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Google’s website builder is great for getting a simple website online in a hurry, but it’s bad if you need to make even a little progress.
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Google Sites (opens in a new tab) is a free drag-and-drop website builder (opens in a new tab) and web hosting (opens in a new tab) tool that allows anyone to create their own online presence. Google Sites is a new version of the company’s service. It has a better editor and supports the latest technology (including the ability to create responsive pages), but lacks features.
You can forget about e-commerce or blogging platforms, for example. If you are not a G Suite user, you can only publish to sites.google.com (sites.google.com/view/yourname). You also get a handful of website templates – 13 at the time of writing. .
Obviously, if you’re looking for sleek design or high-powered features and functionality, you might want to check out Wix (opens in a new tab) or Weebly (opens in a new tab).
But if you need a quick way to put together some basic pages to share with friends, family, or colleagues, Google Sites can work well. It’s easy, integrates with other Google services and requires no further registration: if you have a Google account, you can use it right now in a few clicks.
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Pointing your browser to sites.google.com (opens in a new tab) will take you to the site editor. There is a “Back to Classic Sites” button at the bottom left of the page, if you prefer. But we are here to analyze the “new” sites.
Classic is Google’s older service for building websites. The beginning of its inevitable demise (opens in a new tab) will begin on September 1, 2021, when the classic pages will no longer be visible to others. That’s why we won’t discuss it in this review, and we don’t even recommend using it.
Google Sites offers a very minimalistic environment where you can choose to start your site with a blank page or use one of the several templates listed above.
The main page mainly shows your website, with a sidebar on the right and some tools in the upper right corner of the window (Image credit: Google)
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Start your first Google Sites project and it will open in a very sparse and minimalistic editor. If you choose a template, it will be loaded and ready to customize.
Most of the window is occupied by the preview of the current page. The toolbar on the right shows a list of widgets. You can embed text boxes, images, code, and connect to Google Drive. You have a wide range of design options, including tools for creating collapsible text, image carousels, and a table of contents. Additional options allow you to connect to other Google services, such as: YouTube, Calendar, Map, Docs, Slides, Tables, Forms and Charts.
There’s also a Themes tab that lets you choose from six header and site styles, and lets you easily customize colors and fonts.
When you add an image to the header, it is automatically “adjusted for readability”, which changes its settings. If you don’t like the result, you can always click the bottom right button of the image to restore it. There doesn’t seem to be a way to manually change the image.
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Editing is as easy as dragging and dropping. Text frames come with the basic tools you’d expect to fully customize them (Image credit: Google)
There is a lot of flexibility in adding text and images to your site. Click on a text box and it is added to the page, load an image and the same thing happens. Once there, you can click and drag. Text can’t wrap around images, but objects can be dragged around the page, then resized and repositioned (you don’t have pixel-level precision, but there’s enough control to be useful).
The editor has strong support for keyboard shortcuts, allowing you to copy and paste elements, format text, and undo and redo actions with a single key click.
The Pages tab allows you to add new pages to your website. By default, they automatically appear as top-level pages in the navigation menu (Home/One, Home/Two, Home/Three), but you can also add subpages (Home/One, Home/One/SubPage, Home/Two ) or completely hide pages from navigation.
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The preview section allows you to see your responsive website on your phone, desktop or computer (Image credit: Google)
Although the editor always displayed your site in desktop mode, clicking Preview allowed the page to be viewed in desktop, tablet, or mobile views.
The Google Sites editor isn’t very powerful, but it’s more capable than it first appears. It would be good to see how it develops in the future, although it should be noted that apart from the introduction of templates, not much has changed since the last two times we reviewed it.
Google Site’s media management features seem basic, at least at first, with only images and YouTube capsules available from the standard controls. But as with the editor, dig a little deeper and the service will be a little smarter than you might expect.
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For example, changing the default header image is as simple as hovering over it and clicking Change Image > Select Image. You can then choose from a gallery of around 50 free images, as well as browse your Google Albums or Drive or search Google Images. This is much more convenient than other services that do not support media libraries or require them to be built from scratch.
Integration with Google services is just as useful elsewhere. Click on YouTube and you can embed one of your YouTube streams or do a general YouTube search to find what you need. The calendar control embeds any of your calendars into the page, and the map control can link to your maps or new locations you need.
Google Docs lets you insert slides, diagrams, forms, and other documents. The browser isn’t anything special—it’s just a scrollable window—but it does provide an easy way to combine multiple sources of content onto a single page.
The embed tool allows you to embed third-party media, such as Vimeo videos (Image credit: Google)
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If you need more, built-in controls can help. Google Pages may have a dedicated YouTube video embed button by default, but the embed tool also allows you to embed a Vimeo URL on our site, for example. There is also a basic image gallery function. Add photos, set some settings and there you go. It’s really not special, but it works.
Even with these features, Google Sites can’t compete with the rest of the best. No animations, no light box controls, no meaningful formatting options. However, it is undeniably easy to use, and the features you get are capable of handling many simple applications.
In addition, it is possible to share website projects with others. This allows access to other people’s Google Sites projects from your admin console, meaning you can work together. This type of collaboration opportunity is rare and welcome.
Using Google Sites isn’t difficult, but if you’re having trouble or aren’t sure how to do it, the Sites help pages (opens in a new tab) should point you in the right direction.
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The articles are organized into five categories: Beginning; To create; Editing, sharing and publishing; Analytics, accessibility and problem solving; and Migrate classic sites to new sites. They are generally clear and simple with simple step-by-step guides for common tasks such as “Add a file from your computer” and “Add or edit headers and footers”.
The help pages told us everything we needed to know, but if you have more detailed questions, there’s also a support forum (opens in a new tab). This is pretty busy with 30 or more posts a day, and when we checked, almost everyone got really helpful answers quickly.
Finally, the search engine scans both the site’s official help and forum pages for anything related to your chosen keywords and gives you a smartly sorted list of results, generally with the most hits at the top. If you’re having trouble with Google Sites, a few minutes on the help page may be the answer you need.
Google Sites is currently too limited for serious website building, but it can be useful for creating simple, nice-looking pages in a relatively short amount of time.
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Mike is the lead security evaluator at Future, where he tests VPNs, antivirus and other services to find out which ones protect you and which ones to avoid. Mike began his career in the engineering world as a senior software developer, where he used his own creations
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