Google is well-known for its search engine, email service, Android mobile operating system and many other applications. But few people know that the Mountain View-based Internet giant offers a Web hosting service and a page creation tool, called Google Sites. As most of Google’s other consumer-oriented services, Google Sites is free and accessible to anyone with a Google account.

Google Sites is a Web-based application, meaning that you won’t need to download and install any software on your PC. All you need to do to get started is create a Google account. Of course, you can use your existing one, if you already use Gmail or other services from Google.

What you get with Google Sites

Google Sites is a free service that provides you a fairly-powerful site builder that supports themes, in-depth appearance customization, gadgets, multimedia, and other useful features.

You also get free storage space, so you won’t have to sign up with a Web hosting provider to host your Google site. As you would expect from a free service, the size of the site is limited to 100 Mb/site, while attachments are limited to 20Mb. You can however work around this limitation, by simply creating several websites and linking them together. Also, there is no limit to how many individual pages you can host with Google Sites, which is great news if you need to create complex sites with lots of entries.

By default, the address of the websites built with Google Sites is Nevertheless, you can redirect your own domain to the Google site, by changing the CNAME setting of the domain. For example, users typing in the browser will be served the page. This is great for users that already have an established domain and want to carry it over on Google Sites.

Website building features

Google Sites provides an easy to use, intuitive website editor that can be used by virtually anyone, even without any knowledge of HTML or web design.

When you create a site with Google’s service, you are given the option to use one of the prebuilt templates or start from scratch. Google offers a gallery of templates grouped on domains, so you can easily find a business, personal, sport, or non-for-profit template. Most templates are fairly attractive and well-built, so picking one makes it easy to quickly create a professional-looking website.

Of course, you can apply your own branding and personal preferences to create a website that completely matches your tastes. Google Sites lets you customize every aspect of the website layout and appearance.

The following is just a quick list of the tasks that you can accomplish with Google Sites:

  • Modify the height and width of page elements, such as the header, navigation bar, footer, etc.
  • Set a custom background for the page
  • Apply your logo and branding
  • Change fonts (supports Google Web Fonts)
  • Change link appearance
  • Add images
  • Embed videos

Google Sites is not recommended if you need to create large websites, such as sites that contain many multimedia files. Also, scripts, CSS, and other advanced functions are not supported.

Work, communicate, and have fun with Google Sites

Google Sites was originally conceived as a Wiki-styled collaboration platform. In fact, the service is a component of the Google Apps productivity package. Google Sites is therefore a good choice if you need to create business-oriented websites, such as intranet sites, corporates sites, etc. The service even allows you to limit the access to your websites to specific users, an important feature for professional users.

But you’re not limited to creating dry professional online presences. It’s just as simple to create a fun page for your club, your neighborhood association, or whatever other purpose you may need.

Google Sites helps you customize your website with gadgets – small applications that display dynamic content on your page. Using gadgets, you can integrate many Google applications on your site, such as Picasa, Docs, or YouTube. You can also add a Twitter or Facebook gadget to let your visitors know what you’ve been up to.

If you want to track your website, Google Sites lets you associate your Google Analytics and Webmaster accounts.

The bottom line

Google Sites is a free and easy to use solution for those who want a simple website with minimal effort and investment. For personal websites, Google Sites provides just about every functionality you may need. You can easily create a blog or a presentation page for your school, using the attractive predefined templates. Google Sites is also a great tool for business collaboration tasks, such as creating intranets, wikis, training sites, and others.

If you need more advanced functionality, Google Sites may not be the right choice for you. For advanced layouts, dynamic pages, and to create any large or complex website, you are better off with a conventional website and a paid hosting service.

For more information, watch the Google Sites video below.