Google Sites, Google's website creation tool, has existed since 2007. While Sites was always easy to use, it allowed users a tremendous amount of freedom. Users could customize fonts, themes, layouts, colors, and just about everything else they wanted. The resulting sites were often poorly-designed or difficult to navigate. In late 2016, Google completely re-designed the Sites service and took it in the opposite direction. The new version of Sites limits users to using a few select templates, color palates, and layouts. As a result, users have much less freedom, but the resulting websites look MUCH better and also all incorporate responsive web design.
This article is going to provide an overview of the new version of Google Sites. This is a big topic, so we're going to just cover the basics here: how to create, organize, format, and share a website using the new Sites.
What Sites is For (and What it's Not For):
Before we get into how to use the new Google Sites, it's worth first identifying why you might want to create a Site to begin with. Sites really shines when you're trying to bring a collection of different kinds of content together in one place in order to share it with the organization or the world. These two key phrases ("different kinds of content" and 'share with everyone') should be the two triggers for you to consider Sites for your project. On the other hand, if your project doesn't involve mixed content, you should consider strongly if Google Sites is the right tool for the job. If you want to share a text document or a map, you don't need to create a whole site; you can just share your work directly with Google Docs or Google MyMaps.
Likewise, don't use Google Sites for projects that you only want to share selectively. "I only want to share this portfolio with the Board, the Finance Team, and the Development Team." A statement like this should be a red flag NOT to use Google Sites, as Sites only has two flavors of visibility: either everyone in the organization can view your site, or everyone in the world can view your site. There's no way to create a site that only some people can view. If you're not comfortable with everyone in the organization, including students, being able to view your content, don't use Google Sites.
So what is Sites actually good for, then? Student or staff portfolios are one good example. Sites allows a student to compile artwork, writing, video, and slideshows together in a publicly viewable collection. The Employee Evaluation system is another good example of what Sites does best: aggregating written content with links, docs, slideshows, and even a video or two, then making this organized collection available to everyone in the organization.
One last caveat about Sites before we get started: don't use Sites to duplicate or replace functionality that the official TSS website already provides. If you want to make changes to your department's official web presence (say, the Wildlife Expeditions site), you need to work with the Marketing team. Don't create your own competing website using Google Sites; this will only confuse participants and make it more difficult for potential guests to find information about your program.
Creating a Website with the New Google Sites
You can access Google Sites by typing sites.google.com into your browser's address bar or by clicking on the 9-square grid in the corner of any Google service, then select "Sites" from the drop-down. You can also go to sites.google.com.
This will take you to the OLD version of Google sites. You'll see an option in the left-hand sidebar, however, that offers a chance to try to New Google Sites. You can click here, or you can use the direct link: http://sites.google.com/new.
Once you're inside the New Google Sites interface, you should be in familiar territory. The interface supports Googles Material Design visual language just like Docs, Sheets, Sildes, and Forms, but with a purple theme:
From here, you can double-click a site you've already created to open it, or you can click the big red action button (the one with the + sign) in the bottom-right hand corner of the screen to create a new site.
The Sites Interface
When you're first starting to build a new website, it's a good idea to start by naming the site. You can edit the title by clicking on topmost bar to rename your site. The next bar down is the logo/navigation bar. You can click here to add a logo to the site (and a corresponding color scheme), choose the site's navigation pane (you get two choices: top or side), preview what visitors will see when they visit the site, and share your site with collaborators:
The right side of the screen has most of your editing tools, divided into three panes: Insert, Pages, and Themes. The Insert pane does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to editing your site. Basically, you choose what kind of content you want to add to the site, then drag it to the size and position where you'd like it to appear. The basic options, which are still the foundation of most static websites, are images and text:
Google Sites also has the power, however, to import and display content from many other Google services, and this is where it really shines. I won't cover them all in detail, but I've created samples of most kinds of content you can insert, so here are some of the examples:
- A Map
- A Google Drive Folder
- A Google Doc
- A Google Sheet
- A Google Slides Presentation
- A Form
- A Chart
- A PDF
- A YouTube Video
- A Calendar
The most important thing to remember about embedding content from Google Drive is that your site won't override the Drive permissions of your content. If you embed a Google Doc that no-one else has permission to view, they won't be able to view it on your site.
Changing the Look of Your Website
The Themes panel allows you change the overall look of your site. The THEMES pane works a lot like type styles in Google Docs. When you change the theme of your site, this will change the look every page, all at once. Each theme has several color and typeface choices. As an example, look at how my sample site changes when I switch the theme from 'Impression' to 'Aristotle':
It's not possible to have different themes applied to different pages of your website; you have to pick one theme for the entire site.
Collaboration and Sharing
If you want to bring other collaborators in to help edit your site, you can do this using using the sharing button.
It's exactly like sharing a Google Doc or a Google Sheet, where you can invite people (or groups) to edit your site. The only difference is that there's no 'view' or 'comment' option.
If you think your site is ready for publication, the purple publish button is your final stop. You'll get a choice of what you want your custom URL to be; the site's home URL will be sites.google.com/tetonscience.org/YOURNAMEHERE. You also get to choose whether the site will be public to just the organization or to the world.