The new Google Sites – Features and Limitations

google-sites-logo

Recently Google released the new version of Google Sites. I have used the older Google sites extensively over the last couple of years, so I was intrigued to see what the new platform had to offer.  Below are my thoughts after having the last week to have a play on the new Google Sites.

Features

Easy to use

The old Google Sites took me a while to figure out how to use it effectively. Certain features such as creating horizontal navigation were not overly user-friendly. I believe that teachers now need to have websites to ensure that their class can easily access the resources that they need. However, it was always a tough sell to encourage teachers to use the old Google Sites when it took so long to learn the ins and outs of the platform. With the new Google Sites, this is no longer the case. It is extremely easy to use, with the ability to create a new page at the click of a button that is then automatically added to the horizontal navigation.  Page headers are easy to customise, and you can simply click anywhere on the page to add content such as text and images. There are a few simple themes where users can easily customise the colours and fonts to give their google site a unique look. Ultimately I think that more teachers will be likely to create their websites once they see the ease at which it can be done through the new sites. In addition to this, teachers will be more likely to have their students (of all ages) creating websites as the key skills can be learnt in no time.

Mobile Friendly

A major flaw with the old Google Sites was that it wasn’t overly mobile friendly. Whilst you could get your pages looking pretty good on a desktop, they would look terrible on a phone. With the majority of content being accessed on mobile phones nowadays, it is vital that the websites we produce look equally as good on a phone as they do on a desktop. The new Google Sites does this brilliantly, giving the user the ability to preview how the site looks on a phone, a tablet and a larger screen. Features such as automatically changing the horizontal navigation on larger screens to a vertical drop down navigation on phones are a great new feature with the new Google Sites.

google-sites-preview

Real-time collaboration

With the new Google Sites, you can collaborate in real time, in much the same way as you can have multiple people editing the same Google Doc. This is great for teams of teachers and will be great for students working in groups.

Easily embed external content

With the click of a button, you can now choose to embed a URL onto one of your web pages. Simply just paste the URL, and in many cases, the content from that site will be embedded into the page (with the option of including an image, a title and a description). Where the embed doesn’t work, a simple link will be added.

embed

Flexibility to move content on a page

The old Google Sites did not give users much flexibility around moving text or images to various locations on a page. In the new Google Sites, this is simply a matter of choosing the object and moving it anywhere on the page, with the added bonus of grid-lines to ensure a balanced result. Users can also easily resize objects on their page.

Works well with other Google Suite content

It is easy to add items from your Google Drive, such as Docs and Sheets, into the new Google Sites. It is even possible to add entire Google Drive folders. The web page will show a preview of the file, with the full content available when the user selects the file.

adding-drive

Limitations

No table of contents feature

The table of contents feature was something I used extensively with the old Google Sites. For example, for a class site, the tabs in my horizontal navigation would be subjects such as Numeracy. From there, the drop down box would be the topics such as algebra and statitics. When I would click one of the topics, I would get taken to the page where I would have the learning outcomes as part of my table of contents so students could easily access what they needed on that page.

table-of-contents-eg

In the new Sites, there is no option for a table of contents. For pages with a lot of content, I will miss how this feature allowed content to be easily accessed on that page.

Limited amount of text that can be seen on the drop-down menus

Hopefully Google looks into this, but at the moment only part of the name of each page can be seen with the drop-down menus. Whilst if you hover over the text you will be able to see the name of the page in its entirety, it would make it easier for users to navigate if they could see the entire name of the page.

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Adding an external link as a page (to show in the navigation menu)

This was something that you could do in the old Google Sites that is not yet an option in the new Google Sites. In some instances it is very useful to be able to create a tab in the horizontal navigation that links directly to an external website – in the new Google Sites you can only create tabs for pages that are part of the same website.

Custom URL’s

At this stage, there is no option to use a custom URL that you may have purchased to use for your site. This shouldn’t affect teachers or students, but it will pose a possible problem for businesses. This will undoubtedly be an issue that Google addresses in the near future.

Ability to add third-party gadgets

Whilst the beauty of the new Google Sites is its ease of use, I would still like to see the capacity to add third-party gadgets. It’s always nice to find new ways to customise your site, and the ability to add third-party gadgets would allow users more freedom to do this.

Verdict

As a teacher, there is no doubt that the new Google Sites is a great platform that will allow everyone, regardless of their technical expertise, to create a good looking and functional site. As this was not necessarily the case with the old Google Sites, I am now looking forward to seeing more teachers and students creating their own websites for various tasks. Google will no doubt continue to update certain aspects to keep improving this great product, and I believe they are also working on a system that will allow websites using the old Google Sites to be transferred to the new Google Sites. In the meantime, Google is letting users continue to use the old Google Sites, with that platform to be fazed out in the next year. Therefore my advice would be to embrace the new Google Sites and start using it as soon as possible.

Click here for my video tutorials on how to use the new Google Sites (made with the new Google Sites!)

If you are already using the new Google Sites, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • Nice article!
    One can not use a custom URL on the New Google sites. I was able to use a custom URL that forwarded to a new google site. I am interested in tables and Google handles them as well as other websites as their sites are responsive. http://www.webhostcritique.com

    • Sam Gibson

      Hopefully they custom URL option is available soon! I have a website for a Trust that I am involved with and I would love to transfer that to the new Google Sites (like as you say – the table etc are responsive and therefore work well on phones). However I really need to keep using the custom URL that I have….

  • Ashleigh Grant

    Great post Sam, any chance you have found a solution to this situation; in classic sites i can share my site to specific people, with new sites once it’s published, it’s accessable to everyone on our school domain. I want to studrnts to create portfolios that can be shared with their parents (outside of school domain) any tips? my email is agrant@ebis.school.nz

    • Sam Gibson

      Hey Ashleigh. You can also make the new Google Sites public instead of just being shared to your school domain. That is what I would recommend as the students then have a global audience to showcase their work to, which can only be motivating for their learning.

      • Ashleigh Grant

        Gotcha. Do you have any examples of student portfolios that I could have a look at for inspiration/use as a model?

        • Sam Gibson

          Unfortunately not at the moment as I’m not in the classroom much these days. I am more involved in the PD side of things. What we would do though is have a class blog to showcase what we were doing (sort of like an ongoing newsletter) and through the gadgets you can add, we would create a list of the students blogs down the side.

          • Ashleigh Grant

            One more question, were students able to transfer ownership of their blogs to their personal Gmail accounts so they could essentially “take” their work with them to the next school or did their work dissappear once their school gmail account was deactivated? I’m looking for a platform that can carry students through from primary – high school. OR: do high schools use their own forms of blogging and are therefore not interested in what students have used in the past?

          • Sam Gibson

            You can transfer it to your own account. For that reason alone is why I encourage teachers to do their learning journal for the practicing teaching criteria using blogger. The following link is a quick clip I made about adding collaborators to your blog – so it is the same process (you would just be adding your personal account): https://sites.google.com/teakatoitu.org/pld/blogger/adding-collaborators

          • Ashleigh Grant

            Choice (´∀`)b