested the hell out of it. Great points. I also find it weird that they call the platform “Google Sites”, this makes is utterly confusing to even search any information about it because their own search engine does not think people are looking for “Google Sites platform” offering results about search engine and such.

  3. Did I see somewhere that CSS and HTML is improved? An update on this would be appreciated as I’m camparing this with the free “Webs” service.

  4. I have used Google Sites. I would rather use a CMS or another type of blogging platform, to create a more professional looking, more interactive website.

  5. I volunteered to help migrate my children’s school web site from an old Dot Net Nuke site to Google sites. For the most part I think we will get what we need. However, it has been a year since Scribbles post and nothing has changed. In fact the tool reminds me of some of the web development tools that came out in the 90s. There is no way to style the site in any custom way. The header only allows for an image and the search input. If you use the horizontal navigation that is the only thing that can be on that line and it must be left justified. No ability to change the CSS or make your own theme. In the end if you want the site to look good you will spend at least twice as long as it would take using a tool like Joomla or Word Press.

    Google sites is good when you don’t really care about a professional look or when you have a small site. A friend set up a site for a sailing trip we were planning and it worked great. It helped us schedule things and organize the information.

    If Google was serious about Google Sites there would have been more updates in the last year. To me it seems like a dead project with only minor changes now and then.

    In the end the site will be functional and do what people want. So I guess it will be like running linux: it will work but it won’t be pretty.

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