Table of contents.
These days, the “Google” brand comes with a certain level of prestige. Any product branded with this word is held to fairly high standards and expectations.
- Google Search is THE most powerful search engine in the world.
- Google Chrome is one of the most popular website browsers.
- Anyone who owns an Android smartphone will also have a free Google account, which is associated with more Google products like Gmail and Google Drive.
- Google Drive itself comes with a massive suite of collaborative productivity tools including Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Forms.
And buried inconspicuously within Google Drive, tucked away silently in a secluded sub-menu, is where you will find the subject of today’s discussion, Google Sites. A rather strange all-in-one website builder from Google.
Note: Google Sites is also accessible through sites.google.com.
A history of Google’s awkward Sites project.
Acquiring JotSpot in a late 2006 acquisition spree.
In Oct 2006, Google went on an acquisition spree, announcing their purchase of a video sharing platform for 1.65 billion US dollars in stock. That platform is called YouTube, and it remains an indomitable behemoth to this very day.
Later in the same month, Google made another less well-known acquisition, obtaining a hosted wiki creation tool called JotSpot for an undisclosed amount. The founders of JotSpot also joined Google as part of the acquisition.
Joe Kraus, one of the JotSpot founders, wrote a blog post proclaiming their excitement to become a part of Google, and citing a shared vision “for how groups of people can create, manage and share information online”. The blog post ended with a statement that their first order of business was to “move JotSpot to Google’s software architecture”, telling would-be prospects to join a waitlist to keep posted.
16 months of silence and uncertainty ensued.
New account registrations for JotSpot was turned off during those 16 months. And even though Google continued to provide support for existing JotSpot customers, reports emerged of complaints about hosting outages, performance problems, and lack of responsiveness for technical support queries.
Relaunching JotSpot as Google Sites in early 2008.
In late Feb 2008, Google finally released an announcement that JotSpot is now fully integrated into Google and will be relaunched under the name of Google Sites.
Existing JotSpot customers will have to migrate their wikis to Google Sites, with instructions on how to make the switch soon to follow.
An interesting thing to note here, is that this is the last ever Google Sites-related announcement in recent years that has mentioned the word “wiki”. Google seems to have developed an aversion to associating Google Sites with the concept of a mere wiki builder, and is treating it as more of a website builder.
Google Sites allows companies and organizations to “easily create a network of sites and share them with whomever you choose”. They can “pull together information from across Google Apps by embedding documents, spreadsheets, presentations, videos, and calendars in your sites”, and “harness the power of Google search technology so your search results are always fast and relevant.”
Google Sites is free for everyone after mid 2008.
In late May 2008, less than three months after its initial release, Google announced that Google Sites is now open to everyone for FREE.
Anyone with a Google account can now set up a website easily to share all types of information in one place, using the built-in WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. All you need to get started is visit sites.google.com.
A complete rebuild in mid 2016 to modern-ish standards.
Website building standards have changed a lot over the years, and as a decade-old website builder, Google Sites struggled to keep up with modern standards.
So in Jun 2016, Google announced they are working on completely rebuilding Google Sites to make it even easier to share information. The announcement also invited companies to preview the update by joining an early adopter program.
A complete rebuild meant that Google Sites will no longer rely on JotSpot’s legacy software. But instead of coming up with another name, Google simply chose to refer to the rebuilt version as the “new Google Sites”.
The new Google Sites will allow users to build responsive websites designed to scale and flex to any screen size with an intuitive drag-and-drop design experience, and offers support for real-time collaboration by multiple editors.
A few months later in Nov 2016, the new Google Sites was announced to be ready for rollout to all G Suite (later called “Google Workspace”) customers, as well as anyone with access to a free personal Google account. Google maintains a comparison table to illustrate the differences between new and classic Sites.
For the sake of brevity, we shall refer to the original 2008 version of Google Sites as “classic Google Sites”, and the rebuilt 2016 version as simply “Google Sites”.
Classic Google Sites is currently in the process of being deprecated and removed:
- Classic Sites created using personal Google accounts are no longer accessible past Aug 2022.
- Classic Sites created using legacy G Suite or Google Workspace accounts will not be editable past Nov 2022 and will not be accessible past Dec 2022.
And in traditional fashion, classic Sites owners are being urged to convert their classic Sites to new Sites to keep them available to visitors.
The current state of Google Sites.
Google Sites is still being actively developed as a part of Google Workspace, but it does not appear to receive much attention compared to productivity tools like Google Docs and Google Sheets. New features, updates, and improvements for Google Sites have always trickled out at a snail’s pace.
For a website building tool that has been worked on by Google developers and software engineers for well over a decade, and further rebuilt from the ground up in the past 6 years, the current iteration of Google Sites remains a huge let-down.
Let me make it clear: Google Sites is not worthy of its “Google” pedigree, because it does not even come close to keeping up with its peers in the modern website building industry.
In terms of features and customization potential, Google Sites is the LEAST flexible website builder I have ever come across. “Google Wiki Builder” is probably a more apt name for Google Sites, because it does not qualify as a complete website building tool… When compared against almost anything else in the same market.
The roots of Google Sites is a dated wiki building service hailing from all the way back in 2006. And even though it has been completely rebuilt from scratch in 2016, the influence from its heritage remains. Google Sites is still more for presenting and sharing information collaboratively, not for creating a fully functional website.
Why Google Sites is still viable as a website building tool.
Despite its numerous shortcomings, I still put Google Sites at the top of my list of builders to consider when I need to create a simple website due to the following:
Google Sites is completely free.
Modern website building tools often come with a free option, allowing you to test out their capabilities before committing to a monthly or yearly subscription. Some might go as far to claim that you can build websites for free with this option alone.
But free options often come with a catch. The website builder might place ads on your free site, you don’t have access to crucial functionalities of the builder, and as is usually the case, you won’t be able to connect the free site to a custom domain.
The biggest redeeming quality of Google Sites is that it is truly 100% free – so long as you have access to a Google account, which also happens to be free for personal use. This alone is enough to make it worthy of consideration.
Google Sites is highly intuitive.
Don’t expect to be able to do anything too advanced or complex with Google Sites, because it is the very definition of bare bones. The lack of complexity, however, does make Google Sites a very intuitive website builder to learn and use.
Anybody can build websites with Google Sites with no coding required!
Google Sites has unparalleled stability.
Another advantage of Google Sites is that it is extremely stable. I built my first ever website using Google Sites in 2018, almost half a decade ago. And that website is still standing to this very day. Unlike WordPress, I never had to worry about my Google Sites websites breaking due to some random or stray update.
Google Sites runs on world-class infrastructure.
Google Sites resides on Google’s cloud platform, a planet-scale infrastructure designed to deliver services to users no matter where they are around the world. The data centers and network architecture are designed for maximum reliability and uptime, ensuring that Google Sites will (almost) always be available 24/7.
This makes Google Sites a great tool to have for very basic websites.
So what can you create with Google Sites?
The biggest plus with Google Sites is that you can use it to create a free website, and connect the website to a custom domain for free^. And in this section, we are going to explore the types of websites you can build with such a basic builder.
^Do note that you would still need to purchase a custom domain before you can connect it to a website. Otherwise, you will have to stick with a free subdomain provided by Google, which currently looks like:
Basic online presence: Simple portfolios, event & brochure websites, wikis & knowledge bases, menus & catalogues.
Even though Google Sites comes with a drag-and-drop editor, it is actually fairly rigid and limited. You do get a certain level of design freedom and customizability, but don’t expect to be able to do much with it.
However, if you understand its limitations and know how to play to its strengths, it is still very possible to create clean and pragmatic-looking sites with Google Sites.
One crucial thing to note is that Google Sites comes with very limited global styling options. If you want to redesign or make major layout changes to your site, you have to go through every single page and edit them one-by-one manually.
Websites built with Google Sites are therefore fairly cumbersome and time-consuming to maintain and update. So it is highly recommended to keep your designs simple and your content succinct, with as few pages as possible.
Coming soon page, temporary / fallback / interim websites.
Since Google Sites is free for anyone to use, it won’t cost you a dime to build and host a temporary website, or even as a simplified backup of your main site.
This is good for cases such as:
- You don’t have a website yet and need something to act as an online presence for you or your business (to make you look more professional).
- You need a “Coming Soon” page while your main website is under construction.
- You need a temporary website as a fallback while the host of your main website is experiencing longer-than-usual downtimes.
Private invitation-only websites.
One of the great things about Google Sites is its built-in sharing permissions, similar to the likes of other Google products, e.g. Google Docs and Google Sheets.
This allows you to create private, invitation-only websites, such as intranets, course or membership websites, etc. Obviously Google Sites will never work as well as a paid course or membership platform, but hey, those platforms are expensive.
The downside with Google Sites is that you have to manually add and remove access for your members. And you don’t get to choose different levels of access. Once a user has access to a site, they are able to find and see everything.
Blogging – can be done (sort of) but not recommended.
Google Sites does not come with any blogging capabilities. And since Google already maintains another blogging platform called Blogger, it is extremely unlikely that Google Sites will ever receive any features meant for blogging.
I do not recommend using Google Sites for blogging, but you can certainly use it to emulate a very simple blog if you absolutely have to. Just note that you can’t monetize such a blog using Google’s own display ad program, Adsense. It used to be possible on classic Google Sites, but that feature had since been removed.
If you need a free blogging platform that can be monetized using Adsense, try out Blogger instead. It even has a support article with instructions for display ads.
Affiliate marketing – can be done but lacks features.
Similar to blogging, you can build out affiliate marketing websites using Google Sites, but it is still not recommended due to a severe lack of features.
- There are no SEO tools.
- No bulk link management tool or 301 redirects.
- The only analytics tool you can use is Google Analytics. Google Tag Manager is not integrated with Google Sites.
- No easy way to build product lists or pricing comparison tables. You will have to create and style them yourself using the code embed feature.
Google Sites’ code embed feature is also extremely limiting and prevents you from adding functional popups or floating elements (fixed positioning relative to your browser window) to your website. The only thing you can add is inline embeds.
The way embedded code loads and renders on Google Sites is also quite slow and unsightly, and it will also look strange in mobile and tablet views due to a lack of proper height controls.
Ecommerce – bad idea, don’t bother trying.
Google Sites has no native ecommerce capabilities, and probably never will.
If anyone tells you it is possible to use Google Sites for ecommerce, they are actually referring to the use of third party services, such as payment processing platforms like PayPal or Stripe, or online store platforms like Shopify or Ecwid.
You can copy and paste the HTML code provided by these platforms, and then embed them within Google Sites to create a shopping page. However, Google Sites will enclose the custom code inside a sandboxed iframe for security purposes. And this can have a negative effect on your customer’s browsing experience.
For example, due to its sandboxed nature, any product added to a shopping cart will disappear from the cart when the shop page is refreshed. Your customers are forced to complete their purchase in one go, or risk starting all over again when they click away to look at another page on your website.
As you can imagine, this could make for an awful shopping experience.
So don’t bother wasting your time on this. It is a bad idea to even attempt to use Google Sites for ecommerce.
It is almost always better to build another ecommerce website using a dedicated online store platform, and point a subdomain to said ecommerce website. Then you can simply add a “Shop” or “Purchase” link to the subdomain on your main site.
Google Sites FAQ.
How do I use Google Sites?
Google Sites can be accessed through Google Drive (view screenshot) or through the URL sites.google.com. The only prerequisite to use Google Sites is a Google account. And you can create personal Google accounts for free.
If you need further guidance on how to build a website using Google Sites, or connecting a custom domain to your website, you can take a look at the official support channels provided by Google.
Are there any risks with using Google Sites?
All websites built with Google Sites comes with an unobtrusive information icon found towards the bottom left. Clicking on the icon will allow visitors to report the website for abuse. Google may take action against content that violates:
- Program Policies for Classic Google Sites.
- Abuse Program Policies and Enforcement for new Google Sites.
- Other product policies from Google.
Google also has a habit of shutting down / discontinuing products or services that are not well-received by their audience. So much so that people have build a historical list of things that had been killed by Google (275 and counting).
Google Sites has been maintained for nearly 15 years, and it is unlikely to face the chopping block anytime soon. But the risk is always present.
Fortunately, Google always provides ample communication, notification, and warnings prior to a shutdown. You can easily move your website to a top-level folder in your Google Drive, and export the folder through Google Takeout.
What do I get for free with Google Sites?
Google Sites has been completely free to use since mid-2008, and it provides:
- Free website builder (i.e. Google Sites itself).
- Free website hosting.
- Free cloud storage for images and other content embedded or uploaded directly into a Google Site*. Files originally stored in Google Drive and then embedded into a Google Site will still take up storage space regardless.
- The option to host your website on a free Google Sites URL, or to connect your own custom domain name for free. You still have to purchase your own domain from a domain registrar, but it comes at a fairly cheap yearly price.
- Free domain-validated SSL certificates provisioned automatically, allowing visitors to browse your website using secure HTTPS**.
*There is however a hard limit to the number of characters, images, and pages you can have with each Google Site. There can be at most:
- 15,000,000 characters per page.
- 40,000,000 characters per site.
- 10,000 pages per site.
- 15,000 images per site.
**Classic Google Sites does not provide SSL certificates, so some of the more outdated reviews may claim that Google Sites does not support HTTPS.
Business customers with Google Workspace subscriptions may have access to extra features, like the ability to change the search settings or hide the search functionality altogether. Do note that the search function is only hidden in this case, not disabled, and can still be accessed using the right URL structure.
Where can I find the latest features / update history of Google Sites?
For recent updates:
For classic Google Sites and other legacy information prior to 2017: