I have been playing around a bit with Google Sites lately and thought it would be worthwhile writing a quick review and investigating whether these “do it yourself” website services are appropriate for businesses.
One of my most popular blog articles is How to Build a Free Website, so I suspect this one will be popular, too!
The first thing I must say is that as these “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) template-driven website creators go, Google Sites is very flexible and easy to use. As you would expect from Google I suppose. Naturally, there are limits, but the built-in functionality and the extendable nature of the system makes for a compelling case for those of us not blessed with natural design and coding abilities.
There is no software to download or install, everything is done from within the web browser. You start by selecting a blank template or one from a fairly extensive selection, many created by users rather than Google themselves. You then choose a theme to match, which sets the colour scheme and background style for your pages.
Once set up, you can play around with the layout, colours and images used in your theme and template. Within a few minutes, I had a template looking like this:
Not the prettiest, but it demonstrates how easy it is to start playing around with things and shaping them to your taste. Remember, I hadn’t started to add any content at this stage, but doing so was easy – just click the Edit Page button and type away!
You should be able to make out in the screenshot above the editing controls, like a simple version of Microsoft Word. This is the classic “WYSIWYG” editing mode. It’s easy to insert images, make links, or add one of the thousands of Gadgets available for iGoogle. One thing that is missing is the ability to add files or documents for download – to do that, you’ll need to upload them somewhere else and make a link to them.
The options you have for changing the layout, colours, backgrounds and so on is very impressive, certainly compared to many similar systems I’ve encountered over the years. You are ultimately limited to having your navigation on the left or right, where many sites are now favouring navigation along the top. The amount of functions you can add in via Gadgets is huge, although many of them are pretty useless for business (Free Online Frogger anyone?)
You can point your own domain name at the website, so it has a professional address, and you can register the site with Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, giving you great statistics on your visitors.
So, it’s easy to use, has a wide variety of functions you can add in and the design is easy to tailor, within the restraints of header/left sidebar/right sidebar/footer, which to be fair most sites use anyway.
Is it, then, a good idea to build a business website on the Google Sites platform?
I don’t think so, and I’ve compiled my reasons why:
- You don’t own the site, it’s Google’s. Look at what happened to Geocities a couple of months ago.
- Someone still has to design and build the site, even if it is easy. Does anyone in your business have the requisite graphic design and Photoshop skills? There is no training included in Google’s free offer.
- Zero support if something goes wrong. Yes, there are online tutorials and a Google Group for support, but you can’t actually pick up the phone and demand something be done about it if there is a problem. There is no SLA on fixing problems. If the website is down for a reason out of your control, Google can’t be pressed into doing something about it!
- You are limited to Google’s templates, which you might not want, or paying an approved Google supplier for a custom design. You will always have the header, left (or right)-navigation, middle-content layout, even if you want something different (e.g. a navigation menu along the top).
- Tailoring the look and feel of additional functionality such as Calendars is nigh-on impossible, plus it will only do what Google allows you to do. This may be sufficient, or you may want it to work in a different way, but you won’t have the option to change it with a system like this.
- Uploading files for your visitors to download requires the use of a third-party service, increasing the risk of files not being available and other technical problems.
These problems aren’t unique to Google Sites by any means and their system is actually one of the most flexible I’ve come across. Sadly, though, for businesses it just doesn’t make sense and in fairness to Google, they aren’t pushing Sites as a business solution, except for collaboration (i.e. internal or project-based use, rather than a main business website).
My opinion is that if you are serious about your business, you need a proper website, designed and built to your specification, so that you can be sure it does everything you want. Otherwise, you may well find yourself frustrated at the limits imposed by a system like Google Sites.
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