As we all know, there are over 200+ SEO ranking signals. These range from:
- Website load times
- Quality content
- Links pointing to a website
- Website architecture
- and many other signals…
One that has been confirmed to give a small rankings boost is switching from HTTP to HTTPS protocol.
What is HTTPS?
Wikipedia defines HTTPS as follows:
HTTPS is a protocol for secure communication over a computer network which is widely used on the Internet. The main motivation for HTTPS is authentication of the visited website and to protect the privacy and integrity of the exchanged data.
By looking at the address bar in your web browser, this is the quickest way to determine if a website is setup on HTTPS:
What Google says…
Here is the blog post from Google that confirms that they use HTTPS as a ranking signal:
Over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal.
Things to consider…
Unfortunately with all things SEO, you can’t just switch things on and off and there are vitals steps that need to be followed.
I’d suggest if you’re not confident with domain management and setup, that you get a web development company or an experienced digital marketer to help with the transition:
- Update the htaccess file with the relevant 301 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS on a page by page level
- Update the htaccess file to force https if a user types in the domain without the protocol
- Update all internal links on your website to include HTTPS
- Update all rel alternative tags and canonical tags to include the protocol
- Update all internal references which use the URL string, this may include – CSS, Java, images, media assets such as YouTube embeds, social sharing buttons, etc
- Update all sitemaps and submit via Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
- When switching to HTTPS, you’ll need to purchase a certificate from your hosting company – this has to be a 2048-bit key certificate
- Add a new HTTPS profile within Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
- If you have a disavow file on the HTTP version of your site – upload to HTTPS in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
- Update your stats package (example: Google Analytics) with the correct domain protocol – this should also include any metrics you are tracking such as goals, eCommerce tracking, etc
- If any A/B split tests are running, URLs will need updating
- Update all links within paid advertising, for example: Adwords, affiliates, native ads, PLA shopping feed, social media, etc
- Update all social media and website profile sites with the correct URL
- Update all external links that point back to the HTTP version of the site, this may include: local directories, review websites, videos websites and so on
- Don’t forget internal business comms like emails and email signatures will also need updating
- John Mueller (Google Webmaster Trends Analyst) HTTPS Q&A: https://plus.google.com/+JohnMueller/posts/e8bx5tLpvtm
- Google HTTPS Guide and Advice: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/6073543
A few caveats…
Making the switch does require some precise steps, its also worth mentioning the below as things to consider:
- Speed – HTTPS requires extra steps between servers to secure the connection and in turn can slow websites down. Bear in mind that load times are a ranking factor.
- Cost – Moving to HTTPS will require the server you host your site on to have a certificate (provided by your hosting company).This is an extra cost and typically start from £20 if you can find a good deal.
- Certificates expire – Certificates will need renewing yearly, having a broken certificate may have a negative impact on SEO
Switching over to HTTPS purely for SEO reasons isn’t a great strategy and from experience, the best opportunity to switch is through a website redevelopment project.
The reason for this is, if you are having a new website, the URL structure will typically change – so instead of redirect old HTTP URLs to new HTTP URLs, why not include the HTTPS upgrade at the same time so that you’re not having to go through two URL redirect processes – this will avoid having to go through a natural double dip in Google.
Typically with new website launches and mass URL redirects, the website will experience a dip in Google, this is because Google has to reprocess the new site or new URLs.