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Google Sites an overlooked web space creator for business startups

Challenge: How do you set up an ad-free, no-cost website or intranet for a business?

Solution: Google offers hundreds of online apps and tools, but perhaps the best-kept secret is Google Sites (www.google.com/sites). The service is a web platform creation tool that allows anyone – even someone with zero web programming knowledge – to create compelling, interactive online spaces with a few simple clicks in seconds.

How Google Sites can help your business: You can choose from hundreds of online templates that can be easily customized. With a few keystrokes, you can develop wikis (collaborative websites), intranets, project trackers, training schedulers, digital file cabinets, employee profiles, newsletters and more. The tool is especially helpful for micro-businesses and service operations on a limited or zero budget. Are you a consultant? Select the small consulting firm template and instantly create a website that features a statement of qualifications, online calendar, discussion forum and contact information. Starting a restaurant? Pick the restaurant template and whip up a food blog, menu page and review page in minutes. Working on a team project? Choose the project wiki template and set up a to-do list, time tracker and shared file directory. The service is integrated with other Google products so you can insert maps, videos, photos, spreadsheets, presentations and calendars onto any Google Sites page. The permission settings allow you to designate who can be collaborators (meaning they can create, edit and delete pages) or basic viewers (all they can do is view pages). Who and how many people can access your online space is up to you: open it up to the whole world, restrict it to only your organization or lock it down to just you and a few trusted colleagues. This being a service of Google, all your site's pages and content are also instantly searchable using the Google search technology.

Usage tips: Google Sites comes in two versions – free standalone and subscription. The paid application is bundled inside Google Apps – an online productivity suite that costs $50 per year per user. The key difference: the free account offers 100 megabytes of storage; the subscription version has 10 gigabytes.

Bottom line: While Google Sites won't win any online design awards – the interfaces are modular and the themes basic – the service delivers highly practical, user-friendly and tailored web spaces that are ideal for startups and budget-conscious entrepreneurs.

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