When I first started looking up hosting platforms to create bespoke Client Portals, I couldn't believe the cost. I really wanted my clients to have their own dedicated space where I could keep all of their information in one place in an easy-to-view dashboard. However, the prices of a bespoke portal per client were just too much for a business like mine in the early growth stages.
Quite by accident, I stumbled across Google Sites, and bam, my client portals were born! Google Sites allow people to build websites with no need for coding and what's more, you don't even need to use third-party hosting.
I will say in all honesty, that's about as positive as I can be about the Google Sites interface when it comes to using it as a full-blown website builder. Let's put it this way, my children really wanted to learn how to build a website, so I used Google Sites to show them how because it's that simplistic.
For me, it's great, I don't need it to build an actual website, but if you're looking for an easy customer-facing website that's going to look professional and bring in sales, I don't think Google Sites will do it for you.
Getting back to using Google Sites as a client portal, and it actually works really well, as long as you're using Google Workspace as a whole because, within sites, you can integrate Google Docs, sheets, drives, and more. In fact, it almost feels as though Google Sites was built for internal use only, which works just fine for what I need it for.
Above is an example of what my client portal looks like using Google Sheets. There are various themes you can choose from, and you can upload themes too. You can upload your logo and of course, you can change theme colours and fonts as well as the layout using the drag and drop functions. You can also utilise the search bar using the magnifying glass to allow clients to search their own site. When you name the site, you also create your URL which costs nothing, but is linked to your current workspace, so it makes the URL a little longer, for example, https://sites.google.com/ltvaservices.com/crystal-clear-windows, rather than paying for a domain name which has a simpler URL.
To be honest, I don't think a custom domain is necessary for client portals considering you're not making them public-facing, and the link is only being shared with your client, as it is with mine.
You can create pages and name them whatever you like, then use links to those pages as needed through buttons or URLs. You can also embed code if required, add YouTube videos and of course, the whole plethora of Google Workspace options such as Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, and Charts.
Use content blocks and edit them as you go and add placeholders that you can change so that only certain types of content can be added within them, such as Drive links or images.
For me, I create a Google Drive for my client and then create a link to it in their portal. However, the main purpose of my client portal is to allow my client to be reminded of what our agreed work is with them, who their VA is, and all of their contact info as well as links to their monthly time breakdown, agreement, and links to my website where they can log in and change their plan whenever they like.
We allow our clients to roll over any unused time for up to three months, so rather than just emailing our clients to tell them what they have, we can share that information within the portal, which means if they forget, they can simply visit their site and check.
When it comes to safety, again, the Google Drive you are linking or any Google integrations, will need to have permission links set within them, so even if someone did happen upon a portal that shouldn't be there, even if they tried to open something like a Time Breakdown, it wouldn't open unless they also had permission within that drive. You can add folders within a drive, and add permissions to each one accordingly. So for example, other VAs who have access to a client's drive, won't have access to their agreement which sits in its own folder within the drive.
When you publish the website, you can decide who you allow to view it. For me, I keep it restricted so only those who are invited can view it. But you could also make it public, or restrict it just to members of your organisation.
So, do I think Google Sites works as a website builder designed to offer a professional presence to your customers? No, I don't. Do I think it can be used as an inexpensive way to create a client portal or for sharing a portfolio? Absolutely!
If you can't afford to have a website built and can't even grasp the fundamentals of Squarespace, then Google Sites would work as a website providing information about your business too, it's better than having no website at all.
Give Google Sites a try, you only need a Google Workspace account, and honestly, the rest is pretty simple to figure out. Enjoy!