There are lots of online discussions regarding Google’s shift in emphasis away from HTTP towards HTTPS.
In short, HTTPS = HTTP + SSL. HTTP is the protocol that allows the user to view sites via a browser and SSL being a secure certification which prevents third parties from eavesdropping on the user’s communication with the website.
So should you have taken heed of the SSL vendors promoting improved search engine visibility and already instructed your web agency to migrate your site over?
If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, so I’ve tried to summarise the general arguments for and against making the change, with a summary about Browser Media’s advice to our own clients.
- Google has officially announced that it will start to use HTTPS as a ranking signal.
- The search engine believes that in the long term, most websites should move over as it’s good for cyber security and the web as a whole.
- Some web users will already be aware of HTTPS and will feel more comfortable using sites with the prefix.
- It shows your are a real business trying to do things the proper way with good intentions.
- I personally haven’t seen the evidence, but there is talk that the additional trust inherent in an HTTPS might make it easier to build referring links to your site.
- Similarly, an HTTPS prefix could lead to a higher number of visitors, if your particular customer base is likely to see, understand and desire that trust factor.
- Any site migration is complex and can have unexpected and potentially negative outcomes if not undertaken carefully.
- HTTPS is only a small signal in the bigger Google algorithm and switching isn’t going to be a silver bullet for sites underperforming in other areas.
- High quality content is still a stronger signal (for now!)
- Employing a web agency or undertaking the work in-house will have budgetary consequences which could be better targeted elsewhere.
- The certification itself also costs money.
- SSL processing can put additional loads on your server. Make sure your server can cope as some people experience slower download times which isn’t great from an SEO point of view.
- You won’t be able to see referral data if a site visitor moves from an HTTP to HTTPS site. However, given the lack of Google’s ‘Not Provided’ data, this small additional loss of information is no great shakes.
- Ensure you migrate methodically and prioritise your canonical tags and 301s correctly – Google won’t like the duplicate content.
- Not all SSL certificates cover mobile/responsive sites – worth checking before your start the process.
- If you have a WordPress site, you may need to use a WordPress plugin to overcome some of the technical issues associated with the migration to HTTPS.
A final point, as Google treats HTTP and HTTPS site separately, make sure you set them up individually in Webmaster Tools.
What are we advising our clients?
We’ve never blindly chased Google algorithms and don’t intend to start now.
This update will apparently affect just 1% of global queries so there’s no huge hurry. When you’re naturally ready to update your site, that’s the time to think about it, not just because Google has made an announcement today.
Google is all about differentiation – if everyone switches to HTTPS right this second, Google will need to find another way to sort the wheat from the chaff. That method is currently, and is likely to remain, being about creating and sharing good content and building your brand online.