Do you remember the time (a few years ago) when Google announced that switching your website over to HTTPS will give you a slight ranking boost?
We got used to following Google’s recommendations, didn’t we? Indeed, this is the right way of thinking for most companies, but are you sure that you understand what is the difference between HTTP and HTTPS, how to make this switch, and if making it is the right solution for your company?
So, this article will explain why Google prefers HTTPS for SEO rankings and what are the SEO benefits of HTTPS.
BTW, there are some SEO concerns you need to consider before changing to HTTPS.
HTTP vs. HTTPS: the Basics
It doesn’t matter whether you are a user or a developer, your online experience involves dealing with a trusted third-party and good encryption.
I am sure you want to know exactly how to achieve this and figure out why Google favors these website elements and why you should favor them too. But you need to learn the difference between HTTP and HTTPS at first and I’m going to explain it down below.
HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol
Hypertext Transfer Protocol or HTTP is a system for transmitting and receiving information across the Internet. HTTP is an “application layer protocol,” which means that it is focused on how information is presented to the user. Please note that this option doesn’t really care how data gets from Point A to Point B.
HTTP is “stateless”. This means it doesn’t attempt to remember details of your previous web session. The benefit of being stateless is the increased speed as there is fewer data to send.
Benefits of HTTP
HTTP is most commonly used to access HTML pages. Other resources can also be utilized through accessing HTTP. This way most of the websites that did not contain confidential information like credit card info set up their websites.
HTTPS: Secure HyperText Transfer Protocol
HTTPS or “secure HTTP” was developed specifically for authorization and secured transactions. Just agree that exchanging confidential information requires utmost security as this helps to prevent unauthorized access. HTTPS is similar to HTTP in many ways. It’s not surprising as it follows the same basic protocols. For instance, a web browser, being one of the HTTP or HTTPS clients, connects to a server on a standard port. However, here HTTPS offers extra security because it uses SSL for moving data.
It’s safe to say that HTTPS is HTTP, just a more secure version.
For nerds who want to get technical, the main difference between HTTP and HTTPS is that the latter uses TCP Port 443 by default. The takeaway is that HTTP and HTTPS are two separate communications.
What’s more, HTTPS works in conjunction with another protocol, Secure Sockets Layer or SSL to transport data safely. And this is really the main difference between them that Google cares about.
Both HTTP and HTTPS don’t care about the way data gets to its destination. In contrast, SSL doesn’t care what the data looks like while HTTP does.
That is why I say that HTTPS offers the best of both worlds. It cares about what the user sees, but also offers extra security when it moves data from point A to point B.
What Google “thinks” about HTTPS
The answer is easy to predict: Google prefers trusted & certified sites.
This happens because users get a kind of guarantee that the site will encrypt their information for an extra security level. BTW, getting a certificate is not a super simple process, but higher ranking benefits are worth your efforts.
More details on the process: Supposing a site is obtaining a certificate, so the issuer becomes a trusted third party. When your browser recognizes a secure website, it processes the information available in the certificate to verify that the site is exactly what it claims to be. Users who know the difference between HTTP and HTTPS can now be confident when they purchase online, and businesses can start eCommerce and look credible.
As I have already mentioned above, Google is now taking HTTPS as a ranking signal. According to data analysis, HTTPS sites have a ranking advantage over HTTP-URLs, so even if your company doesn’t deal with confidential information, it will benefit from this switch.
Getting more specific, data sent using HTTPS is secured via Transport Layer Security protocol. TLS provides three key layers of protection:
- It encrypts the exchanged data to keep it secure.
- It keeps the data integral. This means that data cannot be modified or corrupted during transfer without being detected.
- The authentication feature proves that your users communicate with the intended website.
Because of these security aspects, Google claims to give websites that use HTTPS a small ranking benefit.
Still, HTTPS’ benefit is rather “lightweight” within the overall ranking algorithm. It has less weight than signals like high-quality content.
To switch or not to switch: SEO advantages of HTTPS
You already know that HTTPS offers security, so it should definitely be your choice if you want to deserve Google’s good graces. Though, there are more SEO benefits to consider.
1. We have already discussed the benefits #1 – increased rankings. This obvious one was stated by Google. It’s really hard to isolate this ranking signal on its own, but it is the thing to keep in mind. The good news is that the value of switching to HTTPS is likely to increase over time.
2. Referrer data. When traffic passes to an HTTPS site, the secure referral information is preserved. This does not happen when traffic passes through an HTTP site. It is stripped away and looks as though it is “direct.”
3. HTTPS adds security and privacy for your SEO goals and website in the following ways:
- It verifies that the website is the one on the server it is supposed to be connecting to.
- It prevents tampering by third parties.
- It makes your site more secure for visitors.
- It encrypts all communication, including URLs, which protects personal things like browsing history and credit card numbers.
SEO concerns in switching to HTTPS
To tell you the truth, you shouldn’t be concerned with switching from HTTP to HTTPS in terms of SEO. Google asserts that it’s absolutely safe. Nevertheless, you need to take some precautionary measures to make sure that you won’t lose your traffic.
Make sure to read Google’s suggestions when moving your site from HTTP to HTTPS.
Here are tips for best practices provided by Google when switching to HTTPS:
- Decide what kind of certificate you need: single, multi-domain, or wildcard
- Use 2048-bit key certificates
- Use relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain
- Use protocol relative URLs for all other domains
- Don’t block your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt
- Allow 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 HTTPS sites and the reporting on them.
- Track your HTTP to HTTPS migration carefully in your analytics software and within Google Webmaster Tools.
I also recommend you to study Google Support resources and read a brief introduction to HTTP/HTTPS along with some tips on changing over to SSL/HTTPS before getting started.
If you are not an IT pro and the info seems a bit overwhelming for you at the moment, take a look at the quick list of steps to get an outline of the process:
- Provide your CSR: you need to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) on your web server.
- Select the server software used to generate the CSR.
- Select the hash algorithm you prefer to use.
- Select the validity period for your Certificate.
The clear takeaway here is that switching to HTTPS will help you win the Google graces. We have discussed major SEO benefits in this article. The key point is that HTTPS is a far more secure system for your website to operate. Your resource and your users’ security is the essential aspect of switching from HTTP to HTTPS.
Of course, HTTPS is good not only for security but for referrer data and other SEO strategies. Taking into account what Google is likely to do with HTTPS in the future, I recommend switching over to HTTPS asap as you want to keep up with Google, don’t you?
In case you had already switched over to HTTPS and seen positive (maybe negative, who knows…) results, please share your experience along with analytical data (if this switch is helping your SEO) in the comments.