Google has recently come out and explicitly said were starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. Currently, it is a "lightweight signal", but that could easily change, and it might have more weight in the future. Traditionally, Https was used only when sensitive information was being transmitted, for example, when completing online transactions (it is commonly used by ecommerce sites like Amazon). However, Google is calling for Https everywhere, meaning that it will likely become a stronger ranking signal.
How It Works
URLs that begin with Https are secured using a technology called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which encrypts data travelling between a web browser and a web server. In order for a website to use Https, they must first obtain an SSL Certificate, which can be purchased from most major web hosts. SSL Certificates serve to confirm identity and encrypt any data that flows to or from the website.
Once installed, the SSL Certificate ensures that a) the back-end server accepts only encrypted communications and b) that the back-end server has the correct certificates to ensure secure transfer of data.
When a web browser communicates with a web server, a secured connection (SSL) is established. The computer connects to the server hosting the website and checks the SSL Certificate to verify it is connecting to the correct source. If everything checks out, the computer and the server form a handshake where a data encryption method is decided upon. After that, the data that leaves one computer is scrambled using the agreed upon encryption and then descrambled once it reaches the other. This level of security means that any data shared between the two cant be seen, collected or misused by an outside party.
Do I Need Https?
Very rarely does Google come out and explicitly say this is a ranking signal. It is therefore a good idea to make the transition, as it is relatively inexpensive (averaging about $100 per year) and is not time or labour intensive to set up.
If you don't have any higher priorities for your website -- for example, getting a mobile site running or recovering from a penalty -- obtaining and installing an SSL Certificate is recommended. There are a number of benefits to transitioning to Https, including:
- Increased security for you and your customers
- Authentication, so you can be ensure information is being sent to the right recipient
- SSL is a trust signal which indicates that customers can trust their information to be safe when using your website
- And of course, it is a ranking signal
How to Set up SSL on Your Website
- If your server doesn't support Server Name Identification (SNI), make sure that you have a dedicated IP address.
- Obtain an SSL certificate. Most major web hosts can provide an SSL certificate -- if yours does not, there are a variety of third party options. The average is around $100 per year, though it varies from provider to provider.
- Make sure that your back-end server can support the SSL Certificate, and then install it. This is not a DIY project -- it should be implemented by your technical team. If you dont have an in-house technical resource, you can hire a third party to help you, or go through your web host (many web hosts will perform the installation for you at no additional cost if you purchase the certificate from them).
- Once the certificate is installed, you will need to do a bulk 301 redirect to account for the change in URLs from http to https. A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect indicating that a certain page has moved to a different URL (kind of like a change of address card). It is important because it a) ensures that all website visitors -- and search engines "-- are directed to the secure URL and b) ensures that all authority is given to the correct page. Again, you should get your technical team, a third party, or your web host to implement these changes (some web hosts may implement the redirects for you at an additional cost).
- In your Google Webmaster Tools, you will need to add the https site to account for the change. Google Analytics should not require any changes as it will track both http and https pages.
- After everything is set up, monitor performance to make sure there are no issues (for example, Google Analytics indicating a loss in traffic).
Ultimately, SSL brings a myriad of benefits to your website without costing you a ton of cash or eating up much time and resources. It is a Google ranking signal, helps beef up your website's security, and instills trust in your customers " which is especially important when they are providing you with private information. If you don't have other serious issues with your website that take precedence, now is the perfect time to obtain your SSL Certificate.