Google doesn’t normally share details on actionable items you can do to increase your search ranking, but they recently have. Google announced that websites that are using SSL certificates (HTTPS encryption) would experience a boost in search results.
HTTPS encryption is different than other search engine ranking factors. It requires spending money and is more technical than other SEO strategies.
Being a more technical SEO strategy means that there’s some risk in implementation. However, it’s likely worth the small effort because your site will have increased security, better referral data, and likely get a ranking boost.
Tips to get started
There is no reason to be concerned when switching your website from HTTP to HTTPS. Google has been telling webmasters that doing this is safe for years, and Google’s Matt Cutts said this on a Hacker News comment.
To make sure that the switch is safe for you, Google has given some pointers on the proper steps you should be taking. The steps that Google has shared will help make sure your site communicates with Google that you’ve moved your site from HTTP to HTTPS.
Below are the tips that Google has released; with the search giant promising that they’re going to release more documentation on this in the future:
- Decide on the type of certificate you need for your site. Do you need single, multi-domain, or wildcard certificate?
- 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 noindex robots meta tag.
You’re probably thinking that this sounds like a pain and are really thinking about the question, “Does SSL Help SEO?” If Google is publishing articles on its positive impact, we think it’s worth making the switch.
There are additional advantages when you switch your site to HTTPS
Having better site security and a potential SEO boost are just two HTTPS advantages. There is also the little talked about advantage of having better analytics referral data.
Here are the three best reasons why making the switch to HTTPS is smart:
1. Better referrer data
Referral data gets stripped away when traffic passes from a secure (HTTPS) website to non-secure (no HTTPS) website. This traffic will simply show up in your analytics software as being “direct.” This is not good or useful because it doesn’t allow you to understand where your traffic is coming from.
If you’ve ever received traffic from a social news site like Reddit, you’ve probably noticed a lot of the traffic showing up as “direct.” This is why! It’s because Reddit is using HTTPS and you’re not.
2. Better security and privacy
Some people have expressed frustration with this change from Google because they believe that SSL only matters if your websites uses passwords and credit card data. This argument is false. The most plain of content websites will have improved security with SSL/HTTPS encryption.
This is how SSL will benefit your security:
- It encrypts ALL communication, including URLs, which means items like browsing history and credit card numbers become protected.
- Third party tampering is prevented, meaning Man-in-the-middle attacks are stopped (making your website a more secure destination for visitors).
- Having SSL on your site verifies that the website is speaking to the server it’s supposed to be communicating with.
3. The SSL/HTTPS rankings boost
This advantage is an obvious one to list here. It’s why you’re reading this article. Google has confirming that you’ll receive a rankings boost by adding HTTPS to your website. However, since there are hundreds of other factors involved in determining your ranking, it’s likely that the ranking benefit will be rather small.
Don’t expect adding SSL to your website to be magical search engine optimization force. You’re not going to instantly shoot to number one for your target keywords. It’s worth adding SSL though since it will assist your site in ranking higher if you’re following other SEO best practices.
Remember than a lot of little things add up. Marginal gains lead to big results over time.