Let’s talk about the announcement Google made in August last year. It said that making a switch to HTTPS will you a tad of an advantage in the rankings.
Most companies took this up as a simple step to move forward, but it’s still extremely important to know what the difference is between HTTP and HTTPS for SEO, how easy or difficult it is to make the switch, and if at all making the switch is right for your company in the first place.
Now there are two types of SEOs: Those who start drooling when they hear or see technical stuff and the other part – those who simply abhor them. If you belong to the first category, you probably already know HTTPS. Though there are some parts of HTTPS that are a bit complex, but most of it is simple. Really.
And to make things even better, you don’t even need to understand the exact behind-the-scenes in order to implement HTTPS on a website.
HTTP vs. HTTPS: Understanding the fundamentals
If you’re on this side or that – meaning if you’re the user of a website or are developing your own site—you’ll mostly be involving a trusted third party and good encryption.
To grasp how to accomplish this and better understand why Google favors these website elements, it’s essential to first know the difference between HTTP and HTTPS.
HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol
Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http) is a system for transmitting and receiving information across the Internet. HTTP is an application layer protocol, which essentially means that it lays emphasis on how information is showcased to the user. But on the other hand, this option doesn’t really care how data gets from Point A to Point B.
It does not bother to remember anything about the earlier web session. The advantage to being stateless it that there is less data to send, and that means increased speed.
HTTPS: Secure HyperText Transfer Protocol
The Internet is intrinsically open to the point that anyone can read what data you send to and from any server. You’re searching for “How to save money” on Google and anyone can read this: the government, your neighbor, and even your spouse.
HTTPS solves that problem by encrypting the communication end-to-end: Only your computer and the webserver can see what data gets transmitted.
HTTPS, or “secure http”, came into existence to allow authorization and secured transactions. The exchange of confidential information needs to be secured in order to prevent unauthorized access, and https helps make this possible. In more ways than one, https is identical to http because it follows the same basic protocols.
The http or https client, such as a Web browser, establishes a connection to a server on a standard port. However, https offers an extra layer of security because it uses SSL to move data.
So all in all, HTTPS is almost the same as HTTP – it’s just the secure version.
HTTPS works in combination with a partner – another protocol called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), to transport data safely (which is actually the vital difference that Google is bothered with).
To detail it out some more, data sent using HTTPS is secured via Transport Layer Security protocol (TLS), which provides three layers of protection:
- Encryption. Encrypting the exchanged data to keep it secure.
- Data Integrity. Data cannot be modified or corrupted during transfer without being detected.
- Authentication. This proves that your users communicate with the intended website.
Google claims that websites who use HTTPS will have a small ranking benefit because of these security aspects.
These are the reasons why HTTPS really offers the best of both worlds: It really cares about what the user sees visually, and also provides an extra layer of security when moving data from point A to point B.
But as of now you really shouldn’t be worried about switching from HTTP to HTTPS where SEO is concerned. Google has been letting webmasters know it is safe to do so for years. However, you do need to go through the motions to ensure your traffic doesn’t suffer.
Make sure to let Google know that you moved your site from HTTP to HTTPS.
Google has specified the following tips for best practices when switching to HTTPS:
- Decide the kind of certificate 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
- Check out our site move article for more guidelines on how to change your website’s address
- 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.
In addition to the Google Support resources, it would be highly recommend to read a condensed introduction to HTTP/HTTPS and some tips on changing over to SSL/HTTPS here before getting started.
SEO advantages of switching to HTTPS
Apart from the aspect of security, there are also some additional SEO benefits that you can consider.
#1. Increased rankings.
Isn’t this a no-brainer? As mentioned earlier, Google has confirmed the slight ranking boost of HTTPS sites. But like most ranking indicators, it is not a very easy task to isolate on its own. Nevertheless, it is still something to keep in mind. On the plus side, the value of switching to HTTPS is very likely to increase over time.
#2. Referrer Data.
When traffic goes through or passes to an HTTPS site, the secure referral information is preserved. This is not what happens when traffic passes through an HTTP site, and it is stripped away and looks as though it is direct.
#3. Security and privacy.
HTTPS adds security for your SEO goals and website in several ways:
- It verifies that the website is the one the server is supposed to be talking to.
- It prevents tampering by third parties.
- It makes your site more secure for visitors.
- It encrypts all communication, including URLs, which protects things like browsing history and credit card numbers.
Apart from the SEO benefit HTTPS will become more significant for a lot of different reasons too: Google’s Chrome browser will put forth a lock overlaid with a red X in the address bar for all pages that do not have a correct HTTP setup in the near future. Your website will not look appealing and appear broken in the eyes of your visitors. Mozilla will likely adopt a similar policy in Firefox.
So what exactly is the takeaway?
So we can safely say that the clear inference here is that switching to HTTPS will help you stay in the good books with Google, or should we say good rankings. HTTPS is a very secure system for your website to operate. Security for your site and your users is the most important aspect of making the switch from HTTP to HTTPS.
Not just security, HTTPS is also valuable for referrer data and other SEO strategies. When looking at the issue holistically and considering the future of what Google is likely to do with HTTPS, we would certainly advise switching over to HTTPS, to keep up with Google.
So if Google is encouraging “all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web,” then you better listen. And for those who follow, why wouldn’t Google want to reward them? HTTPS may be a lightweight signal for now, but if website owners and the Search Engine believe it’s needed to enrich the user’s experience, then you can certainly expect HTTPS to eventually play a bigger role in search ranking algorithm.
Going back to the most asked query – Should I switch from HTTP to HTTPS for just SEO reasons? There hasn’t been much data that suggests that it helps so far. This doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in the coming months or years.
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