Google’s Latest HTTPs as Ranking Factor – A Marketing Ploy or Tech Revolution?
A week back Google Announced that it will be using HTTPs as a ranking signal which means that, websites using HTTPs will be getting a slight advantage in Google SERPs. However, this could soon be a thing of the past. For now, let’s find out what this change could really mean for eMarketers? How does the small padlock in the address bar change your online experience?
Google has already migrated all of its products to HTTPs security and now it seems to be on a mission to save the entire world. In this zeal it claims to be offering to use the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPs) as a site ranking signal. One must understand that this is not a significant algorithmic change like Hummingbird and it has nothing to do with the Panda, Pigeon or Penguin for that matter. It is a stand along change and will rule its guidelines according to the patterns set by Google. It is estimated that Google uses around two hundred such signals. Now, HTTPS would just be one more signal to rank websites. So the question is how important is this? More importantly, how does this concern ordinary users and website owners? Let’s read further to find out.
What is HTTPs? Does it make a huge impact on SERPs?
HTTPs is nothing but adding an SSL 2048-bit key certificate on a website that makes it more secure. The recent changes implemented by Google will give a minor boost to the sites. Some say that they have already started seeing the changes in effect while some claim that this migration is going to be a hell of a process. What HTTPs really does is – It uses additional measures to secure data transferred over the internet. While using the HTTP protocol, browsers and web servers exchange plain text data, leaving it vulnerable to spying, data theft and hacking as a potential attacker would be able to see and intercept your data, and use it for unauthorized access into websites or other such illegal activities. However, when the secured HTTPs version is used, the exchanged data gets protected by several other methods such as:
- Advanced Data Encryption — Encryption of the data during exchange keeps it secure from getting snooped. This maintains the privacy of users over the internet at all times till they are under the protection of the HTTPs padlock. In other words, while a user is browsing a website, no one can see their conversations, or track their online activities or steal their data in any way.
- Veracity of Data — Under the protection of HTTPs protocol, no data can be edited or dishonored during transfer – intentionally or unintentionally. Even if someone tries to invade your privacy, their efforts shall be detected and blocked immediately.
- Advanced Data Verification — Under the protection of the HTTPs padlock a user can be sure that they are under complete supervision. It prevents manipulation and rules out the possibility of hacker attacks.
Who uses HTTPs?
If you have read all the way through this article it wouldn’t be a difficult choice in making the decision to HTTPs transition. If you really care about the integrity of your website and its visitors, making the shift would definitely be a major contribution to the online society, not just your website. In practice, the HTTPS protocol is used by companies and sites where logging in and account security is of paramount importance and sites involving financial transaction like online shopping, banking sites. Credit and Debit Card Transactions are usually done via the HTTPs protocol.
How do i know whether it is important to make a shift for my website?
In all cases, transitioning to HTTPs will provide your website with immense security and protection. But, not all websites really need to make the change to HTTPs. If your website falls under any of the below-mentioned categories, it is advisable to talk to an expert immediately to the shift to HTTPs.
- If the site is making financial transactions – If your website is more of an e-commerce store where there are constant credit and debit card transactions, you must have already shifted to HTTPs long time ago – If you haven’t, then do your customers a favor and quickly get on with it.
- If the website is collecting personal data – If your website is a PII (Personally Identifiable Information) collection hub – For example, if your website collects the private information of visitors like account login, passwords, commenting, and subscriptions through email etc, having HTTPs is a safe and reputable practice.
- For purely informational websites – Migrating to HTTPs is not mandatory in this case, but still having HTTPs protocol will ensure that your users are protected from phishing attacks of hackers and other scam practices.
Will HTTPs help bolster my Internet Ranking?
Yes! Simply put, HTTPs will help boost the ranking of your website but as we all know Google uses 200 other such signals in calculating the ranks of a website, the changes will be strictly minor.
Frankly speaking, the HTTPs Signal is not as strong as compared to other signals for chalking the ranking benefits of your website. It is only a very lightweight ranking signal. According to the tests conducted by the Search Giant, there is an impact of less than 1% for total global queries. This should not be taken as an excuse to not make the change if your site needs it as Google plans to strengthen the signal in the near future. I would urge all websites that need to get a shift to do it fast as this small change will be a significant contribution to your users, as well as for the wellbeing of your site in the future.
In a recent post, Google added that the tests conducted over a period of months have yielded positive outcomes. They have assured that however minute, the HTTPs signals have made a difference in the overall ranking of the websites.
Google has added that their tests have yielded positive results in the past few months. They claim that the HTTPS signal has showed itself to be relevant in terms of rankings for Google’s search results. In fact, this announcement comes less than five months after Google’s head of search spam Matt Cuffs said that he would love to make SSL certificate a factor for search rankings. So does this mean that unless my website is secure, it will not rank high on Google search? As of now, not really (given HTTPS is only one of several signals) but in the future, given Google’s zeal, perhaps yes.
Google has also run this ranking signal in real time. This is a shift from the erstwhile Panda or Penguin algorithms. The moment Google indexes a new HTTPS URL, that URL will immediately witness a tiny boost to its ranking because it is using the HTTPS URL. Of course that does not mean that one will see his/her site’s rankings increase prolifically. Like, for example, say the resulting number will not jump from 5 to 4, but it will, unobserved behind the scenes, have a small, increment in the overall ranking algorithm.
One also has to keep in mind that Google’s HTTPS rankings are on a per URL Basis. This basically means that if your website has some pages which have migrated to HTTPS protocol while the other pages have not, Google will give the ranking boost to only those pages which are on the HTTPS URLs and not to the other pages. Thus, the signal is on a per-URL basis, and not on a sitewide (full site) basis. This means that Google basically wants users to migrate the whole site to HTTPS but if one wants to do it in stages or try it out, one can do it technically on a URL by URL basis.
Thus, the shift will be more gradual than revolutionary. And do not expect that simply using the HTTPS will immediately revolutionize your site’s rankings. As stated before, quality of content remains the primary factor in adjudging the rankings. Moreover, the change in the rankings will only be applicable to those pages that have the HTTPS protocol.
So, is the shift to HTTPs really worth it?
This is one question that is coming up in everyone’s mind, and you were probably going to ask me the same in sometime. Interestingly, I do not have a definite answer to this yet, as there is not much news about this Ranking Signal, which we can bank on. I tried to weigh down the subject-scope with whatever little is known so far to help you make a decision yourself. Regardless of the conclusion to this question, I believe that the answer is going to vary from person to person as not everyone will face the same problems others are facing, and not everyone is ready to invest into this matter so soon.
Let’s see what we have here,
In terms of security, HTTPs wins the case as it will protect clients, visitors and moreover all users from third-party breakthroughs and other types of illegal prying and data tampering.
One major setback of the HTTPs migration is the costs involved. Switching over to HTTPs is definitely not free of cost (It looks like more of a marketing ploy now). One needs to pay for SSL certificates renewal and maintenance from time to time.
HTTPs is the standard for all eMarketing businesses that use their customers card based information for website transaction and security. Using the HTTPs complies with Payment Card Industry Data Security Services. It is MANDATORY for all websites that do financial transactions.
One needs to have a separate IP address for every SSL certificate that needs to be bought. How many IPs will a person need to make his entire website SSL protected? There is however a dodge to this situation if you can opt for a Shared IP – but that is only if your server supports Server Name ID. There is a problem with SNI as well. It is not recognized by old browsers in Windows XP.
Speaking of Conversion, security breach and online fraud are the biggest concerns of netizens nowadays. With growing awareness about theft of PPI from less secured websites, user’s just do not transact or even communicate with HTTP sites anymore. Thus, it is a good symbol for establishing trust amongst customers that their data will always be in the right hands.
While some claim that HTTP’s migration has significantly boosted their website speed, most people are saying that their website has become slower than ever. This may be due to that the slowdown is caused by the extra-processing power involved in Encryption and Decryption.
The Padlock icon has become a symbol of security and trust in the eyes of the entire world today. This small padlock icon will build great brand reputation and boost the popularity of the brand as a genuine and trustworthy business.
If you do not have much knowledge of handling server configuration, the process of migrating to HTTPs maybe an intricate one, best left to a professional. During the transition, all HTTP URLs must be permanently relayed to HTTPs with a ‘301 Redirect.’ All absolute internal links in your website need to be edited into HTTPs URLs or relative URLs.
And, there is always a chance of getting rewarded in the future. Even though the changes in the ranking may seem to be insignificant at this time, but if Google maintains the same zeal that it has for website security, we could be looking at a greater boost in the future for HTTPs websites.
This is one of the major setbacks of HTTPs migration; all your hard earned Social Signals will be lost.
Many external applications in your website will either stop working or malfunction when you transition to HTTPs from HTTP. To avoid this mess, it is best to check the compatibility of all your applications and plugins installed on your page before shifting.
Any external HTTP content will be blocked. This will result in external content from non-HTTPs resources showing error messages. Always ensure that your HTTPs page contains content from HTTPs websites only and that your Content Delivery Network will support it well.
Another devastating setback of the HTTPs transition is that your AdSense revenue will drop significantly.
This is what Google stated in their official blog –HTTPS-enabled sites require that all content on the page, including the ads, be SSL-compliant. As such, AdSense shall remove all non-SSL compliant ads from competing in the auction on these pages. Thus, ads on the HTTPS pages might earn less than ads on your HTTP pages.
SEO concerns over HTTPS?
Should one be concerned when switching over from your HTTP to HTTPS site as far as SEO purposes are concerned? The answer to this question is a plain and simple no. Google has been asking people to transition to HTTPs from many years ago. I personally remember Matt Cuffs (Head of Spam), Google, say in a conference in 2012 that Google should induce SSL Certificates as a ranking factor. (I am trying to find that PR, but its lost somewhere on the Internet). Even though SEO is not a concern, one still has to take the appropriate steps to ensure that the traffic does not suffer in any way. One must maintain proper communication with Google about their HTTP to HTTPs transition. Google has promised to release more documentation in the future in Webmaster Central, but for now there are a few guidelines provided which one must keep in their mind while making the switch:
- Do you need a single domain certificate, multi-domain certificate or a wildcard certificate?
- Always use the 2048-bit key certificates
- Remember to use relative URLs for all relative resources that reside in your protected domain
- Always use Protocol relative URLs for other domains
- Google has published a Website Move article which has better and in-depth guidelines.
- Don’t prevent your HTTPs website from crawling using robots.txt
- Let your pages be indexed where ever possible. Remember to avoid using no index robots meta-tag.
Google has also updated its Webmaster Tools to handle HTTPs websites.
Another wise thing to do would be to make sure to track the HTTP to HTTPs migration carefully using analytics software.
The Final Verdict
Thus, we see that while switching over to HTTPS is a very safe option for oneself as well as for the entire internet using community, it is also a cumbersome process. To come out with a clean yes or no verdict seems to be rather problematic and the answer is also relative depending on who the reader is. If you are the owner of a shopping site or something, then it would be a resounding yes. On the other hand if you have a site that does not handle much of financial transactions or personal information then it is perhaps a better option to take the back seat and watch the action from the sidelines now. As time unfolds there would be better options available and the picture would get clearer and perhaps a time will emerge where it would be possible to make more informed decisions.