People are always looking for easy ways to improve their SEO efforts. One of the easiest ways to do this is by switching from HTTP to HTTPS. While securing your site won’t instantly boost you to the first page, it is an on-page factor that can increase your rankings quickly without needing to generate optimized content or code.
Implementing an SSL is extremely easy to do in most situations, as WordPress offers a free and effective SSL implementation plugin. Even better, you can get HTTPS on your website for free through most hosting providers. While different types of SSL certificates exist, a basic SSL is included for free by most hosting providers. This includes cheaper hosting providers like HostGator and GoDaddy, as well as industry-standard hosts like WPEngine.
HTTP vs HTTPS for SEO
Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP and HTTPS, are simply structures for receiving HTML web pages. HTTPS follows the same protocol as HTTP, and is simply the secured version. It uses an additional layer of security called the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to safely transport data such as credit card numbers. This secure layer increases trust factors of a domain, which Google cares greatly about.
What is an SSL?
Unlike the protocol for HTTP, HTTPS works along with an SSL to safely transfer information. This is done through encryption, data integrity, and authentication.
- Encryption: Information is encoded in a way that only authorized parties can access
- Integrity: Information that is sent can’t be altered or corrupted in order to ensure accuracy and security.
- Authentication: Parties need to be authenticated to send or receive information through the website.
How Do You Know if You Have an SSL?
Anyone can easily check if a site uses an SSL. Next to the address bar, you will either see an alert symbol (often accompanied by the words “not secure”, or a lock symbol. Secured sites will also show “https” at the beginning of a URL, while sites without an SSL with either show “http” or neither.
How Will Switching to HTTPS Affect SEO?
Switching to HTTPS will have a positive effect on your SEO efforts right away. Simply having an SSL on your site will increase your search rankings, as HTTPS is a trust factor that allows for improved user experience. The SEO impact of HTTPS isn’t major, but it could be the difference between first and second page.
HTTPS as a ranking signal was first introduced and immediately confirmed by Google in August 2014. Google clearly stated that security was a top priority for them, and that they intended to make the entire web run HTTPS. It was initially introduced as a small rankings boost, but since then could be gaining more importance. Most large websites now have an SSL, and it is cheap/easy enough that all webmasters could easily implement one.
By 2016, Google announced that “HTTPS and making sure your site is secure is an imperative at this point” (emphasis is my own). Google Chrome implemented advanced warnings of non-secure pages, and treat them differently in browsers as well as search engines.
In 2019, it is possible that HTTPS affects SEO even more. People today are more concerned than ever with their online security, and even legislation is starting to cover user tracking, cookies, and other online security measures. As online security continues to become more of a hot button issue, expect the importance of having an SSL certificate to grow. While it will never be as important as having quality content or quality backlinks, it is an important trust factor that is worth it due to the lack of cost.
SSL Impact for Ecommerce Sites & YMYL
As with many ranking factors, it’s likely that certain websites are affected more by HTTPS. Ecommerce websites and Your Money Your Life (YMYL) pages could be particularly hurt by not having an SSL. These types of pages each need additional trust to rank well. With ecommerce websites, you need (in Google’s eyes, at least) an SSL to safely transfer money and make online payments. YMYL pages are anything that have a significant impact on your health and well being, and getting proper information from a reliable source is highly important. Because SSL is a trust factor and a security factor, it is increasingly important for search results with these types of pages.
Unsecure Warning for HTTP sites
Perhaps the biggest impact on SEO that comes from a proper SSL certification is avoiding an unsecure warning. On occasion when you attempt to enter a site that is not secure, you’ll get a notification that “attackers might be trying to steal your information from *website name*”. This message appears most often when trying to reach a website using HTTPS that doesn’t have an SSL certificate.
If this message pops up when entering your website, very few people will continue to the page. To make matters worse, many people don’t even know how to proceed to the site. This could be hurting your site drastically by missing out on user-generated ranking signals, and also be hurting your ability to get leads.
Even though you generally won’t get this message when typing in an address that includes “http”, Google search results will automatically attempt to redirect to HTTPS on occasion, as will Google Ads and Facebook Ads. For this reason, it is very important to secure your site with an SSL certificate.
SEO Risks of Switching to HTTPS
Everyone agrees that an SSL gives at least a slight rankings boost, and that there aren’t an negatives to using an SSL if it is correctly implemented. The absolute worst thing that could happen is a temporary rankings drop immediately after the switch, but even this is unlikely. While it is pretty easy to implement an SSL certificate on your site, there are a few things that could go wrong and hurt your SEO efforts.
The biggest concern is Google recognizing your pages as new pages now that they have a different URL. This shouldn’t be an issue as long as you set up your server redirects properly.
Google gave recommendations for properly switching from HTTP to HTTPS without losing any rankings, which can be seen here. If you follow these steps correctly, you should be able to switch without any issue.
Depending on your content management system, there may be some additional steps to follow or helpful plugins. If you want assistance setting up an SSL certificate on your site, the first step would be contacting your hosting provider. They will likely have a guide in place to help you implement it without any issue.
While implementing an SSL on your site isn’t the biggest ranking factor, it is a quick and easy way to experience a slight rankings boost. It could also help you bring more people to your site who might be getting danger messages, and also help secure your customer’s data. While you’re at it, be sure to check out some other ranking factors to help you make it to the first page!