The future of Google Sites


April, 2019

Google | Sites | News

Google held a session during their Next '19 Cloud event where they unveiled new features for Google Sites.

Google Sites is a platform from Google that lets you create a beautiful and highly functional website within minutes. It is responsible across devices and you don't need a single line of code. In fact, this website is run entirely off Google Sites. This means that Google hosts it and does all the optimization needed to keep it fast and compatible. Google has now unveiled some major additions to the platform. Without further ado, let's take a look!

What is Google Sites?

Google Sites initially started out as JotSpot, which was an enterprise grade social software for small-sized and medium-sized businesses. Google acquired JotSpot in 2006 and then two years later unveiled Google Sites which was made using JotSpot's technology. Then 10 years after the acquisition, Google completely rebuilt Sites to be more flexible and user friendly. The rebuilt Sites is known as "new Sites" and the old Sites is known as "classic Sites". In 2017, Google announced that they eventually would phase out the classic Sites and that the final deadline for migrating to new Sites is sometime in 2021.

Timeline for Google Sites.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

Why rebuild Sites?

Google figured it was necessary to rebuild Sites in order to meet demand and expectations. The service was wildly outdated and was built on aging technology. Classic Sites was not a bad product by any means, but it just wasn't cutting it. Things such as real time collaboration just isn't possible and there is no concept of drafts. The site and pages you create also is immediately published or discarded, there is no in-between. Classic Sites was also built for desktops so it would take a lot of effort to make it responsive for mobile devices. Since Classic Sites is heavily based on JavaScript it is difficult to update, maintain and design without knowing some coding.

Classic Sites just doesn't cut it anymore.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
The wildly outdated Classic Sites.Screenshot: Classic Sites.

What is the rebuilt Sites?

The new Google Sites is a healthy future proof foundation that allows Google to innovate. New Sites built natively as a part of Google's business/education app suite, meaning it has tight integration with other Google applications and services such as Maps and YouTube This means that your Sites is stored directly in Google Drive and offers real-time collaboration features just like Slides, Docs and Sheets. New Sites is also very mobile friendly and highly responsible. Another huge bonus new Sites has over classic Sites is that there are no code required whatsoever. The new Sites is entirely drag and drop, meaning it is very user friendly and fun to use. The new Sites is also highly secure, stable and fast. The Sites team also said in the presentation that Sites is getting even faster due to some backend upgrades. This means that sites and content load faster.

The new and fresh Sites.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
The new Sites is mobile friendly and highly responsive across devices, natively. Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Absolutely no coding required to get a beautiful website.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

Migrating from classic to new?

Sites offers a migration tool to move classic Sites to new Sites. However, the Sites team has been getting some feedback that the migration process is less than ideal and that it often missed content or screws up the formatting. Google is working to improve this tool to make sure the migration goes as smoothly and effortlessly as possible.

Migration tool.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

Companies using Sites has seen this migration as a possibility to clean up their Sites and only migrate over what is actually needed. A simple way to clean is to delete, but with Takeout, Google allows you export the static HTML of websites and then archive them. Starting from scratch may also be a good idea to ensure maximum compatibility and optimal design. This also allows you to make sure that the website content is up to date.

Other migration options.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

Google is also planning to make dashboard that is a central for managing the transition to new Sites. You will be able to see the amount of views the different sites have and who edited them most recently. This dashboard easily creates an overview to see what Sites might not be worth transitioning over. The team is also working on a bulk select feature which allows you to remove multiple Sites at once. Google is also working on a new homescreen to see both new and classic sites instead of showing them independently.

Dashboard and homescreen.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

Research and feedback?

The Sites team has spent a lot of time researching how Sites are being used. They have found out that Sites is very flexible and versatile and offers a bunch of different use cases. They have also listened to customer feedback and identified gaps and opportunities. Customers say that Sites has a strong foundation and there is a lot of room for improvement and growth. They also say they love how simple, easy-to-use and intuitive the new Sites is to use. Sites has a strong userbase and is growing rapidly.

Research based on Sites usage.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Typical use cases.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Don't forget the most important thing about Sites...Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
...but also add new features.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

What's has already been added to new Sites recently?

The new Sites was largely criticized for removing a ton of features that was available in classic Sites. For a long time you couldn't even use your own domain name, which is also what stopped me from using it earlier. However, this was recently made possible in new Sites and it was really easy linking a domain. Section layouts is another addition to the service which allows for even faster website building. Section layouts are templates which allows you to quickly create websites without thinking about the layout. You choose a template and then fill out the placeholder content with your content and voila, you have a great looking website. A small but welcome change to Sites is being able to completely remove the header if you don't want it on your site. Buttons is another addition to Sites which was recently added. Buttons allows you to link to internal content within the site or external links. Further the team also launched a new way to share sites. This means that you can specify exactly who can view the site. Instead of publishing the site to the public you can choose to only let members of the domain view, or specific people.

Section layouts.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Buttons.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Custom publishing.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

What's coming to new Sites?

Google released a blog post earlier this year highlighting the plans for new Sites which you can read here. The team went more in-depth on this blog post during this presentation and I am going to take you through that right now.

Sites should be visually expressive.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

Coming hopefully by the end of 2019 is a very welcome feature called templates. This allows you to start with template instead of a clean canvas. This allows your deploying and designing better looking websites much faster. Templates will come in two different forms, one of them is a gallery made by the Sites team and the other form is that users will be able to make and share templates. This has also been a standard feature for pretty much any drag and drop builder for a very long time, but also documents and sheets. It is nice to see it finally making its way over to Sites.

Templates.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

Soon you will also be able to customize text and text boxes just like in Docs, Slides or Sheets. You will be able to change sizes, color, alignment, spacing and even the font type. You will also be able to make your sites feel and look like your company with corporate branding such as colors, logos and more. Another feature is collapsable text. This is basically text that can be expanded to read more and would be perfect for FAQs. You will also be able to create a slider/carousel of images that users can scroll through.

New features.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

With the rebuilt Google Sites, Google wants to bring more collaboration features. These features are already present in Docs, Sheets and Slides and have been a major productivity boost for schools and businesses. The first feature that is coming is being able to see every change made to a draft since last publish no matter how many have edited. This allows you to know exactly when you are ready to publish. Another feature is revision history. This gives you the possibility to easily revert back to an older version of the site if something happens with the current one. One more feature is being able to review and discuss content on a Site. This is also already present in Docs, Slides and Sheets and will be a making its way over to Sites soon. This feature makes it very easy to get instant feedback on content.

Informed publishing.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Revision history and editor commenting.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

Yet another feature that Google wants to implement is that sites should be current. Sites are easy to create, but they can be difficult to maintain and keep up to date with new information. One such feature is a site badge that tells the user when the site was last edited and by who. The badge also gives you the ability to contact the editor to provide direct feedback.

Revision history and editor commenting.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Site badge.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

The forth focus point for the Sites team is that Sites should be optimized for enterprise. Cloud search is a feature that allows you to use the power of Google Search to instantly search through all the files in the organization or the site using keywords - just like the Google Search we use and love. Cloud Search shows you documents and presentations from Google Drive and even emails from Gmail. This is perfect for searching through company resources and will save a lot of time. Vault integration is also coming to Sites to ensure that businesses meet legislation and compliance needs.

Optimized for enterprise.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Cloud search.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Vault integration.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19
Strong foundation for innovation.Screenshot: Google Cloud Next '19

That's it! A ton of stuff is coming to Sites and I am thrilled to start implementing and using these tools. Make sure to send the Sites team feedback on features and changes you want to see by using this form. Shoutout to the Sites team for absolutely killing it and a major applause to Eric Birnbaum and Brian Groudan for the fantastic presentation and demonstration! You can watch the entire presentation down below:

What was your thoughts on these new features? Do you use Google Sites or do you want to start using Google Sites? Let me know down below!

Please also leave feedback on my writing as my end goal is to improve as much as possible. Thank you so much for reading!