In this Google Sites review, I will help you decide if Google’s free website builder is the right choice for your project. I will discuss the pricing, usability, and all the features that the platform offers.
Few can compete with a tech giant like Google. Despite having products and services such as the dominant search engine, Android, Google Assistant, and numerous Cloud tools they still seem on a weak footing in the website building department. Why is it so and should Google Sites be regarded more highly?
Well maybe not, for it still lacks some essential competitive features to be up there with industry leaders.
Google Sites is a free, drag-and-drop website builder that lets you construct beautiful projects for your teams, events, and more without writing any code or installing additional software. It is a part of the G Suite family so you can add Google Drive documents, images, maps, forms, and YouTube videos to your webpages.
The websites you create are stored in your Google Drive, and they can be edited and shared with certain people or the general public. It also lets you and your team collaborate in creating and refining the website.
Some older Google Sites reviews might differ from this one. It is because the platform has 2 different versions now, one of which is going to be discontinued.
The thing is that this website builder has two different versions. Classic Sites is the original version that was released in 2006. Google redeveloped the Sites platform in 2016 with updated code and better integration with G Suite, then launched it besides the classic version. Both site builders are live, but Classic Sites is scheduled to be discontinued in 2021.
In this Google Sites review, for your convenience, I will be focusing on the new version of the platform. Due to the impending closure of the old platform, Google suggests using the new Sites. You should follow these recommendations unless you want a dead website within a year.
Google Sites is entirely free to use as long as you have a Google account. The few premium features become available if you subscribe to a premium G Suite package.
While G Suite doesn’t have a free plan, you can still create a website without its integration. Google Sites comes as a part of it and the biggest benefit you get from purchasing it is registering your custom domain.
Here are some of the benefits each plan tier can offer:
Google Sites is intuitive to use, especially if you’re familiar with other Google products, as you probably should be. You have surely used them on a day to day basis while creating a new document in Google Docs or writing a letter to your boss in Gmail. The backend has a minimalistic environment, so there are no overwhelming options being thrown at you.
Using any media you have stored in your Google Drive is also extra easy. The Google Sites interface is streamlined and easy to master even with all the features it offers.
When you first get to the platform, a “+” sign on the bottom right intuitively prompts you to add a site. If you tried creating any websites in the past using this platform, they’ll be displayed on your screen, and you can click to edit or manage them right away.
When you click to add a site, you get a short tour of the builder. In four simple steps, the tour outlines the most important sections of the editor which is enough to familiarize you with all the basic functions provided.
If you ever made a simple word document, making a site with this platform is just as easy, for it does not present its features in a complex way and keeps it extremely simple and intuitive. All available features are neatly arranged on the right-hand side of the editor.
The top bar contains options to undo and redo actions and other site’s management choices such as sharing with others, site settings, version history, and publishing. All changes to your website are automatically saved to Google Drive, and you can access your web page directly from there.
All in all, Google Sites is very easy to use due to its simple design and easy to use mechanics which won’t have you searching for a guide online.
At the heart of every website building platform lies design functions that let you put your ideas to fruition. Ideally, the platform should provide you with enough functions without them being too complicated.
Google Sites definitely keeps the process of designing your web page easy and streamlined but does not offer many choices. Let’s take a look at what it has to offer.
The features are grouped into three simple categories:
Each of the elements can be simply dragged and dropped into the desired location on your page.
Now let’s dive deeper into each category.
The Insert tab has all the available widgets you can add to your page. There aren’t that many options for widgets, and the majority of them are Google applications like Drive, Docs, Sheets, Maps, YouTube, Forms, etc. It also contains 6 premade section layouts you can drag or click to add onto your page.
If you click on your Google Drive, it opens your file storage so you can add something to your page from there. This is very convenient, as you have all your other resources right there at the ready.
My favorite way to add popular widgets is by double-clicking anywhere on the page as it displays a circular menu from where I can upload media, Drive elements, and custom HTML. Another simple way to do the same is to just drag and drop the elements to desired locations.
The very simple interface design is one of the reasons why it’s very intuitive to use.
Google Sites’ insert function is extremely well designed and it easily integrates any kind of media you choose without any problems.
Adding pages and subpages in Google Sites editor is a breeze, and once you add one, the navigation menu is updated instantly. You can duplicate pages to use the same layout, so you don’t need to start from scratch every time.
While that’s all great, keep in mind that a page can have no more than 5 subpages, so it is a bad choice if you are planning to make a multi-faceted website with multiple pages, a database site, or a large wiki project.
Most website builders start you off with choosing a preset theme and then customizing it. Google Sites does the opposite and only after you start editing your page, you can change and swap out themes, which are located in the third tab on the right side of the screen.
Overall, the interface is truly easy to understand and use no matter your skill level in making websites. The whole set of Google Sites design tools is based on the ease of use concept and that is executed very well. Although, everything can be made simple with the lack of available choice.
Despite the modern appearance of layouts and widgets in Google Sites, customization options are very limited compared to other site builders. There is still a simple grid that snaps the elements into place, but that only helps to preserve order in your web page.
For instance, you can’t change the font style for paragraphs or headings but you can format the size, weight, and alignment despite restricted options.
The font itself can only be changed together with the website’s theme.
However, you have the freedom to choose any accent color for your website when choosing a theme and you can add a site name, logo, and favicon.
With the embedded code you can add such features as payment processing and social media, like Instagram posts or Twitter timelines.
One thing to note is that embedded elements don’t affect your site’s SEO due to Google not indexing the foreign code. Therefore I suggest using it only for additional page functionality.
Using the embed code and other inbuilt Google Site functions is a great way to liven up your website with some more media, which integrates seamlessly with the platform.
Google Sites lets you add many forms of media, including images, videos, and other documents. Also, you can browse images in the editor easily, without even opening a second tab or window.
Furthermore, visuals that come up during searches are already filtered out to be royalty-free. Which is great, because you won’t have to pay anything to the original creator to use that image.
Images have the most comprehensive options among all media types. You may choose to upload a file from your PC, choose it from a gallery, embed an image using a URL, or add one from your Google Drive.
Everything about Google Sites’ editor is designed to be accessible and easy to use, which is not a huge surprise because Google likes to focus on clean designs and easy to understand interface. It is not always that simple balancing between being beginner-friendly and deep customization.
Google Sites editor may not have a lot of elements, but all of them are easy to add and edit. There is a basic carousel widget to create a gallery of images. Like most other widgets, there are only a few customization options.
Videos have even fewer options than images in Google Sites. For instance, you can’t upload a video directly, since the default way to add videos is through Youtube. You can do this by searching YouTube for a video or add one that you have already uploaded yourself.
The only other way to add video is through an embed link. This way you can add videos from Vimeo using embed code or the video’s URL. So for video options, you only have 2 platforms to choose to upload from. The display options for both players are also minimal.
Apart from images and videos, you can also insert calendars, slides, charts, forms, and other documents. Which makes Google SSites attractive for business users and companies.
Google Sites has 9 templates to choose from, yet they all look pretty similar and simple. They provide you with a very basic structure for your site and don’t overcomplicate things.
After selecting a template you only get a very elementary structure to work with, but it is truly only an illusion of freedom as the customization options are close to zero.
For example, we can compare one of the leading website building platforms like Wix with Google Sites, and the difference in the quality of templates is obvious.
The templates feel barren. It was dreadful trying to make them somewhat attractive as I didn’t have many options to work with. So even if you were to create a page from scratch, it would not differ much from any of the templates. Whereas by using Wix I can make a website that has its flair and is different from others, even if made on the same platform.
Wix is just a breath of fresh air after building a web page using Google Sites. The difference between possible customization options is staggering and you immediately see that Wix is superior in its capabilities to make a unique page.
Meanwhile, when editing with Google Sites, most of the screen is used to display your website so you can get an idea of how it looks when it’s done. After selecting a template you are greeted with somewhat plain sight. It’s empty, you don’t get much and you can’t choose much.
The feeling of having control over your desired design is falsified and you are left with only a few options to pick from to breathe life into your website.
Google Sites templates and layout is so simple, that even different websites will be forced to look similar in an uncanny way. Your imagination is severely limited by the capabilities of the platform.
Google Sites has an extremely simple site-building method – letting you select the order of various site elements to be presented on your page. All 6 layout options that are provided here contain a mix of images and text widgets.
Adding a layout is as simple as drag and dropping it to where you would like it to be, then edit the image and text.
If you have a layout you’ve edited and want to reuse in another part of the page, you can simply duplicate it and drag it somewhere else. It is a real timesaver regarding your workflow and website creation.
Changing the layout of your site is made easy with an intuitive drag and drop style placing system. You save time with this fast and well-executed page building method.
Google Sites does not have native mobile editing capabilities but your site is inherently mobile-responsive. This means that your website is fluid and will automatically adjust to the best layout for any device.
This will save you time and effort as well as show you how it will look on different devices in real-time. However, you cannot separately edit the mobile or tablet versions as some other website builders let you.
With limitations of the absence of an eCommerce availability, you have to use complicated methods with the embed code functions if you want to sell any product on your site.
Google Sites lacks in-house eCommerce features.
This platform fails to redeem itself from the business perspective with completely nonexistent features. Not only that, but the SEO is too weak for big companies to consider using Google Sites for their page.
Google Sites only has a few essential SEO functions for images and nothing more. It enables you to add alt text to images, including the ones in the carousel.
The text and images are all you got to work with, in regards to SEO. There are only manual things you can do to improve the situation.
The platform categorizes heading sizes into Title, Heading, Subheading, etc. where you can’t choose their size freely. If you don’t use the heading structure and keyword density on your website, SEO will greatly suffer.
Apart from these options, sadly there are no other ways to enhance your rankings on Search Engine Results Page (SERP) from the editor. This website builder is definitely not for those who want to aim higher with their SEO.
The best thing concerning site analytics is that you don’t have to mess around with different settings just to get it to work, it integrates into your site freely.
Other website builders would have you dive deeper into advanced functions which might be hard to grasp for an inexperienced user. It is a huge plus that Google Sites has such an easy way to set up Analytics.
Since it is already a part of the package, Google Sites fully integrates with G Suite apps. Thus it is perfect for those who already use it. The aforementioned platform also offers its users a way to set up filters on who can access their site.
A company might choose to use G Suite for the unlimited storage it can offer and the excellent security measures that you can modify to best suit your interests. For example, a site can be made only accessible for the same internal network users. By using the tracking metrics G Suite provides a company can keep their data safe.
Google Sites has a weak SEO integration and lacks an eCommerce platform support. Nor any of those features are provided by G Suite.
Going in, I had good expectations for my new site’s performance since it was built on Googles own platform and hosted on their servers. I conducted some checks myself, starting with the load time.
Firstly I ran GTmetrix on a site with only text in it to check the optimization and loading speeds. As you can see, the results are pretty good with the site loading in almost 2 seconds and getting an A PageSpeed Score rating.
Up next was a content-heavy site that had pictures and other media in it. This time it did not bode well at all and only got an F PageSpeed Score rating and loaded in 7.1 seconds.
According to the analysis, the long page load time was caused by poorly optimized images. One thing to counter this negative effect would be to manually optimize all the images used on the website.
However, still I was let down to see that a website made with Google Sites did not meet Google’s recommendations of 3-second load time!
The difference between a text-only site and a bigger one that has images and other media in it is obvious.
At this point I still hadn’t lost all hope and decided to carry on with more tests, giving Google Sites a chance to redeem itself. I ran a Load Impact test to check the server response time under a high user load. Fortunately, both sites stood up exceedingly well.
Yet again, the first test involved the text-only website.
Of course now was the time to test out the website high in media content, which didn’t do so well during the previous test.
As you can see, this time there was no big difference between the two websites. Google servers can manage high user load, so if you optimize images on your website, quite decent performance results can be achieved.
So we can see that Google’s server stability is no joke and proves to be reliable no matter how many users you get.
Google Sites proves to be an elegantly simple website builder, but it has no further depth behind the plain design. The interface and structure are clean enough for you to quickly create many basic modern websites for personal use or small projects. It is perfect for beginners as it will not overwhelm you with information and various functions.
The platform lacks essential integration of not only eCommerce but basic SEO and other tools needed for larger businesses to function properly. Therefore, it is not suited for any big company to choose and build their website on.
So, if you’re a large business considering using Google Sites – better scroll further down and check out the provided alternatives that may be equal or even better for your project.
The web builders market offers diverse solutions that are suited to different business and use-cases. Here are a few other web builders you might want to consider:
Squarespace is an industry-leading website builder that focuses on its exceptionally made templates and a myriad of features to choose from. Not to mention, it is one of the best platforms for businesses with its numerous in-house tools targeted towards eCommerce.
Wix is a modern-looking website builder that businesses can use to build a permanent online presence quickly and without any coding skills. Whereas Google Sites has 6 themes to choose from, Wix can offer you more than 500 templates that are flexible and responsive.
If your business is an eCommerce store, Shopify thrives in this area and will give you the best bang for your buck when it comes to eCommerce functionalities and beautiful stores. Meanwhile, Google Sites requires the use of code access even for minimal sales. Many of the major companies use Shopify as it is the best platform for online sales.