There is a reason that Google, the company that runs the world’s most popular search engine, has the net worth of more than some small nation states. Its tools are useful for small businesses and integrate well with websites. There is virtually no small business or freelancing need for which the company does not provide a free software solution. Below are five business tools that assume the user has a Google Mail, or Gmail, account.
Google Drive is a cloud storage solution. Google Drive must be installed, and the installation includes 15 gigabytes of free storage. This storage can be used for documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, and slideshow presentations. Because it is cloud storage, these documents are accessible from any web-connected device. The user can organize documents into folders and can modify privacy settings at the document and folder level. Sharing preferences can be set to provide access only to the user, to anyone who has the link, or with the general public. Google Drive provides an easy way to share documents across work groups. Google Docs is a pared down version of the popular desktop publishing suite, Microsoft Office.
Google Docs has now been incorporated into Google Drive. Word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and graphic art solutions provide free alternatives to the more feature-rich solutions found in MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint, and Adobe’s Photoshop, respectively. With a bit of coding savvy, individual documents that are created using Google’s desktop publishing suite can be embedded onto websites as interactive elements.
Google Forms is an additional feature within Google Docs. Forms can be set up as surveys, and then embedded on websites or emailed to subscription lists. When recipients fill out a form, the information is input into a spreadsheet that the creator can access. Google Forms can be used to collect survey results or aggregate contact information. Google Form surveys are not as visually appealing as those on Survey Monkey, for example, but they can be embedded on websites and sent via email to get quick information from subscribers, readers, or employees.
All Google Docs solutions export easily to the Microsoft Office programs whose productivity they mirror. Raw data can be collected via Google tools and data can be organized and presented with more visual sophistication in the more feature-rich software solutions.
Google Maps provides basic directions and maps, but that is the beginning of its functionality. Journalists are finding interactive maps to be useful tools for geography-based data visualizations. The author, in fact, used Google Maps in a recent article to display the 30 U.S. counties where per capita syphilis rates are currently the highest. By grabbing data from a table provided by the Centers for Disease Control and importing it into the map feature, Google Maps created a beautiful map within seconds that included markers that, when clicked, drilled down to rates per male and female populations, as well as year-over-year increases or decreases. Maps can be customized and embedded on websites.
Google URL Shortener turns unwieldy website addresses into 13-character hyperlinked strings. Being able to turn URLs into shorter hyperlinks is useful for applications like Twitter that have character limitations. Twitter allows 140 characters per tweet. Also using an URL shortener like goo.gl, bit.ly, ow.ly, or TinyURL can help standardize the appearance of multiple URLs. In the case of goo.gl, users can see an archive of their previously shortened links. An analytic feature in Google URL Shortener provides statistics about how many times the shortened hyperlinks have been accessed. The analytic page offers an automated QR code for the link. URL stands for universal or uniform resource locator, the address of a website that appears in the search bar.
Though these five tools are some of Google’s most basic, each one offers functionality beyond what many basic users are aware. Again, they are also all free. Criticism exists over the tech giant’s relationship to government spying, censorship, and the manipulation of search results based on who pays more. Nevertheless, with the popular search engine servicing two thirds of all search requests and offering powerful tools like the ones above, one would be hard pressed to not wonder if Google isn’t doing something right.
By Kaley Perkins