Monday, 15 July 2013

Whipping Up a Quick Site

Recently I helped set up a quick site along the lines of a proof of concept for a community type site and had decided to use Google Sites and we were very well rewarded with the richness of what is readily available after getting a bit used to how everything is put together.

I feel like there is almost no technical knowledge required, it just takes a bit of getting used to. Not much, but some. When you are first trying to layout your site, you have to poke around for a bit to figure out what things need to be changed on the page, the page layout, the page template, or the site layout. I don't want to do a mock-up and the site we put together will get taken down too soon to be used as a reference - as long as you have some idea for a layout for the site you want, you can make it in Google Sites. Sketch it out on paper works fine, just fine. There will be a couple places where some HTML knowledge is useful, not necessary but useful if you want something too align or look a very specific way.

Now for the cool stuff.

Site templates - there are a bounty of free site templates everything from generic Pokemon theme to a complete Strata community site with calendars and council meeting minutes etc. 

And if you can't readily find a site template that helps get you started, it is super easy to put a site together even from scratch. Managing the site layout and using page templates make building your site very fast. You get the look and feel you want for your pages together quickly so you can work on the content. A handy trick with your page templates is you can give a default "parent" page so you can create many pages in one section.

In your site layout, you can have a main navigation bar. The nav bar you put together manually putting your main pages and sections. When you put sub-pages in the main nav bar, it makes nice little pull-down menus. It sure beats the stock left-hand nav section which lists all your pages in alphabetical order - get rid of that ugly thing.

And then there's the widgets. The best integration on Google Sites is obviously Google's other products: Calendar and Docs. An event or other calendar can be dropped right in your site and then regular sharing rules apply.

One of the features of Google Docs (or is it Drive now?) that is particularly useful for your site is the "forms". You can create contact forms, polling data, and probably a lot more than I've seen in my quick tour. 

The contact form is interesting because what you can do is change the form responses to send notifications for when it is filled out. This will give you a stock contact form so you don't have to put an email address on the site and only takes a minute or two to put up.

Any information your gathering like from a poll comes with rich analytics out of the box. The form responses have full reports on response selection and trending. Which you can publish or not as appropriate.

Lastly I will mention you can of course use your own domain for the site. Anonymous visitors to your site will see the custom domain. Users logged in to sites will be instead redirected to sites.google.com/a/sitename/page/blah/blah/blah... 

Super quick and easy. 

Google Sites is "free" so remember "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product."

... And even if you pay for the product, you may still be the product.

</rant>

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