Switch to HTTPS for Better Google Rankings

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Does HTTPS Help SEO?

When Google announced that it would reward websites for using HTTPS encryption with a boost in search results, many webmasters began to reevaluate their sites’ security. Recent polls have showed that 24 percent of webmasters are planning to switch to HTTPS for SEO improvements and enhanced website security.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS is an encrypted website connection and represented the lock icon in your browser’s address bar. In the past, websites primarily used it for passwords and other sensitive data like credit card info. Now Google has spoken and the entire web is gradually leaving HTTP behind and switching over to HTTPS.

HTTPS Benefits

Adding HTTP Secure to your website requires risk, cost, and technical know-how. However, the benefits – more security, improved referral data, and an HTTPS Google rankings boost – can make it worth the effort.

1. SEO Benefits of Switching to HTTPS

Besides increased security, switching to a secure HTTP encryption offers SEO benefits. These include:

Increased Referrer Data

Typically, traffic that passes through an HTTP Secure site to a non-encrypted HTTP website is stripped of its referral data. An HTTP Secure analytics report will show the data as “Direct.” The problem is that you won’t actually know where the traffic originated from.

Now when traffic passes to an HTTP Secure site, it retains referral data. As more websites switch to the secure protocol, this becomes quite important for marketers.

2. Google HTTPS SEO

Google has offered boosted HTTPS search engine rankings for those making the switch to the encryption. While the company has confirmed the ranking boost, recent studies have shown that HTTP Secure may not provide any significant advantages in terms of site rankings.

It’s important not to rely on HTTP Secure as your sole method for increasing your site’s ranking. If you’re concerned about your search HTTPS placement, here are a few things you can do to make a larger impact:

  • Run competitive analysis
  • Improve your social media meta tags
  • Eliminate crawl errors
  • Correct duplicate content
  • Audit the website
  • Create engaging content
  • Optimize the site for speed

More Security & Privacy

Some analysts have argued that HTTP Secure is only effective if your website uses sensitive passwords. This isn’t exactly true – even simple content websites can benefit from HTTP over SSL encryption.

  • HTTP over SSL encryption secures your website in several ways:
  • The encryption verifies that the website is the one the server should be “talking” to
  • It prevents tampering from third parties, stopping “man-in-the-middle” attacks
  • It secures all communication, protecting browsing history and credit card information

3. The Challenges of Switching to HTTPS

Switching your website to HTTP over SSL encryption can be complicated. Here are some things to consider throughout the process.

Website Errors

You may run into a few issues when switching to HTTP Secure. Some of them include:

  • Blocking important URLs in robots.txt
  • Pointing canonical tags at the wrong HTTP URL
  • Your website is displaying browser bars that frighten people, like security warnings

Some webmasters have seen their HTTPS search engine rankings and conversions drop after installing HTTP Secure. Most of the time these technical issues are easily fixed, but it’s important to be prepared for the worst.

Slower Speeds

HTTP Secure requires more communication between servers, which can potentially slow down your website. Speed can affect your search HTTPS ranking, especially when it comes to mobile. Fortunately, you can prevent speed issues by following best practices when implementing HTTP over SSL encryption.

Higher Costs

SSL certificates can cost approximately $100-$200 a year, which can be a significant cost for small websites. However, switching to HTTP Secure can be free, saving you money on website maintenance.

Tip: With benefits like boosted search rankings and more reliable security, switching to a secure HTTP encryption is well worth the investment.

Growing Pains

Web developer acquiring a new SSL certificate so the website can use HTTPS for SEO improvements

Some websites may not be advanced enough for HTTP Secure. Older web apps can have difficulty processing HTTP Secure URLs. In addition, websites that run AdSense may experience a drop in earnings. Google restricts these ads to those that comply with SSL.

4. The Number of Sites Using HTTPS

While many websites use HTTP over SSL encryption, most of them limit their usage to checkout and registration pages. In fact, only 4.2 percent of the top 10,000 sites redirect visitors to HTTP Secure by default. This percentage drops to 1.9 percent for the top million websites.

5. HTTPS & SEO Best Practices

What are the SEO implications of switching to an HTTP over SSL encryption? We’ll explore the topic in this section.

What Type of SSL Certificate is Best?

There are thousands of SSL certificate options to sift through, which can lead to confusion. The two major types of SSL certificates include:

  • Standard Validation SSL: These certificates provide a basic level of validation. The cost usually runs between $0-$100.
  • Extended Validation SSL: These certificates offer a higher level of validation, but they typically are more expensive than the standard type, costing between $100-$500.

In terms of HTTPS Google rankings, the certificate you choose makes no difference. From the user’s perspective, the certificate type can have an impact. The green bar that signifies extended security often fosters trust among website visitors.

6. Preserving Your Search Engine Rankings

These tips will help you receive the best SEO results from your HTTP Secure encryption.

  • Ensure each element of your site uses HTTP Secure.
  • Utilize 301 redirects to point all HTTP URLs to HTTP Secure.
  • Make sure all canonical tags point to the HTTP Secure version of your URL.
  • When possible, use relative URLs.
  • Make sure all hard-coded internal links point to HTTP Secure.
  • Register the HTTP Secure version of your website in Webmaster Tools for both Google and Bing.
  • Update all sitemaps to reflect the new URLs, and submit them to Webmaster Tools.
  • Be sure that your robots.txt file is updated so that it won’t block any important web pages.
  • Update your analytics tracking code, if necessary.
  • Implement HSTS, or HTTP Strict Transport Security. This allows users to only access HTTP Secure pages even when directed to HTTP pages.

Our WordPress host WPEngine has more technical data on HTTPS vs HTTP.

7. Using FeedBurner & RSS with HTTP Secure

Unfortunately, Google stopped offering support for Feedburner long ago, and the service is not compatible with HTTP Secure. Webmasters who use FeedBurner must migrate their RSS to an HTTP Secure-compatible program.

8. Social Share Count Migration

Make sure to follow these best practices to avoid unnecessary slowdown on your webpage.

When changing to HTTPS, many webmasters want to transfer over their social share counts. These are the numbers that are displayed on your social media share buttons. These counts act as strong proof of your site’s popularity.

Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn all transfer over their social share counts. However, Twitter, Google shares, and Pinterest do not. To preserve these counts, you must alter the code of your social buttons.

Altering the code will only display social shares from the URL you dictate. This will not show any new social shares that your buttons have earned. While this can be fine for older blog posts, it may be worth it to let your numbers update naturally if you expect your content to gain additional shares.

9. Taking the Leap

You may wonder if it’s time for your website to make the leap to HTTPS. Many SEO agencies, marketing consultants, and webmasters are being rewarded as its popularity grows. Your brand and website’s needs will determine if HTTP Secure is the right choice.

10. FREE SSL Certificates

Generally, you can expect to pay $50-$150 per year for a standard SSL certificate to provide HTTPS on your website. COFORGE is now offering FREE SSL Certificates to our WordPress Hosting customers. No hooks, no catches, no special terms…just free! Contact us to get yours today.

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Avatar for Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo is the Founder & CEO of COFORGE | A Growth Agency | HubSpot Silver Partner | Helping SMBs Grow Better using Inbound & HubSpot. Eric is also a lover of family, friends, and life. He enjoys good health, Tae Kwon-Do and discovering the most influential marketing trends.

Avatar for Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo is the Founder & CEO of COFORGE | A Growth Agency | HubSpot Silver Partner | Helping SMBs Grow Better using Inbound & HubSpot. Eric is also a lover of family, friends, and life. He enjoys good health, Tae Kwon-Do and discovering the most influential marketing trends.