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Google Sites Issues

"One thing Google could do to improve this product would be to create an ongoing, active team of volunteer Google Sites enthusiasts who really know their product and then listen to them."

Is Google Sites the right web builder for your website? Read to learn its strengths and weaknesses.

The Good News

Google Sites has more good points than bad but the latter does not prevent the creation of a useful website. In fact, many users probably won't notice the latter. It is the more experienced users who want more out of Google Sites than it offers that will, like me. And, recently Google Site's has been actively reaching out to users for feedback and making improvements. So it is only getting better. Most users will find it useful, both beginners and advanced.

Page Editors. Two page editors are provided: WYSIWYG and HTML. Using the WYSIWYG editor, content can be added and modified in the page like any other text editor via the edit tools at the top. But to properly format the content, the "Format" menu must be used and this will ensure that the content receives the benefits of the site-wide CSS, too, which will be discussed later.

The "HTML" button, also at the top, will open a very small editor to see and edit the page content area HTML code and a "preview" window is provided, too, to check your work. But it does not always accurately reflect the changes so rely on viewing your work in the page to be sure. It is lacking the most basic editor features such as numbered lines and search and replace making it more work for longer pieces of code or simply searching for specific code.

CSS Style Sheet. Site wide styles (aka presentation) can be set via a gui. Though limited it does allow for some presentation changes to fonts, font sizes, font colors and upload of template images.

Site Template.A site template is available to upload template images to the page, wrapper, header, content and a few other smaller areas. With a good design, an attractive website template can be created. To really make use of all of these images requires an understanding of how it works.

Free ready-made website templates are available in the Google Sites Gallery, as well as third party templates for a fee.

Scripting. Some scripting is allowed but it must be wrapped in a gadget. Free, ready-made and third party gadgets are available. If you know how to work with the Google Apps Scripts, you can even built them yourself.

Integration. This is one of the biggest reasons to use Google Sites. Google Sites probably offers more integration of their products to their sites than other comparable web builders which they should. Where else can you add a map, form, document, spreadsheet, calendar and forum/group and do it fairly easily?

Collaboration. This is one of the biggest reasons to use Google Sites. There are so many ways to work with others on a Google Sites website.

  • editors can leave comments that only other editors can see in a GS website
  • real-time conversation and work can occur in Google docs and spreadsheets
  • comments can be left in G docs for others to see
  • real-time text chat is possible in gmail
  • G+ or gmail video chat is available
  • free telephone calls via Google Voice and G+ Hangouts

Training. With so many features, I just can't recommend enough that you should take the time to learn how to use it to take advantage of its many features, not waste time and to avoid unnecessary frustration. Some features are just more involved than "point and click".

Help is available via Google and other third party support via videos, text, hangouts, forums, blogs, twitter and helpful personal sites created by users like myself. :-) I also offer free training on my Helpout page in half hour increments. 

The Bad News

If Google Sites wants to compete with other web builders and attract big users like government agencies, schools, nonprofits and business', the product needs to be upgraded. Google Sites is still a useful tool  .... 

BUT it is missing the most basic website management features . . . .

  • a real file manager to search for files and act on found files
  • proper, clear error messages with links to help users resolve issues instead of leaving them stuck with no recourse
  • helpful site popups offering tips, explanations and/or links with the option to disable these popups, of course

AND the usability needs to be improved . . .

  • organize fonts into groups to make it easier to search & choose them
  • offer helpful popups that display on hover or when performing a site action that
    • explains the many parts/pages of Google Sites
    • reminds users of second steps to a process (such as adding a newly created page to the navigation)
  • offer a directory to Google Sites help
  • allow the complete deletion of and replacement of template images from the site
    • this is an issue for regular sites accounts that have limited site space
  • put template images where users can get to them to do things like download copies, view them or even replace them or at least offer a way to do these things

AND the CSS & HTML is very limited . . .

  • no CSS for 
    • margins or paddings
    • headers 1-6 sizing
  • CSS is broken for
    • color of horizontal rules on most themes
    • visited link color in Firefox
  • no HTML page background images allowed in anything other than tables
  • HTML editor
    • window is too small to work in 
    • missing basic features such as "find-and-replace" or at least "find" and  numbered lines
  • text editor font choices are limited thus requiring HTML if other fonts are wanted

AND the Help information is . . .

  • fragmented, spread out among many Google pages, videos, forums, text documents, recorded Hangouts, blogs, news and personal sites
  • often times outdated
  • often changed and without warning, explanation or recouse to voice opinion
  • often poorly written
  • lacking  really important "how to" Google Sites basics
    • page, file & CSS overview and management
    • using a text editor
    • using an html editor
    • the parts of Google Sites
    • and so on