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I find the site layout and theming capabilities in Google Sites (found in the Manage Site screen) very limited; for instance, I do not seem to be able to place the horizontal navigation buttons directly to the right of the logo and to customize their style, as well as to use the standard trick of making a horizontally stretchable background image of a box with rounded corners by splitting it into three parts and replicating the middle one, etc.

Am I missing something? Are there any advanced settings available? Thanks.

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You can't do it. Well, you can't do it for everyone.

Simply put, Google Sites is meant to be a really simple and easy to use product with limited customization. It's not made for you to be able to make really powerful websites, it's made to give you an easy and quick website.

If you want to change it, there are options for yourself like a userstyle for your browser, but that won't change it for everyone.

If you want something more customizable, I would suggest moving to WordPress

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I tried hard a few times to use google sites, but it ended up being more work trying to change the look and feel to the way you want than actually creating content for it.

You will find amazing alternatives that are also free that allow you much more power, and even will let you export your site as normal html files (so you can host it somewhere else):

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