Should your website be using HTTP or HTTPS?
In 2014 at Google’s annual I/O conference, they announced that you should switch your site over to HTTPS for the possibility of a minor ranking boost. We believe that this may help slightly, but the bigger question is whether or not the switch is right for you.
Why does Google prefer HTTPS? What are the SEO benefits of HTTPS?
Whether you are a fan of this change or not, a good online user experience should involve trust and data safety. In order to understand how to achieve this and better understand why Google favors these website elements (and why you should too), it’s important to learn the difference between HTTP and HTTPS. Below explains the basics of the two options:
HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol is a system for receiving and sending information across the internet. HTTP is an application layer protocol and just means its primary job is on how information is presented to the user of a site. The downside is that it does not care how data gets from one point to another. The good thing about HTTP is that it is stateless, so it does not have to remember much, so it is faster.
HTTPS: Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure was developed to allow authorizations and secure transmission of information and transactions. HTTPS is very similar to HTTP but uses SSL to move data, making it secure.
HTTPS and What Google Thinks
As we stated before, Google prefers HTTPS as of August of 2016. Google may trust your site more if you have an SSL and you are using HTTPS since it adds extra security for the user.
When a site obtains an SSL Certificate, the issuer becomes a 3rd party. When a user's browser recognizes a secure website (HTTPS), it uses the information in the SSL certificate to verify that the website is what it is claiming to be. As we said, Google claims that a site using HTTPS will have a slight advantage over non-HTTPS sites.
What are the SEO Advantages of HTTPS over HTTP?
So, we get it. HTTPS is more secure, but are there other advantages for SEO?
1. Referrer Data
When a website gets traffic from HTTPS, the referral information is protected. Example: if you have a link on an HTTPS site and your site is not HTTPS, the traffic will show up in Google Analytics as Direct/None and not as the referral source. If you change your site to HTTPS as well, the referral traffic will show in Google Analytics accurately.
2. Privacy and Security
Yes, there is a slight advantage, but we feel, over time, the weight of this signal in the algorithm will increase and become more important.
3. Increased Rankings
- Verifies that the website is the one the server it is supposed to be communicating with.
- 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.
The disadvantages of switching to HTTPS
There are no real concerns or disadvantages if it’s performed correctly. There are some critical steps to take when making the switch, though. Some basics include: changing all URLs that link to your sites to HTTPS - ads, PPC, etc. Be sure and tell Google you made the change and be sure you don’t have HTTP and HTTPS available to work.
The Process of Changing from HTTP to HTTPS
Migrating your website from HTTP to HTTPS is a pretty easy process.
- Purchase an SSL certificate.
- Install your SSL certificate on your site’s hosting account.
- Double check all of your links. Any URL not updated from HTTP to HTTPS will break after the migration.
- Notify Google and other search engines of your website change by setting up 301 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS. This way, anyone who has bookmarked a page on your site is automatically redirected to the new HTTPS address after you finish the switch. Since the Search Console treats HTTP and HTTPS separately, if you have pages that use both, you will need to create a separate Search Console property for each one.
Google has provided 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 noindex 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.
Due to the complexity of SSL and a few other factors like various plugins, there may be something you wish to look deeper into and change. You can find more answers here and at Google's official page for migrating from HTTP to HTTPS.
Need more help? If you need further assistance reach out to us. We are here to help!