This isn’t the first time that Google has given us what it hopes is the best website building service out there – after all, Blogger is still around and powers many websites, and there’s also Google Sites (including we updated the review recently) but this Website Builder is geared more towards businesses, helping them manage their online presence and do business virtually.
The attractive yet simple landing page for Google website builder illustrates how this service is optimized and mobile-friendly from the start. Your site will be hosted on [yourbusinessname].business.site (with an option to link it to a custom domain name if desired). Being hosted by Google, it will come as no surprise that your site can take advantage of this behemoth’s other services, such as search and maps, and be up and running in no time. So let’s take a look and see if what you’re getting is worth the hype.
When you sign in, you’re prompted to locate your business – which may already be listed in Google’s extensive knowledge repository. If not, just click on “Create a business with this name”.
Google then walks you through the basic setup – you choose your business category (which you can add or change later), select whether or not you want your business location to be visible on Google Maps, specify the region of the world that your business serves for and provide your telephone number. Once all of this is done, after a few seconds your Google My Business section will be open and ready for you to start customizing it.
You will immediately be taken to the Website section of the sidebar, where you can quickly select from 10 different themes for your site (a mix of colors and font styles). There doesn’t seem to be an option to further customize these colors or fonts. It’s a choice of 10 packages, and that’s it.
This is also the section you use to edit the default text on your page and edit the default photos (surprisingly you don’t seem to be able to retrieve stock images from this interface – only stock images on your computer).
Adding a photo is easy, but you actually have no editing capabilities, not even cropping. Click “Edit Header Photo” and you are returned to the upload section.
This lack of personalization is felt throughout the service. Maybe it’s because it’s designed to get your business online quickly and efficiently, but that limits the most creative website designer. On the positive side, it can be a boon for those who just want to get their information online and get on with their business.
With that in mind, head over to “Info” to add your hours of operation, a description of your business, that sort of thing. The sidebar also contains a link to create a new post and enable messaging (so your customers can contact you).
Blogging or promoting?
This concept of no frills, no nonsense, not much customization is exemplified by the Post section. If you’re used to other website builders, you’d be forgiven for thinking this would lead you to a blogging tool, but the first time you click on it, the truth will be revealed. Google only gives you a handful of options: you can add a “special offer” article, create a “what’s new” post, announce an “event” or, as a sign of the times we live in, working on a ‘COVID-19 Update’…
To illustrate how scarce your options are, take a look at the special offer in particular. You have three fields to enter the details of said offer, the start and end of the promotion, and a coupon to redeem.
It’s not a blog – it’s a promotional tool to showcase parts of your business to your customer base.
You can add up to ten photos per post, and write a few words. You have absolutely no formatting options when writing. Forget bold or italicized words, and don’t even think about embedding a URL.
You can however add a button at the end of your message with a pre-determined text such as ‘Book’, ‘Order online’, ‘Buy’, ‘Learn more’ and ‘Register’, but it is then up to you locate the appropriate URL and add it to your button. There is no convenient drop-down menu that would link you to other pages on your site.
Products and services
Since this service is all about promoting your business and selling your skills and wares, let’s explore the e-commerce side of things… except you can’t do that anymore. When we last explored the features of this service, a very rudimentary online store was available. Not anymore.
The services are still there. You can add as many as you offer and include custom pricing and description for each. There’s no place to add a photo, but again, you don’t really need a photo for a service that can be described perfectly by its title.
If your business spans multiple categories, you also have the option to add as many as you want. But the main problem is once you’ve set up your services, how do you get customers to pay for them?
Intrigued by this, we went to explore the support pages. These offer links to many similar questions you may have. We looked at “order online” and saw a myriad of people as confused as we were. There doesn’t seem to be any apparent way to handle payment or even just a link to an existing PayPal account, for example.
We expected more from Google. There are many website builders that provide affordable services with a good blogging tool and a competent integrated online store. Yes, you often have to pay for them, but some are actually free and look spectacular compared to this offering from Google. You may be looking for the epitome of “you get what you pay for”.
We are of the opinion that although it has promising aspects, this service is not yet ready for prime time.