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What is Google Sites? And how to use it

By Jessica Lau · January 17, 2024
An app tips hero image with the logo for Google Sites on a gray background

When you want to build a simple website, it can be tricky to find a website builder app that's affordable (read: free) and balances that fine line of offering just enough customization tools without overwhelming you with options. 

As usual, Google has a solution: Google Sites. 

Here, I'll show you how to use Google Sites to build a website for free. 

What is Google Sites?

Google Sites is a basic website builder. If you put it against other popular website builders—even free ones like Wix or Weebly—it won't stack up. But it offers enough features to create simple sites to host your blog, portfolio, or even classroom learning materials. 

Is Google Sites free?

Yes! Google Sites are free to build with a Google account. Apart from the option to purchase a custom domain, there are no additional fees to host and maintain a Google Sites website.

How to use Google Sites

Here's a step-by-step guide for how to use Google Sites to build your first website. 

  1. Go to sites.google.com

  2. Click Blank site to create a new site. Alternatively, you can choose a premade template to kickstart the process.

    How to create a new site on Google Sites.

    Note: If you choose a standard theme, you're limited to what you can edit. For example, if you want to change the button color, you have to change the theme color, which may impact other color settings. And you can't change the button size––everything is predefined. 

A blank page will automatically appear in the Google Sites editor. 

A blank page with a templated header block in the Google Sites editor.

Now let's add and edit all the elements of a basic website. If you only need a quick refresher on how to manage a certain element, feel free to jump around. Otherwise, keep scrolling.

  • Create a header

  • Choose a design theme

  • Add text and media

  • Incorporate Google apps

  • Arrange and edit columns and sections

  • Add and manage pages

  • Publish and collaborate

Note: At any point, you can click the Preview icon above the editor to make sure your site is appearing the way you want. Google Sites offers previews for large screens, tablets, and phones. 

Create a header

The header is the menu banner at the top of most web pages—the spot where you might see a company's logo and a series of navigation tabs like About, Services, and Contact us

Note: If you created a blank site, the header block in the editor allows you to change the site name, add a page title, and customize how the header appears. For most of the premade templates, your changes are limited to only editing the text fields and adding a logo. 

  1. Enter your site name in the Enter site name field. If you're working from a premade template, this might already have a name, like Project Name, but you can change it. The name you enter here will also appear on your website.

    Header block with a site name field in the Google Sites editor.

  2. Click Header type, and select how you want your header to appear: Cover, Large banner, Banner, or Title only. The first three options present your background image in various sizes, while the last displays only header text.

    How to change the header type in Google Sites.

  3. If your header type includes an image, click Image to upload a background image. Since there's no clearly defined header image size, you can theoretically upload any file size. Then, click the Anchor image icon, which looks like an anchor, to reposition the image. The editor will also automatically adjust your header image for better readability. I recommend letting the editor do its thing, but if you want to restore the original image, click the Remove readability adjustment icon, which looks like a series of stars. 

    How to anchor a header image or remove readability adjustment in Google Sites.

  4. To add a logo, hover over the site name and click Add logo. I recommend uploading a simple and clear image since it appears quite small on your actual website.  

  5. Click the header text to enter your header title and edit its style, size, font, and alignment. Or delete the box if you don't want any text. To reposition the text box, hover over any corner of the text box until a four-way arrow appears. Then drag and drop the box to where you want.

    How to resize and reposition a text box in Google Sites.

Choose a design theme

By default, the theme for a brand new Google Sites web page is simple—literally. That's the design theme name. Here's how to modify the theme to add a little personality or match your branding. 

  1. In the side menu, click Themes.

  2. Click one of the other theme options. Each theme comes with a few preset color schemes and fonts. 

    How to change the design theme in Google Sites.

If the five premade themes aren't cutting it, click the Create theme icon, which looks like a plus sign (+), to make your own theme. Google Sites will save these designs for later, too.

How to create a design theme in Google Sites.

Add text and media

Time to dig into Google Sites's website-building elements. First, click Insert in the side menu to access all your options. 

The side menu in Google Sites with insertable website-building elements.

There are a lot of options, so let's review what each one lets you do.

  • Basic elements: The first set of elements lets you insert a text box and images, embed HTML code, or upload files from Google Drive. You can also access these options by double-clicking anywhere in the editor. 

    Google Sites editor with a circle menu of basic insertable elements.

  • Content blocks: Drag and drop any of the prearranged blocks of text and images directly onto your page, which you can edit afterward.

    Example of how to drag and drop content blocks into the Google Sites editor.

  • Collapsible group: Add a header with collapsible text lines underneath. If you don't want the text group to collapse, click the toggle next to Collapsible in the editor. 

    Example of a collapsible group element in the Google Sites editor.

  • Table of contents: Automatically turn your page's section headings into a table of contents with clickable links that jump to the appropriate section. You can't manually add other section headings to your table of contents, but you can hide them. Hover over any section header, and click the Hide icon, which looks like an eye.

    Demo of how to add a table of contents and hide its section headings in the Google Sites editor.

  • Image carousels: Upload two or more images to display in an image carousel.

    Demo of an image carousel automatically cycling through photos in a Google Sites website preview.

    By default, users have to manually click through the photos. If you want the carousel to automatically cycle through, however, you can change this. Click the Settings icon in the Edit carousel window. 

    How to change the image carousel settings in Google Sites.

    Click the checkbox next to Auto-start and select the Transition speed. Then click Update

    How to set an image carousel to automatically start and manage the transition speed in Google Sites.
  • Buttons: Create a link button. By default, the button font and colors are automatically drawn from your design theme. 

    How to add a button in Google Sites.

  • Dividers: This inserts a simple horizontal line onto your page. You can't edit the style in any way. 

  • Spacer: This inserts a thick, rectangular block. To change the color—you have only three choices predetermined by your design theme—click the Section colors icon, which looks like a paint palette, next to the block. Then choose your style or upload an image. 

    How to change a spacer style in Google Sites.

  • Social links: Similar to button links, these allow you to add links to your social media pages. Let's say you add your Instagram profile. Google Sites will automatically use the Instagram logo as your button link. If you want to use a different design, click the Add image icon next to the Link field.

    How to add social links in Google Sites.

Accidentally remove a website element or add one too many? Press command+Z on a Mac or Ctrl+Z on Windows to undo. 

Incorporate Google apps

It wouldn't be Google if it didn't integrate well with other Google apps, and sure enough, Google Sites lets you add content from other Google tools. With your Insert side menu still open, scroll down to access these interactive elements: 

  • YouTube: Embed a playable YouTube video into your website.

  • Calendar: Share your calendar in weekly, monthly, and agenda views.

  • Map: Insert an interactive Google Map of the address you choose.

  • Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Charts: Add a Google file to your page in View mode.

  • Forms: Display a Google Form that visitors can fill out on your site. This is also a good option if you want to add a contact form. 

Want to insert a contact form using a different app? Check if your form app or scheduling app offers an embed code. If it does, add it to your page by clicking Embed in the Insert side menu. 

If you incorporate Google apps into your website, use Zapier to connect your Google apps with your other apps. This way, you can automatically do things like follow up with someone after they submit a form or add their responses to a spreadsheet. Learn more about how to automate Google apps, or get started with one of these workflows. 

Send email via Gmail for new Google Forms submissions

Send email via Gmail for new Google Forms submissions
  • Google Forms logo
  • Gmail logo
Google Forms + Gmail

Add Google Sheets rows for new Google Forms responses

Add Google Sheets rows for new Google Forms responses
  • Google Forms logo
  • Google Sheets logo
Google Forms + Google Sheets

Quick add events to Google Calendar from new Google Forms responses

Quick add events to Google Calendar from new Google Forms responses
  • Google Forms logo
  • Google Calendar logo
Google Forms + Google Calendar

To get started with a Zap template—what we call our pre-made workflows—just click on the button. It only takes a few minutes to set up. You can read more about setting up Zaps here.

Arrange and edit columns and sections

How to arrange columns and sections 

As you add new elements, they automatically appear at the bottom of your page. To reorder them, drag and drop them to wherever you want. You can even drag them next to existing elements to create columns. 

Demo of how to arrange elements to create columns in the Google Sites editor.

How to edit columns and sections 

For the most part, you have the option to resize any element as you see fit. Some elements, though, like a collapsible group, let you only change the width of the box—not the height.

To resize an element, select it, and then click and drag any of the blue dots in the element border.

To keep your images in their original aspect ratio, hold Shift, and then drag a corner to resize it. As you resize an image, you'll notice vertical gridlines appear on the page which is helpful for aligning elements on your page.  

Demo of how to resize an image in the Google Sites editor.

Hover over any section block, and you'll also notice a floating toolbar that lets you change the section's background color, duplicate it, or delete it. I recommend ​​switching up the background colors to add emphasis and break up any visuals.

Section block with a floating toolbar in the Google Sites editor.

Add and manage pages

  1. Click Pages in the side menu.

  2. Click the plus icon (+), and then click New page. The plus icon also lets you add a new link, full page embed, or new menu to your header block.  

    How to add a new page in Google Sites.

By default, new pages get added as a separate page. To change it to a subpage, drag and drop it above the parent page. In the example below, I moved the From a human and From the cats pages to live under Blog

Demo of how to rearrange pages in the Google Sites editor.

Alternatively, click the vertical ellipsis () next to the parent page, and select Add subpage. From this menu, you also have the option to make the page your homepage, duplicate it, hide it from the menu, or delete it. 

Notice that as you add or modify pages, the changes automatically appear on your page in the editor. 

Publish and collaborate

How to collaborate in Google Sites 

In classic Google fashion, it's easy to collaborate on your site with others. Click the Share with others icon, which looks like a person, above the editor. From here, you can add others and set their permissions (view only or editor) or manage permissions for general access. 

How to add collaborators in Google Sites.

Unlike other Google apps, it's not obvious how to access your website's version history, which is important—especially if you have multiple editors and need to roll back to a previous version. Click the More icon, which looks like a vertical ellipsis (), above the editor, and select Version history

How to publish a site on Google Sites 

Ready to share your work? 

  1. Click Publish above the editor.

  2. By default, your web address will include the Google Sites domain. For example, https://sites.google.com/view/website-name. But you can modify the end of the URL (website-name). Enter this in the Web address field. 

    How to publish a website and manage the site visibility in Google Sites.

    Alternatively, click Manage in the Custom domain section to create a custom domain. 

  3. Optionally, if you want to limit site access to certain people, click Manage in the Who can view my site. You can also hide your website from Google search results. To do this, click the box next to Request public search engines not to display my site

  4. Click Publish

If you make changes to your site down the road, be sure click Publish to ensure the changes go live. Whenever you re-publish a site, Google Sites will show you the differences between your new edits and the currently published site.

How to use Google Sites: FAQs

Can I have a custom domain in Google Sites?

Yes, you can set up a Google Sites custom URL. Click the Settings icon above the editor, and then select Custom Domains

If you plan on using your Google Site for professional purposes, a custom domain will give it extra polish. Plus, it's pretty cheap to get a .ca or .com one—about $12 a year.

Your domain extension—such as .com or .org—matters. Not sure which one you should use? Here are the best domain extensions for your business.

Does Google Sites have widgets?

Google Sites doesn't have widgets outside of its Google apps options, but you can add any outside option with an embed code. Look for an Embed or < > option for the widget.

Note: The embed feature in Google Sites uses only HTML code.

Not into it? Try a different website builder 

If Google Sites is the first free website builder you've tried, give others a shot to see what features you prefer. To speed up the whole process, try an AI website builder. Or, if you want to build a site to sell your homemade goods, check out our roundup of the best eCommerce website builders

Related reading: 

  • The best landing page builders

  • The landing page guide: How to promote your product on one web page

  • Landing page ideas to help inspire your campaigns

This article was originally published in March 2018 by Matthew Guay and has also had contributions from Melissa King. The most recent update was published in January 2024. 

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