I love Google Sites. It’s an excellent and free website builder that is perfect for personal websites or any topic where you just need to create a simple, effective 5-50 page website. In this Google Sites review, I’m going to do my best to explain why this is one of the best free website builder options for the right use case.
Maybe you’re a YouTuber or an online personality and don’t want to get a hosting account. Perhaps you’re a coach for a sports club or are wanting to create a website for an organization. Maybe you’re 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, can setup 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 really the goal is to design your own site from scratch. You get limited control over the header and footer design of the website and overall Google Sites do tend to look a bit cookie cutter.
But, if you’re looking for a free option where you can set a custom domain name with a great visual, real time page builder you’ll be hard pressed to find 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 strongly suggest using Namecheap as they have some of the best domain name registration prices around. I know GoDaddy is more popular, and their 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 simply search for the domain name you want, if available go ahead and purchase it. I normally suggest getting a .com for content oriented niche websites.
But because Google Sites is more geared for personal websites, any extension you want to get is fine.
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, but it works the same with any provider.
Next, you have to add a TXT record to your DNS configuration. Sounds complicated 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 again it’s the same process for all registrars. You want to set host records for your domain name.
For Namecheap, just click on “manage” for the domain name you want to edit then click on “advanced DNS” to access these settings:
Now take the TXT record you have 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. Thehost 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 setup the CNAME record and the TXT record 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 and again add your URL as a custom domain. If you’ve followed instructions correctly, your domain name will be accepted as a custom domain.
Congrats, you’ve just set up your first Google Site!
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Design your Google Site
Now I suggest following along with the video (found at the beginning of this post) as a way 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 and it looks fantastic. If you decide to use an image make sure it’s around 2000×2000 pixels in size so it fits correctly and is not blown out.
You can create a logo with a wide variety of tools and services. My personal favorite is to use Canva for logos as you’re able to create high quality graphics in .png or .svg format.
To add text, images, embed social media posts or add videos to any pages simply 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
Google Sites look and feel can be adjusted slightly via the themes feature. You can not edit themes 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.
But 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 simply aren’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 comes with the option to delete it, hide it from navigation, give it a custom URL path, duplicate it or make it the homepage.
Overall I really like the ease of use of adding content to a Google Site. It’s simple, intuitive and you can custom design each and 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 awesome about Google Sites is it’s free to use and you can set a custom domain at no additional cost. Unlike commercial website builders like Wix, Squarespace and WordPress.com that all lock ths feature to set your own domain until you upgrade your account, with Google Sites it comes included.
Please note that the domain name is not free, this is a separate cost. What’s free is the ability to set a custom domain that you own which is not free on Wix, Squarespace and other commercial website builders.
Beautiful, responsive design.
I find the overall look, feel and design of a Google Site to be modern and professional. So much so I was asked by someone what WordPress theme” I was using for my website.
Compared to other website builders that have 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 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 simply a personal website.
It comes with all the tools and features needed to create a great looking website from scratch as well as the ability to set 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.
Custom domain that is secure
You can setup 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, it’s also important for website to now be secure and encrypted.
There are a lot of website builders that 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 own 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 to choose from for three categories: Small business, education and personal. These templates aren’t meant for selling products or promoting your small business to any large degree. They’re intended for any person or organization that needs a simple, cost effective website up and running fast.
You may be wondering whether you can build a unique-looking website with this builder since there are only a few templates to choose from. The good news is that you can modify any of the templates to your liking. The only static layout is the header and footer of all Google Sites.
You’re not going to have complete creative freedom, but you may alter colors, font styles, and even the layout of your text and pictures. You can also add in a large hero image or video to play in the background on your homepage to give added customization
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 URL’s
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 not something you’ve probably ever noticed but with Google Sites your URL must be https://www.example.com.
Again, not a big issue 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 Google Sites it simple lands you on a 404 page if you try to visit the naked URL.
Google Sites URL and your custom URL are available
Even if you setup a custom domain name, your Google Sites URL is still available. 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 meta data for your content
With WordPress you can control page titles, meta descriptions and so forth. Not with Google Sites. It’s not SEO friendly at all so don’t expect to create a website that can rank for anything.
You get no control over the title and meta data 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 it’s own URL path, https://www.example.com/home and has the same exact content as your custom domain name.
Thus you end up with a website that has two URL’s with the same exact 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 all free like YouTube.
With Google Sites however it’s a violation of their terms of service to run AdSense ads. Though not a huge deal breaker as the Google Site plat
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.
David UtkeDavid Utke is a professional blogger, YouTuber and a highly rated user experience consultant. He and his team create helpful tutorials, software reviews, videos and more based on real-world experience. Join over 30,000 monthly readers and 27k+ YouTube subscribers!
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