Not long ago, having a HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) website was the norm. However, the passing of time has proven that these type of sites were not as secure as we thought and wanted them to be. So, Google stepped up and announced a new measurement, which aims at protecting both the websites’ owners and their users from hacking attempts. As a result, we see more and more HTTPS sites today. The question most web owners ask at this point is how, and whether, switching from HTTP to HTTPS may affect their SEO efforts. Here are all the details to know.
What is HTTPS?
The difference between HTTP and HTTPS may only be a letter, but that “s” at the end of the “https” part of a URL can play a key role in your website’s performance. That “s” stands for “Security”. HTTPS websites include the SSL 2048-bit key, which is an added layer of security in the communication between your web server and users (a browser), and can protect your website connection through encryption and authentication. Encryption ensures that users’ information cannot be stolen. It also protects files transferred from users from being corrupted (aka data integrity). Finally, encryption also makes sure that their activity cannot be tracked. As for authentication, it helps build user trust as it protects a user’s connection against cyber attacks.
To activate the https protocol, you need an SSL certificate, which will allow that secure connection mentioned above. Here is how that certificate can affect SEO.
How HTTPS Helps SEO
Website security can play a vital role in your website rankings and traffic (even your conversions).
Website traffic is the number of visitors a website receives. The more traffic you have, the more you increase the potential of a sale (turning visitors into paying customers). One of the ways to get more traffic is through better rankings (will talk about that right after this section). Having a secure website can make users feel safer to visit your site, when they are looking at the search results, and buy from you. Admittedly, for more and more users, that green padlock sign showcased before a HTTPS website’s name (URL line) is a signal of authority and trust that makes them want to click that website over other non-secure sites. This, in turns, improves the CTR (click-through-rate).
This HTTPS thing became the talk of town some 3 years ago, when Google changed/updated their algorithms across the board. Back then, HTTPS websites did not experience significant ranking boosts, but Google left hints that they will soon favour HTTPS sites way more than HTTP ones. This actually started happening in 2015, when HTTPS websites that were performing the same with their HTTP competitors were ranked ahead of their HTTP counterparts.
Today, HTTPS is a ranking signal for Google. See for yourself. If you take a look at Google’s page one organic results (results not including the ads), you will realize that almost half of these results feature an HTTPS website; a percentage that could climb to almost 70% by the end of this year.
Are there correlations between HTTPS and higher search rankings? According to a study that analysed 1 million Google search results, the correlation between HTTPS and higher rankings was reasonably strong. Another study has also found a moderate correlation between those two.
Considering the fact that only a mere 0.3% of websites have switched to HTTPS, you can clearly see the opportunity to get ahead here, right? However, keep in mind that gaining and retaining a page-one real estate requires coordinated work that involves much more than just migrating from HTTP to HTTPS. Nevertheless, going with Google’s suggestion can certainly act as a tie breaker, given that their algorithm clearly supports HTTPS sites.
A European survey has shown that almost 2/3 of users are concerned about their information being misused online while another 84% would ditch a purchase if their data was sent over an insecure connection. This means that people need to trust a website before moving forward with making a purchase. They need trusted, secure connections. And, since the success of an online business is about providing users with the best online experience – to eventually rank better in Google search results – it is paramount to be able to address users’ concerns and ensure they get exactly what they need. This is the best way to create a loyal following that will be become your best brand advocates and, of course, buy from you. Long story short, the safer you make your customers feel (and pampered), the more they will keep coming back and spreading the word about your business.
Besides affecting SEO, switching from HTTP to HTTPS has become a more intense need than ever, especially for Chrome users as Chrome now labels websites as secure and not secure, making it pretty obvious when a site is not safe. How can you identify these websites? By checking out their URL bar. HTTPS sites have a non-secure security indicator (red triangle). This means that every time a user is about to enter text into a form on an HTTP website, including HTTP pages in incognito mode, they get a warning that they are not using a secure website. Imagine the damage this can do to, say, an eCommerce site! Who would want to share private information, such as credit card details with a website with that indicator?
Although having a HTTPS website will not make or break your rankings significantly, at the moment, at least, everything shows that things are about to take a turn soon. Secure, HTTPS websites will be hugely favored by Google in the future, according to a blog post, where they mention that they are working at full speed to be able to provide a fully secure web for users. And, that was a year ago! So, you can understand that migrating to HTTPS will definitely have a profound impact not only on your SEO strategy but also allow you to keep the engines running in this constantly evolving digital world.