During your online searches, you’ve probably noticed both HTTP and HTTPS sites. What is the difference between the two, and is it important in terms of online marketing?

Glad you asked! We recently wrote a blog post about reasons your site should be HTTPS, but this post goes into more details, especially related to the effect website security has on SEO.

What Is HTTPS?

Let’s start with the basics. The “s” at the end of the “http” part of a URL means the website is secure. HTTPS (Hypertext Transport Protocol Security), or secure, sites include the SSL 2048-bit key and can protect a site connection through authentication and encryption. When installed on a web server, an SSL certificate activates the padlock and the https protocol and allows secure connections from a web server to a browser.

Secure websites can protect a user’s connection by securing information in three layers:

  • Encryption ensures that a user’s activity cannot be tracked or their information stolen
  • Data integrity prevents files from being corrupted as they’re transferred
  • Authentication protects against attacks and builds user trust

But how, exactly, do SSL certificates affect search engine rankings and more?

What Is the Overall HTTPS SEO Impact?

Here’s a visual for some quick facts about secure sites, but keep reading for more details!
More than just onsite content can have a positive impact on your rankings, traffic, and, potentially, conversions. One of these factors is website security.

Rankings

Back in 2014, Google rolled out updated algorithms across the board in favor of HTTPS websites. Then, it was a lightweight component within the overall ranking algorithm and HTTPS sites experienced only minor ranking increases. But Google indicated that they may strengthen the signal in the future.

In 2015, Google stated that their HTTPS ranking boost may serve as a tie breaker if the quality signals for two different search results are equal in everything else. Meaning, if your website is equal to your competitor’s website in terms of speed, title tags, content freshness, etc. but your competitor’s website is HTTPS and yours isn’t, Google will most likely rank theirs ahead of yours.

What does it look like today? Although only less than 1% of all websites are secure (talk about getting ahead of the competition!), 40% of Google’s page one organic search results feature an HTTPS site. Google has encouraged webmasters to make the migration to a secure site for a while now and has been giving an increasing amount of weight in ranking boosts to websites that are HTTPS. Keep in mind, those sites ranking on page one of Google are also likely following many other best practices in order to gain and retain their valued page one real estate, so it’s not a surprise that of those ranking on page one, more are following Google’s heavy suggestion toward having a secure site!

Interestingly, in a study conducted by Brian Dean, SEMRush, Ahrefs, SimilarWeb and MarketMuse, a moderate correlation between HTTPS and higher search rankings was found. Other studies have found minor correlations as well—but combined with other factors and reflecting what Google had already confirmed (it would act as a tie breaker, not a major ranking factor).

As Neil Patel mentions in this article, Moz also found a slight correlation between HTTPS and higher search rankings and finally reflected on what Google believed that it would act as a tie breaker, not a major ranking factor.

Traffic

Better rankings can lead to more traffic (the more people see your site, the more visitors you’ll get). Also, when users are looking at the search results, they may see a secure site as a signal of trust and authority and click that website over another, non-secure site, thus improving your site’s click-through-rate.

Conversions

Users trust secure connections more—it’s a fact (and sites that follow best practices for user experience are more likely to rank better in Google search results). According to a GlobalSign survey, 84% of users would abandon a purchase if data was sent over an insecure connection, and a large majority are concerned about their data being intercepted or misused online. If a customer came into your store and voiced a concern about something, you would do everything you can to alleviate that concern and create not only a loyal customer but a raving fan. Why shouldn’t it be the same online—where an overwhelmingly large majority of users shop and search for home services? Make your customers and prospects feel safe and give them peace of mind, whether it’s in your store or on the internet.

Chrome Will Start Labeling Sites As Not Secure

Google first announced its plans for the transition in September 2016. At the time the company had noted that it would start labeling HTTP connections as non-secure in a phased manner in order to give site owners and operators enough time to make the change.
Starting January 2017, with Chrome release 56 Google started labeling HTTP pages that collected sensitive information like credit card data and passwords as “not secure”. Over the rest of the year the company gradually began expanding those warnings to other types of HTTP pages as well.

But eventually, Chrome will eventually label all HTTP pages as non-secure, and will change the HTTP security indicator to the red triangle used for broken HTTPS when users enter text into a form on an HTTP page, and for all HTTP pages in incognito mode. The new warning is part of a long term plan to mark all pages served over HTTP as “not secure.” It ain’t going to be subtle:
If I’m on a website with that indicator, especially an eCommerce site, you better believe I’m not staying! Would you? I’m willing to bet not, and other users will most likely feel the same way.

Be Proactive & Act Now: Get Your Website Secured

So while at this current moment the SSL SEO impact isn’t overwhelmingly negative (having a secure site won’t make or break your rankings), things seem to be moving in that direction. Google’s Webmaster Blog hints at a fully secure web in the future: “As migrating to HTTPS becomes even easier, we’ll continue working towards a web that’s secure by default.” That’s from a post a couple months ago! Be proactive about website security rather than reacting to it later down the road when you’re already behind the competition because it’s the new norm.

What You Get When You Host Your Website with Blue Corona:

  • SSL – Includes FREE SSL certificate yearly subscription
  • WordPress Optimized – Designed specifically for WordPress websites to provide optimal load times, easy updates and basic security measures
  • Backups – Daily full site backups (for last 30 days)
  • Development Support – Staging server with one click “push-to-live”
  • Security – Secure FTP protocol (SFTP) with server-side firewalls included
  • Extra Speed – Content Delivery Network (CDN) included for enhanced site load times by storing files at multiple locations across the server so that the user receives the files from the nearest source.
  • Storage Space – 10 GB of server storage space for website files
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