Back in August of last year Google officially announced that switching your website over to HTTPS will give you a minor ranking boost.
So it’s that simple, right? If Google says to do it, then let’s do it.
For most companies, this is exactly the right mentality, but it’s still important to understand what the difference is between HTTP and HTTPS, how to make the switch, and if making the switch is right for your company in the first place.
Ultimately, it’s important to ask yourself several questions: Why does Google prefer HTTPS for SEO rankings? What are the SEO benefits of HTTPS?
This is part 2 of our discussion…
Several browsers now show ‘not secure’ messages when your site doesn’t have an HTTPS connection or when you try to send data via HTTP on your HTTPS site. Don’t forget, it’s easy to scare off visitors! Wouldn’t you switch over to the site of a competitor when you’d see something like the ‘not secure’ message in the screenshot below?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google prefers sites that are trusted and certified.
This is because users can be guaranteed that the site will encrypt their information for that extra level of security. However, you should understand that getting a certificate can be an involved task (which is why it allows for higher ranking benefits).
Breaking it down: When a site goes through the motions of obtaining a certificate, the issuer becomes a trusted third party. When your browser recognizes a secure Web site, it uses the information in the certificate to verify that the site is what it claims to be. A user who knows the difference between HTTP and HTTPS can now buy with confidence, and thus, businesses can engage in electronic commerce because of this credibility.
With the announcement I addressed in the beginning, Google is now using HTTPS as a ranking signal. It is pretty clear from data analysis that HTTPS sites have a ranking advantage over HTTP-URLs so this switch will now benefit all companies, confidential information or not.
Looking a bit closer
To get a little bit more detailed, data sent using HTTPS is secured via Transport Layer Security protocol (TLS), which provides three key layers of protection:
- Encryption. Encrypting the exchanged data to keep it secure.
- Data Integrity. Data cannot be modified or corrupted during transfer without being detected.
Authentication proves that your users communicate with the intended website.
- Google claims that websites who use HTTPS will have a small ranking benefit because of these security aspects.
Still, HTTPS sites will only have the benefit of a “very lightweight signal” within the overall ranking algorithm, carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content.
According to Search Engine Land, Google said that based on their initial tests the HTTPS signal showed “positive results” in terms of relevancy and ranking in Google’s search results.
That same article predicted that this may change eventually, and Google may decide to strengthen the signal or give more ranking benefits to secure sites because they want to keep online users secure.
SEO Advantages of Switching to HTTPS
It is clear that HTTPS offers security, so it is definitely the choice to put you in Google’s good graces. There are also some additional SEO benefits for you to consider.
1. Increased rankings.
The obvious one. As stated, Google has confirmed the slight ranking boost of HTTPS sites. Like most ranking signals, it is very hard to isolate on its own, but this is still something to keep in mind. On the plus side, the value of switching is very likely to increase over time.
2. Referrer Data.
When traffic passes to a secure site, the secure referral information is preserved. This is unlike what happens when traffic passes through an HTTP site, and it is stripped away and looks as though it is “direct.”
3. Security and privacy.
HTTPS adds security for your SEO goals and website in several ways:
- Verifies that the website is the one the server supposedly is talking to.
- Prevents tampering by third parties.
- It makes your site more secure for visitors.
- Encrypts all communication, including URLs, which protects things like browsing history and credit card numbers.
So Are There Any SEO Concerns in Switching to HTTPS?
You really shouldn’t be concerned with switching from HTTP to HTTPS in terms of SEO. Google has been telling webmasters it is safe to do so for years. However, you do need to go through the motions to ensure your traffic doesn’t suffer.
Make sure to communicate to Google that you moved your site from HTTP to HTTPS.
Google has provided the following tips for best practices when switching to HTTPS:
- Decide the kind of certificate you need: single, multi-domain or wildcard certificate
- Use 2048-bit key certificates
- Prefer relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain
- Use protocol relative URLs for all other domains
- Check out our site move article for more guidelines on how to change your website’s address
- Don’t block your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txtAllow indexing of your pages by search engines where possible.
- Avoid the no index robots meta tag.
- Google has also updated Google Webmaster Tools to better handle HTTPSsites and the reporting on them.
- Track your migration carefully in your analytics software and within Google Webmaster Tools.
- In addition to the Google Support resources, I highly recommend reading a condensed introduction to HTTP/HTTPS and some tips on changing over to SSL/HTTPS here before starting.
This is usually something an IT professional can get through quickly, but it can sometimes be overwhelming for someone who may not have an IT background.
See you next time…