Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Google Sites: how to create public site and map it to WWW sub-domain

If you followed instruction from the previous articles Google Apps: how to create and map it to your own domain you already should have Free Google Apps account linked to your own domain name.

So, now we are ready to go further and implement something really significant: your own publicly accessible Site on your own domain. For example, in our case it could be www.some-company-name.com

Actually, you will be able to create any number of sites on several sub-domains  as, for example, one site dedicated to your customers and another dedicated to your partners. Something like this:
  • for-partners.some-company-name.com
  • for-customers.some-company-name.com
Your site can consist just from one page or can include several ones, or even can consist of several parts, with several pages in each part. Google Sites service allows you to have not only static pages with text and images but also it allows you to add some interactive components to your pages or some elements integrated with other Google products. And all these require no special knowledge or experience from you.

Of course these components have some restrictions but should meet the needs of the most of you.
We can say that implement your own site will not be difficultly than compose Word document or PowerPoint presentation.

Your site also not necessarily should be public - you have several options to restrict access to your site according to your requirements.

Let’s start! Please follow our instructions.
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1. Login into your Google Apps account

If you not logged into your Google Apps account you have to do this first. One of the way to do so is entering special URL in the address bar (omnibox) of your browser.

Please enter such URL  https://www.google.com/a/some-company-name.com where you have  to replace some-company-name.com by your own domain name.
Don't forget to press Enter in order to load this page. If you compose URL properly you will see Sign in page to your Google apps account.

Login into your Google Apps account
Sign in using your Username and Password. After that or if you still signed in after previous session you will see Dashboard screen of your Google Apps Admin Control Panel
Dashboard screen of your Google Apps Admin Control Panel

There are several ways how you can access Sites service. Most simple is just click the Sites link in the top navigation menu. Or alternatively you can use such URL https://sites.google.com/a/some-company-name.com directly (you have to replace some-company-name.com by your own domain name).
Later we will do some setting, in order to allow you to use simpler URL to get to the sites management functions.

But now let’s start creating your first site. Let’s click CREATE button to start.
Dashboard screen of your Google Apps Admin Control Panel
On the next screen you have to fill main attributes of your site. You also can select a theme for your site or use one of already existed templates. We will return to templates later, but for beginning it will be wisely to keep things simple and use defaults wherever possible.
So, let’s start from Blank template and default Theme. Please enter the 'www' in the Name your site field and the same values will be mirrored in the Site location. It is not necessary to use the same values, but let's leave all as it is for definiteness and click the CREATE button.
Dashboard screen of your Google Apps Admin Control Panel

Congratulation! You just created your new site.

2. Add some simple content and one more page

For now our site consist just of Home page and automatically generated Sitemap page. Let’s change content of this Home page and then we will add one another page to the site. Please press Edit button (one with pen icon) to start editing the current page.
Google Sites: add some content and one more page
You can update your page Title and add some text to the content area of the page (just for example 'Some new content for my Home Page...' text).

By using this page Editor you can change layout and content of the page in many different ways.
  • You can Insert some common elements: such as Image, Link, List, Table and so on, insert some more sophisticated Gadgets or some elements related to other Google products: Calendar, Document, Picasa Photo, and so on.
  • You can change the Layout of page by using one of layout schemes.
  • Also you can format text placed on your page in many ways.
  • And finally you can view and edit your page as HTML if you know that it means.
But for now we restrict ourselves by already implemented updates of page title and content. Just push the Save button to continue.
Google Sites: add some content and one more page
Next we will add one new page. Click New page button (one with page and plus sign icon on it).
Google Sites: add some content and one more page
On the opened screen enter some value in the Name your page field - it can be 'About', for example. Please pay attention that this name will be the Title of the new page but also this will be the part of the URL of your new page. But if you would like you can change the URL separately by clicking on change URL link.
Google Sites: add some content and one more page

Leave other things unchanged and click to the CREATE button.
Google Sites: add some content and one more page
You can see that newly created page is differing from the previous page. The reason is that it was created from different Template. Newly created page is created from Web Page template since the initial Home page was created from Start Page template.

Now if you would like, you can edit this About page and change its content just as we did with the Home page before.

3. Make site public

Next we have to make our site publicly available.
Start from clicking on the More menu button and then select the Manage site menu item in the Site actions section of the dropdown menu.
Google Sites: make site public
Here you can change your Site name from 'www' to something more meaningful (you have to click SAVE button to store this change).
Google Sites: make site public
But our main goal here is to make our site publicly accessible. So, please click to the Sharing and Permissions link in the left navigation menu.
Google Sites: make site public
Then click Change… link on the opened screen.
Google Sites: make site public

Select Public on the web from the Visibility options and finally click Save button.

For now your site actually publicly accessible on the web and anyone on the Internet can find and view it.

But it still can be accessed only by this ugly URL http://sites.google.com/a/some-company-name.com/www/ which you can see in the browser address bar while editing your site. Although you actually can give this URL to anybody and he / she really will be able to open your site by using this URL, but it cannot be called simply and friendly experience.

You can experiment with this URL and that’s how your site will be looked if somebody will open this URL:
Google Sites: make site public

So, next we have to map your site to your domain, in order to make it accessible by more simple and friendly name, like www.some-company-name.com as example.

4. Customize a public site’s web address

Initially, site’s web address is https://sites.google.com/a/some-company-name.com/your-site, where 'your-site' is the name of the particular site ('www' in our case). If you want to have more suitable address for public sites, you can create a shorter address such as www.some-company-name.com. You can do this by mapping initial web address to some sub-domain.

In order to this we have start from opening Admin Control Panel for your Google Apps as we did it the first step in this article.
Google Sites: Customize a public site’s web address

Next we have to:
  • Click Settings link in the horizontal menu.
  • Then click Sites link in the left vertical menu.
  • Select Web Address Mapping tab.
  • And finally click to the Add a new web address link.
Google Sites: Customize a public site’s web address
Next enter the same 'www' value in the Site Location and Web Address fields. So, you can realize that you actually can name your site as you want and also map it to any sub-domain name of your domain.

Next click Save changes button.
Google Sites: Customize a public site’s web address

After that you will see this strange 'Changing CNAME record' instruction. Please don't be confused by it. Iindeed, it is not as complex as it might seem. It just says that you have to go to your DNS management account and map one of your sub-domain ('www' in this case) to the particular address from Google infrastructure (ghs.google.com). In one of the next articles we will discuss deeper this and other questions related to the proper DNS configuring, but for now the good news: if you registered your domain according to instructions from previous article and now use 'www' as sub-domain of your site, then you nothing more have to do with this instruction, just click the I've completed these steps button. The reason is that Google already have created this and some other useful settings for you when it registered domain for you.

So, that’s all and you can test it by clicking the link to your public 'www' site.
Google Sites: Customize a public site’s web address

And you will see it opened in the new window.
Google Sites: Customize a public site’s web address
Congratulations! Your first public site is up and it is publicly accessible by convenient URL.

But what if somebody will try to open your domain without 'www' prefix, by using so called naked domain? (just as some-company-name.com for example)

For now he will get 404 error page: "The requested URL was not found on this server". It is not good because we usually expect to get to the same site by using URL with or without 'www' prefix. And we really can implement such behavior for your site too.

5. Redirect your naked domain

Next we will manage where your users are redirected to when they type in your so called naked domain (such as http://some-company-name.com).
In order to so you have to navigate to the Domain settings / Domain names and click to the Redirect your naked domain link.
Google Sites: Redirect your naked domain
In the next screen enter 'www' (or any other configured sub-domain) and click Continue button.
Google Sites: Redirect your naked domain
After that you will see again some instructions about Changing the A-record for your domain. But if you following our articles from the beginning and, in particular, registered your domain according our instructions and use 'www' as sub-domain - you again can just omit this screen without any actions because everything should already be configured by Google in proper way. We will return to the questions related to proper DNS configuring for your domain in one of next articles.
Google Sites: Redirect your naked domain

Google Sites: Redirect your naked domain
You can test your naked domain redirection by entering it in the browser address bar, you will have to get the same result as if you use the URL with 'www' sub-domain prefix.

What's Next

For now you have template of your first publicly available site located on the 'www' sub-domain of your domain which also accessible by using so called naked domain (your domain name without any prefix).

You can return to the beginning of this article and walk through it again but now you can recreate your site by using some of the existed templates or to do some other customization of it. In one of the next articles we plan to investigate these more rich approaches which offered by Google Sites service.

Also, if you plan not just place some static information to your site but regularly publish news or articles, you have to consider so called blog approach and use for this Google Blogger service. This service also integrated with Google Apps and thus it allows you to link some of your sub-domain (‘blog’ for example) to your blog in familiar way. But we will talk about that in the next article.