In August 2014, Google announced a new ranking factor. HTTPS! We know that the factors that influence the positioning of a website are innumerable and almost all unknown. Because Google, for obvious reasons, tends to keep the laws that regulate its algorithm secret. This is why the August revelation caused quite a stir and created questions and assumptions.
What Are HTTP and HTTPS?
A better online experience is everyone’s right, and it will require a reliable protocol system and encryption. To understand what is best and why Google favors certain elements, it’s important to know the differences.
Both protocols allow the browser to display web pages and transfer them from the client to the server. HTTP means, in fact, HyperText Transfer Protocol. The addition of the S stands for Security (Secure Socket Layer – SSL). While HTTP is still widely used, the popularity of HTTP is not like in the past because it has some limitations about security and privacy. As a result, HTTPS has become the preferred protocol for transmitting sensitive information over the Internet.
When the protocol is HTTPS, the transfer of data takes place securely. This is why so far, HTTPS is used on sites with economic transactions or where personal data is processed. Usually, portions of the site, which are accessed via a login. HTTPS adds an extra layer of security. That’s why it is the most preferred and suggested protocol. To use HTTPS, you need to learn how to get an SSL certificate because you have to get an SSL certificate. Besides security, Google announced that HTTPS is a ranking factor in its search algorithm.
How Does HTTPS Work & Why Do You Need It?
Behind this strange acronym lies a very simple and intuitive speech to understand. That’s why we will explain the importance of the HTTPS protocol; how it works, and why inserting it within your website is advisable.
As said, HTTPS is a communication protocol. Its purpose is to allow the exchange of data between a browser and the sites you visit. Ensuring the possibility of exploiting a secure channel for transmission. This occurs thanks to SSL certificates.
The SSL Certificate
The SSL certificate ensures that the other interlocutor of the transmission is the company and the website you want to communicate.
But this is not the most important task of the SSL certificate. In addition to guaranteeing your interlocutor’s identity, it is also a kind of “filter”. All the data you intend to communicate to the server with which you connect pass through this filter and are encrypted. So that no one outside of you and the server can interpret them.
Therefore, when you connect to a site that uses the HTTPS protocol; your browser program verifies its certificate and that a legitimate certification authority has issued it.
If any stranger between the two interlocutors intercepts the communication, they will not understand it. Only the sender and the recipient have the key (or code) to decrypt the message, and it is contained in the SSL Certificate.
The issue becomes even more important in the case of browsing e-commerce or the presence of forms or payment pages. The HTTPS protocol and the SSL certificate give the customer the guarantee that their credit card data will be processed safely.
How do I recognize a secure site and one that is not?
- I can understand that I am connected to a site that adopts the HTTPS protocol already at the time of typing. The address will begin with https://
- Another clue is the presence of a padlock icon in the address bar. This icon is an important security index; clicking on it lets you get more information on the certificate adopted and pushes users to complete a payment or transfer their data with greater confidence.
- Websites that still have the classic HTTP protocol will see a circled “i” appear next to the URL; indicating that the connection with that particular URL is exposed to security risks.
The Advantages of HTTPS
Using the HTTPS communication protocol guarantees:
- Identity: The address you entered is the address you were looking for.
- Communication protection: From cyber attacks (i.e., man-in-the-middle), an external user can intercept traffic and redirect it to a malicious site.
- Data integrity: Sensitive and payment data that have not been altered in the communication.
HTTPS: The Psychological Effect on the User
Compared to its HTTP predecessor, the HTTPS protocol’s importance must be clear, especially to website owners and managers. By adopting a secure protocol, the user will be comforted by visiting a professional and protected website.
As with any purchase, whether physical or online, most people prefer to turn to a reliable dealer. The certificates demonstrate the authenticity or competence of a company in a specific field; increasing the customers’ safety and trust during the purchase.
Adopting the protocol is a choice that belongs to the owner of the server or website. The user perceives that a site is unreliable from the signals the browser brings to its attention. But it does not have to make changes to its program. The communication for us visitors takes place transparently and is managed by the two computer actors of communication.
HTTPS and SEO
In 2017, Google said that websites that would not adopt the HTTPS protocol would be penalized by showing a warning page about an unsecured connection with the site.
Surely you will have noticed that using the Google Chrome browser for navigation warns you when a website is safe or potentially risky. This fact is already able to determine the traffic of a site heavily!
Most SEO agencies will tell you that Google considers many factors when evaluating your site’s ranking. Not adopting a more secure communication protocol will probably lead to a “penalty” in E-Commerce portals, where asking the customer for their data and payment methods is necessary.
For other types of websites; the potential negative effect on the organic positioning of your site is instead linked to the behavior of visitors. Proposing an unprotected portal determines, in fact, fewer visits and less trust and leads users to look elsewhere as desired. And these are just some of the factors that affect your site’s reputation on Google.
After the necessary premise, we see what implications at the SEO level, or what we need to pay attention to, are there to adopt HTTPS.
- This is one of the cases in which 301 Redirects are essential to send all URLs from HTTP to HTTPS. And when we all say we mean ALL.
- Like URLs, canonical rels must also be corrected and directed to the URL with HTTPS
- Report the HTTPS version in Google and Bing’s Webmaster Tools.
- Once done, use the View as Google tool in Webmaster Tools to request the site crawl and render.
- Sitemaps must be updated so that they contain the new URLs with HTTPS (otherwise, they are all 404). Once modified, they must be reported in GWT. Before deleting old sitemaps, waiting for the engine to process all the redirects is better.
- The robots.txt file must be updated, and new sitemaps should be reported.
- Update the Google Analytics tracking code if necessary; most modern snippets already manage HTTPS.
- Implementing HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) is an HTTP response that serves to communicate to the user agent that the server interacts with the browser via HTTPS.
- For the generation of RSS feeds, you must make sure that you use a service that supports HTTPS, not that it affects the ranking directly, but it is still important for the visibility of the site.
- By default, the social buttons and RSS feeds do not support HTTPS; their code must be modified to make them functional and guarantee users the ability to share content.
HTTPS And GDPR
Preferring the HTTPS protocol also has positive implications for the management of personal data.
You have certainly heard of the GDPR, or the new security and data processing regulation, which came into force on May 25, 2018.
As we saw at the beginning of this article, the HTTPS protocol adoption is also important as a form of guarantee for users regarding “Privacy” speech. It is also an advantage for the website owner, who, in doing so, offers additional “protection” from a GDPR perspective.
Conclusion – Duty Calls!
To conclude, the transition to a secure connection is more of a duty than a piece of advice, and there seem to be no side effects at the moment. On the contrary: it is undoubtedly worth taking advantage of the circumstances to improve your site in terms of SEO and User Experience. Otherwise, what is still a detail for the moment will soon become something unpleasant to deal with day after day.