I love Google Sites. It’s an excellent and free website builder perfect for personal websites or any topic where you must create a simple, effective 5-50 page website. In this Google Sites review, I will explain why this is one of the best free website builder options for the proper use case.
You may be a YouTuber or an online personality and don’t want to get a hosting account. You may be a coach for a sports club or want to create a website for an organization. You may be a digital artist and need a portfolio-style website. Google Sites is perfect for you.
What is Google Sites?
Google Sites is a free website builder for personal, not intended for commercial use. With it, you get free hosting, you can set up a custom domain, and you get an SSL certificate.
I would describe Google Sites as an “unstructured” website builder similar in style to Wix. There are a handful of templates to choose from, but the goal is to design your site from scratch. You get limited control over the header and footer design of the website, and overall, Google Sites tend to look a bit cookie-cutter.
But, if you’re looking for a free option to set up a custom domain name with a great visual, real-time page builder, you’ll need help finding something better than Google Sites. The one caveat you should be aware of is that it is for personal use as part of the terms of service, so don’t expect to run advertising on your Google Site.
How to create a Google Site
To get started simple head over to the Google Sites homepage and log in with any Gmail account.
You should be presented with a blank dashboard (my Google Site is listed below). To create a Google Site just hit the plus sign in the lower right hand corner.
Once you got your Google Site loaded there are a few key things I want you to know how to do in order to get the most out of using the Google Site website builder.
- Setup a custom domain name.
- Design tips for creating your website.
- Pros and cons of Google Sites
How to setup a custom domain name for Google Sites
Before you design your website, you’ll want to set up a custom domain name. That means people can visit your Google Site by going to example.com instead of sites.google.com/view/example.
So the first step is to register a domain name.
I suggest using Namecheap, which has some of the best domain name registration prices. GoDaddy is more popular, and they’re an excellent service provider. But for strictly domain names, you can’t beat the price and convenience of Namecheap.
To register a domain name at Namecheap, search for the domain name you want; if available, go ahead and purchase it. I suggest getting a .com for content-oriented niche websites.
But because Google Sites is more geared toward personal websites, any extension you want to get is acceptable.
Set a custom URL in Google Sites
Once you have registered your domain name of choice, the next step is to set it as the “custom domain name” in Google sites. To do that you simply need to go to settings in Googles Sites and put in the domain name you want to set. It’s that simple:
Please note that Google Sites does not support naked domain names. That means it must be www.example.com instead of example.com.
Verify ownership with Google Sites
Now you have to verify that you are in fact the owner of the domain name you are attempting to assign.
This process is easy and it begins by clicking “verify your ownership.”
Please select your domain name registrar from the drop-down list. In this tutorial, we’re using Namecheap, which works the same with any provider.
Next, you have to add a TXT record to your DNS configuration. It doesn’t sound straightforward, but it’s a simple copy-and-paste job you can do in under 5 minutes.
Log into your Domain Registrar and set the TXT and CNAME records
Log into your domain name registrar. We’re using Namecheap, but it’s the same process for all registrars. You want to set host records for your domain name.
For Namecheap, click on “manage” for the domain name you want to edit, then click on “advanced DNS” to access these settings:
Now take your TXT record and add it by clicking on “add new record” and selecting the TXT record option. The host value is www.
Next, add a CNAME record. The CNAME record for all Google Sites is ghs.googlehosted.com. The host is www.
The TXT record verifies ownership; the CNAME record directs traffic to this domain name to your Google site.
Wait 30 minutes and then verify your domain
Once you have set up the CNAME and TXT records, you’ll have to wait 30 minutes to 1 hour for everything to propagate. Changes take a bit of time to take effect and are not instantaneous.
After you have waited the appropriate time:
- Go back to Google Sites.
- Click on settings.
- Again add your URL as a custom domain.
Following the instructions correctly, your domain name will be accepted as a custom domain.
Congrats, you’ve just set up your first Google Site!
Low prices, low renewal rates and free WHOIS protection. Get your domain names at Namecheap today.
Design your Google Site
Now I suggest following along with the video (found at the beginning of this post) to design your website. You have a few different options to be aware of.
Set a header image or a gif
You can set a header image or a gif for your Google Site, which looks fantastic. If you decide to use a photo, ensure it’s around 2000×2000 pixels so it fits correctly and is not blown out.
You can create a logo with a wide variety of tools and services. My favorite is using Canva for symbols, as you can produce high-quality graphics in .png or .svg format.
To add text, and images, embed social media posts or videos to any page, double-click any white space on your website, and you’ll have a popup dial where you can select to add an image, video, or text.
With the text editor you can add links, heading, and stylize font as you like. You can also add content from your own Google Drive account.
Edit Google Sites Themes
A Google Site “look and feel” can be adjusted slightly via the themes feature. You can not edit themes directly themselves to look a specific way, you can only change colors and font choices that are unique to each theme with the right hand sidebar.
Overall, each theme has a professional, modern design, and the different “theme” styles and colors allow for enough creativity. The biggest drawback, though, is there isn’t a wide variety of templates and themes. But for personal use, it’s good enough.
Pages for your website
Unlike Blogger and WordPress, Google Sites only has a page function. That means you can’t create categorized blog posts. Instead, you can create pages and child pages. Which is fine if you’re using Google Sites as intended.
Pages are added automatically to the menu, but each page can delete, hide it from navigation, given a custom URL path, duplicated, or made the homepage.
Overall I like the ease of adding content to a Google Site. It’s simple and intuitive, and you can custom-design every page to your liking.
Is Google Sites any Good? Pros and Cons
Is Google Sites the perfect website builder? No of course not. It has both strong points as well as weak points and may not be right for everyone. Let’s cover what you need to know.
There are a few stand out reasons to use Google Sites for your next personal project. After having used Google Sites for years and having created multiple website with it, here are the main things I like:
- Totally free and can set a custom domain.
- Beautiful, responsive design.
- Perfect option for casual use.
- Can setup a custom domain name that is https
- Premade content layouts.
Totally free and can set a custom domain
As I’ve established already, what’s fantastic about Google Sites is it’s free to use, and you can set up a custom domain at no additional cost. Unlike commercial website builders like Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress.com, which all lock this feature to set your domain until you upgrade your account, it comes included with Google Sites.
Please note that the domain name is not free; this is a separate cost. What’s free is the ability to set up a custom domain you own that is not accessible on Wix, Squarespace, and other commercial website builders.
Beautiful, responsive design.
A Google Site’s overall look, feel, and design are modern and professional, so much so that someone asked me what WordPress theme” I was using for my website.
Compared to other website builders with very dated templates, Google Sites templates implement many modern design trends people have come to expect.
Last, this website builder is responsive and looks great on any device without you needing to do anything special to optimize your design. It comes with a built-in preview feature where you can view how your design looks on mobile and make changes as required.
Perfect option for casual use.
Google Sites is the superior option for anyone looking to have an online resume, share pictures, or create a simple website for a club, organization, or personal website.
It comes with all the tools and features needed to create a great-looking website from scratch and the ability to set up a custom domain name that is secured with an SSL certificate.
What’s also helpful is the integration with other Google services like Google Drive for documents and images and Google Domains for setting a custom domain name with your website.
A secure custom domain
You can set up a custom domain name with Google Sites, and it’s secure so people can subscribe to your email list or send you a message via a contact form. Not only is this important from a user experience perspective, but it’s also crucial for a website to now be secure and encrypted.
Many website builders allow you to get started for free but limit your design to being on a subdomain. With Google Sites, it’s free, and you can have it set to your domain name at no additional cost (except the cost of registering the domain name).
Google Sites Limitations
There are quite a few negatives to be aware of if you decide to go with Google Sites. Again, this website builder is ideal for casual use, and if you’re expecting to create a profitable website or blog, Google Sites is not for you. Here are the main drawbacks:
- Limited templates and themes
- No naked URL’s.
- Naked URL does not redirect.
- Your Google Sites URL and your custom domain name are both available.
- No control over meta data for your content.
- You have to have a “home” link that acts as a duplicate page.
- Can not run AdSense.
Limited templates and themes
Google Sites only has 13 templates for three categories: Small business, education, and personal. These templates aren’t meant for selling products or promoting your small business significantly. They’re intended for any person or organization that needs a simple, cost-effective website up and running fast.
You may wonder whether you can build a unique-looking website with this builder since there are only a few templates. The good news is that you can modify any templates to your liking. The only static layout is the header and footer of all Google Sites.
You do not have complete creative freedom, but you may alter colors, font styles, and even the layout of your text and pictures. For customization, you can also add a large hero image or video to play in the background on your homepage.
Font types are restricted to three choices: “classic,” “light,” and “heavy.” Even so, using the options accessible, it is entirely feasible to create a distinct website.
No naked URLs
A naked URL is the non-www version of your website. Most websites today are non-www. All websites powered by WordPress are non-www. It’s something you’ve probably never noticed, but your URL must be https://www.example.com with Google Sites.
Again, it’s okay if you’re building a simple website.
Naked URL’s do not redirect
If you try to visit the naked domain name version of your custom URL (https://example.com), it does not redirect properly to the “www” version.
This is an issue because most web browsers assume you’re looking for the non-www version and will attempt to visit that first, then redirect you. But with a Google Site, you will land on a 404 page if you try to visit the naked URL.
Google Sites URL and your custom URL are available
Your Google Sites URL is still available even if you set up a custom domain name. Meaning visitors can visit both and get the same content. Again, not an issue if it’s a simple site, but just be aware that your Google Sites URL does not redirect to your custom domain name like you think it would.
No control over metadata for your content
With WordPress, you can control page titles, meta descriptions, etc. Not with Google Sites. It’s not SEO-friendly, so don’t expect to create a website that can rank for anything.
You cannot control the title and metadata for your pages and homepage within Google Sites. Not a big issue for personal sites, but I hope this is something that gets improved upon in future updates.
Home link required
You must set a page to be the home page. Not a big deal; the issue is that it’s then added to your menu bar as “home” and has its URL path, https://www.example.com/home, and has the same content as your custom domain name.
Thus you end up with a website with two URLs with the same content. I have no idea why Google Sites loves duplicate content so much.
Can not run AdSense
One fun aspect of blogger.com is that you can run AdSense ads on your blog and make a 100% passive income website with no costs other than your domain name. Blogger.com provides free hosting, you create the content, and it’s free, like YouTube.
With Google Sites, however, it violates their terms of service to run AdSense ads. However, not a huge deal breaker as the Google Site platform is explicitly designed for personal (and not commercial) use.
Google Sites FAQ
With Google Sites, I’ve created numerous tutorial on how to use this platform and have been asked the same questions a few times. So here are my responses to the most commonly asked questions regarding Google Sites.
Is Google Sites actually free?
Yes, it really is. Google Sites is a free software that you may use if you have a Google account. Because there are no paid packages, everything is enabled by default. That said, this website builder is basic and unstructured making it a good choice for a simple 5-20 page website.
If you’re looking to start a blog or make an online store you’ll find it quite difficult to do so using this platform as it’s not design for that. The only cost associated with getting setup would be purchasing a domain name which is a separate service.
How can I access Google Sites?
To get started, log into your Google account. Click on “More from Google” from the drop-down menu for Google apps. All Products should be visible at the bottom of the screen, and you should be able to spot the Sites app immediately.
Alternatively you can search for “Google Sites” and it will be the number one result on the search engine result page. Then in order to access the Google Site platform you’ll have to log in with your Gmail account.
Is the Google Sites platform any good?
The answer to this is determined by your needs. Google Sites is fine for a simple landing page, resume website or portfolio if that’s all you need. However, if you want to build a complete website with a contact form, booking system, tiny shop, or any other extra components, you’ll be better off using a more complex program like Wix or Squarespace.
I need help with Google Sites
Google Sites is a free platform and does not provide any sort of live chat or ticket support like more robust website builders. With that said, Google Sites has a very active community and you can jump into the Google Sites Help forum to ask any question you may have.
Typically you can expect a response within 24 hours from someone or you can browse the support forum to see if your question has already been asked. I also have a dedicated Google Sites tutorial that I routinely update on Skillshare, so if you enroll I’m happy to help out with any questions you may have.
Google Sites Tutorial Conclusion
Google Sites is my favorite website builder for casual use. Ideal for an about me style website, personal website or landing page builder for your YouTube description if you’re in need of wanting to link out to a website.
As it’s for casual use, it has a lot of drawbacks if you’re needing something for a bigger commercial project. But for what it is, it’s one of the best free website builders around. To get started is free but I do suggest getting your custom domain name at Namecheap.
Low prices, low renewal rates and free WHOIS protection. Get your domain names at Namecheap today.