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Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Create a free website using Google Sites

Quick start guide to using Google Sites for building a static site for your school, sports club, business, or personal profile, and hosting it on your own custom domain.

Setting up a basic yet professional looking static website could not be easier with Google Sites. Let’s explore how in this quick introduction, where we will create a free website and host it off our own custom domain.

Your site could be up and running inside 5 minutes.

Although Google Sites is mainly used for intranet sites within an organisation, where it can embed the contents of Google Docs or Google Sheets, it’s also a perfectly acceptable proposition for building up an individual portfolio, sporting team website, or a shop like a restaurant.

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You can embed third party content (technically, this gets implemented inside an iframe) and style this content to fit your chosen theme. You can use this for contact forms, for example.

A site generated with Google Sites is mobile-first, and will render correctly on mobile, tablet, and laptop without any configuration from the user.

You can also hook in Google Analytics for visitor tracking and analysis of your user behaviour and how they found your site.

Finally, you can configure to run off your own custom domain.

The one pre-requisite is that you have a Google Account. Let’s get started.

Create your first Google Site

Visit Google Sites.

I’d recommend that you stick with “New”, but you can drop back into “Classic” if you wish. Classic has more templates/themes but is more clunky to work with, whereas New is cleaner and fresher but the options are limited.

Templates

Start off with a blank page or click on a template to create your first site.

At the time of writing, the following templates are available to choose from in the categories of Personal, Work, and Education.

Personal

  • Portfolio
  • Restaurant
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Work

  • Event
  • Team
  • Help Centre
  • Project
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Education

  • Class
  • Club
  • Student portfolio
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Themes

There are 6 themes available to select and these apply across all the Templates. A theme will provide a basic style (font, headers, and colours) and you can pick pre-selected options or choose your own colour from a picker.

  1. Simple
  2. Aristotle
  3. Diplomat
  4. Vision
  5. Level
  6. Impression

There’s a lot of trial-and-error involved to select the theme that matches your personal preferences — I recommend working through them all.

Creating a new page

New pages can be created using the menu, and these can be inserted underneath a parent page to create a drop-down hierarchy.

All pages will appear in the navigation unless you select to hide.

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Talking of the Navigation, you can choose to position your page navigation at the top or side of your page.

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Embedding content

You can embed images, documents, spreadsheets, and slides into your pages. These can be hosted on your Google Drive, or you can upload content directly from your local machine, or from a URL.

Images can also be inserted from a Google search — good feature is that Google will automatically filter only those that are licensed for free use.

You can include HTML in your page, including JavaScript and CSS stylesheets. This is useful when embedding third party content — such as a email contact form or a mailing list sign up sheet.

Company Logo and favicon

Google Sites gives you full control to brand your site. Under the Settings, you can configure your company logo to appear in the Navigation bar and you can also configure the favicon that appears in the browser tab.

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Once set your company logo will appear in the Navigator bar at the top of the page.

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Publish

When you are ready to publish your site, hit the Publish button to the upper right. Select a name for your site and that’s it; your site will now be live to the world on the https://sites.google.com/view/your-site-name address.

Should you edit your site, you’ll need to re-publish your changes. This allows you to work on your site and publish a new version once you are ready.

Using your own domain

Running your site off a custom domain requires a little bit of technical know-how, but I shall walk through the steps.

For those super technical, you can’t host off a domain apex — example.com — instead it has to have a subdomain, so www.example.com is acceptable.

First of all, you need to prove to Google that you own the domain. If you already have your sites listed in Google Webmaster Central you will be familiar with the technique, and it’s the same here.

Within the Settings panel, you can add up to 10 URLs that can be used for your Google Site. Enter the first in the box.

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If Google knows that you own the domain it will automatically configure it. Otherwise, you will see a warning to ask you to verify your ownership.

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Follow the instructions, and you’ll be asked to add a TXT record to your DNS.

google-site-verification=Zakx97MOoIOGmDq_kXNOo133YvVqUNq0DJl9HsyWCP4

Don’t worry if you never did this before, Google provides instructions for most major hosting providers. Once you’ve added this TXT record, it will take Google approximately 5 minutes to detect and confirm your ownership.

While you’re on your hosting provider site, stay within the DNS settings for the next step too — you need to create a CNAME record too. This has to be subdomain (e.g. www.yourdomain.com) and the value will be ghs.googlehosted.com.

Create and save this CNAME record and this will point your custom domain to your Google hosted website.

A note from the author

Thank you for reading this article — I hope you found it useful. Sometimes the easiest options are the best and for a free solution, you can’t go far wrong with Google Sites. Yes, it’s basic, and yes, there are other platforms out there like Wix. But it gets the job done and it’s really easy to use.

You can follow me on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

Written by

DevOps | SRE | AWS | GCP https://twitter.com/davelms

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