Google

5 key features of the new Google Sites

The new Google Sites delivers a mobile-friendly design and more, but it also removes some familiar features.

Photo of Google Sites in a browser on a laptop
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

A significantly updated and streamlined version of Google Sites goes live for G Suite customers in November 2016. Rapid release track customers should see the update November 9, with scheduled release availability starting November 21.

Some things about Google Sites haven't changed. Sites is still a tool to create a basic website. It remains one of the core G Suite apps. You can still collaborate with other people — editors you choose — to make your site. And you can still connect your site to Google Analytics to understand how visitors navigate pages on your Site.

SEE: Google Apps vs. Office 365: a side-by-side analysis (Tech Pro Research)

With the update, Google removed many of the more complicated features previously found in Google Sites. No more gadgets. No more complex columns and sidebars. No more page-level access permissions. No more discussion forums. No more pages built for a desktop-centric world.

Instead, Google Sites now delivers the simplest way to show Google Drive files in context on the web. Every page is now an easy-to-read single column of content. Every page works well on a desktop, tablet, or phone. And the elements of every site work together, thanks to themes, fonts, and color choices that help you create a coherent design.

Here are five things to keep in mind as you make the switch from classic Google Sites to the more modern, contemporary-looking tool.

Screenshot of Google Sites preview mode shown in tablet and phone formats

With the late 2016 update, your Google Sites layout now reformats for a desktop, tablet, or phone screen.

1. You can create web pages that display nicely on any device.

Google made one choice for you: a one-column, no-sidebar design. Additionally, you can choose between two navigation menu locations (either a top menu or a side menu that appears when you select a three-line menu icon) and among three page header types (a large banner, banner, or title-only).

Screenshot of menu options to add content to a Google Site

Insert content from Google Drive — and other sources — into your site.

2. You can insert content from Google Drive and other apps

As you would expect, you can add, edit, and format text and insert, crop, and resize images on your site.

More important, you can insert content from Google Drive into your site. Insert any of your Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Charts, Videos, or Images from Google Drive into a section of your site. And you can still insert Google Calendars, Maps, and YouTube videos, too. All of these show a preview of the file, with the full content viewable after a visitor selects the file.

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3. You can embed some external content

Insert a link to a TechRepublic article, for example, and Sites will add an image, a title, and a description. You can choose to display or hide any of these. In my tests, Sites added content for most posts and articles successfully. When an embed doesn't work, Sites shows a link to the content. For a Tweet, Google Sites shows a link, since neither a direct link nor an embed code to a Tweet otherwise works.

Screenshot of section position and background color controls.

Adjust section backgrounds — or move sections around — with controls that display when you need them.

4. You can customize and move content sections

You can move content sections up or down your page: Select the two lines of five dots, then move the section around. Within a content section, you can resize content frames to display more (or less) of a Google Doc, for example, or to center an image or section of text. Sites provides some smartly arranged gridlines and snaps your content borders to those lines — this helps your site maintain a visually coherent layout.

You can customize the background of a content section to draw visual attention to an area. You can choose a basic white, gray, or black background or add an image. After you add a background image to a section, Sites adjusts the image to improve the visibility of your content. (You can turn this auto-adjustment off, if you prefer.)

Screenshot of Google Sites publishing visibility settings

Share your site with the people in your organization or with the world.

5. You can publish your site to your organization or to the world

As of early November 2016, Sites offers two sharing settings when you publish. You can choose to make your site available to everyone in your organization or publish it for anyone to see. That's a significant change from the page-level permissions available in classic Google Sites. (Page-level permissions allowed you to control access to specific site pages but also produced complicated access controls.)

The verdict

After spending some time with Sites during the beta period, I think it offers an elegant way to publish text, images, and content from Google Drive and other Google sources to the web. If you use G Suite, the new Google Sites is one of the fastest — and simplest — ways to build a website at work.

Your take

How do you use Google Sites? What do you think of the 2016 update? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below.

Also see

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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