Google announced that the company will be boosting the search engine rankings of websites that use HTTPS. This is a rare and significant announcement as the search engine giant does not normally broadcast new ranking signals. The reasoning behind the new ranking signal is security. Let’s take a look at what this means for website owners and if it will impact SEO.
What is HTTPS?
HTTPS is an acronym for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure. HTTPS enables secure encrypted connections over the Internet between your browser and the web server. The encryption provided by HTTPS running over TLS (Transport Layer Security) is designed to provide the benefits of:
- Authentication– To make sure that the servers who you are talking to over Internet are who they say they are.
- Data Integrity – To make certain that the data has not been modified in transit.
- Encryption – To protects Internet conversions from ease dropping.
Some people may recognize the HTTPS in the address bar of their browser or the padlock when they shop or do their banking online. In essence, the use of HTTPS protects the integrity and confidentiality of users’ data.
Google’s Top Priority
Google has been very clear that security is a top priority. The company has been experimenting with tests “over the past few months” and received positive results. To help make the web a more secure place, Google has decided to reward those with a similar mission. According to the official Google Online Security Blog:
“For now it’s only a very lightweight signal—affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content—while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS.”
You may be thinking why you would make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS if only 1% of global queries are affected. Will making the change on your website be worth the time and energy? Here are 9 things you need to know:
The Ugly Truth About Migrating Your Website to HTTPS
- You Will Need to Do It Right – Google has explained that if you switch your website to HTPPS properly, there will be no downside. If you are not sure that you have the technical skills to make the migration properly, you may want to enlist the help of a professional.
- Time Requirement – Migrating your website from HTTP to HTTPS will take time to complete it properly.
- It Costs Money – SSL certificates cost money. A SSL certificate is required to enable the HTTPS on a web site. A few SSL certificate providers include Comodo, Trustwave, Entrust, Geotrust, and Verisign. Prices vary from provider to provider. For example, a Comodo Standard SSL that offers domain validation through Newtek Web Hosting is $29.99 per year. Installation fees may apply.
Update: Check with your web host to see what they offer. Some hosts are offering the ability to use Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates. It is a free, automated, and open certificate authority by the non-profit Internet Security Research Group (ISRG).
- Instead of http://yoursite.com/image/apple.jpg, you can edit it to: //yoursite.com/image/apple/jpg.
For those familiar with phpMyAdmin, you can use SQL queries to find and replace. A word of caution: always back up your database before making any changes.
- 301 Redirects – You will want to implement 301 redirects from the HTTP to the HTTPS version of your domain name to be certain that you are telling the search engines that the site is permanently moved to a new address.
- Social Sharing Counts – Unfortunately, social sharing program numbers for popular WordPress plugins may restart when you change to the HTTPS version of your domain name.
Update: Social Warfare offers the ability to preserve social shares when changing URLs after migrating to HTTPS. For more, please see: Social Warfare Plugin Review: Supercharged Social Sharing.
- Test, Test and Test Again – After you have made the edits, you will want to conduct tests to be certain all is working properly.
- Google recommends testing the security level and configuration with the Qualys Lab tool.
- If you notice a security warning in your browser when testing your page, the tool at Why No Padlock will help you determine any insecure links are still present on your website.
For example, while preparing our website for the HTTPS migration, my tests showed that two URLs generated by the popular plugin, Digg Digg, were causing insecure connections for Pinterest and Buffer.
- Google Webmaster Tools Addition
After the migration is complete, you will want to add the HTTPS version of your website to your Google Webmaster Tools Account, verify it and select it as your preferred domain.
- Update Incoming Links
Google recommends that after you have made switch to start trying to “update as many incoming links as possible” including
- External links: Make a list of sites that link to your website and attempt to reach out to them and ask them to update their links to include your new HTTPS address.
- Google+ profile Authorship “Contributor to” links.
- Social media profile links including Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- What Google Says Goes
You may be thinking that the switching your website from the HTTP to HTTPS is too much work. Or, if switching is worth it if this new “lightweight” ranking single only impacts 1% of global queries. On the other hand, you may be concerned that what Google says, goes, and it may be time to start the process or be left in the dust. The good news is that Google has stated that it is giving webmasters time to switch to HTTPS,
“But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”
Big Guys Who Have Made the Switch
Big guys in the SEO community are taking heed to Google’s recommendation and have made the switch from HTTP to HTTPS including:
Google’s Best Practices
Google has stated that in the coming weeks, they will “publish detailed best practices to make TLS (Transport Layer Security) adoption easier”, and tips to avoid common mistakes. Current recommendations are at Google Online Security Blog.
Google’s announcement of including the use of HTTPS as a ranking signal in their algorithm has brought a great deal of discussion among the SEO community. There are a number of edits that website owners will need to make to make the switch. Is it all worth it? What Google says usually goes, and the search engine giant is giving webmasters time to make the switch.
How about you? Are you ready to make the switch and help make the web more secure? Or will you be putting this on the back burner for now?
More from Google
Google I/O 2014 – HTTPS Everywhere