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What Is HTTPS, and Why Does Google Say I Need It?

Matt Brady
#Digital Marketing, #SEO
Published on August 19, 2014

Google is now using HTTPS as a ranking signal. Read on to find out what this means for your site's security and SEO.

Let’s state the obvious: search is important on the web. Pretty much everyone uses Google to find the information they are looking for, so everyone who owns a website wants to do everything they can to make sure people are able to find them. That’s why it’s important to keep up with Google’s regular updates and make sure your site is configured correctly to get the best search rankings.

So what’s the latest change that you need to be aware of? That would be an increased emphasis on security. Google recently announced that they would begin using HTTPS as a ranking signal for search results. But what exactly does this mean? Let’s look at HTTPS and how you can make sure you are taking advantage of it to not only obtain ideal search rankings, but also keep your site secure:

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS stands for “Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure”, which means that it is a secure version of the HTTP protocol that computers use to communicate over the Web (you probably recognize the “http://” that begins every website URL). This security comes from the use of SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), which encrypts the data being transferred from a user’s computer to the website they are accessing. Many sites use SSL to keep information secure, especially when sensitive data such as credit card numbers or personal information is being entered.

HTTPS IconYou can easily see that a site is using HTTPS by looking in the address bar of your browser. Any site that uses HTTPS will display a padlock icon before the URL, and it will also usually include the text “https://” (often colored green) to show that the page being accessed is secure. This gives users the confidence that any information they enter on the site will not be visible to other users or malicious hackers while it is being transmitted to the server.

How Does This Affect Search?

It seems like every few weeks, a news story appears about some sort of data breach or compromised information. Whether it’s a widespread software bug, hackers stealing information, or credit card information being stolen from major companies, data security is a constant concern. As one of the main channels that people use to navigate the web, Google understands the importance of security. They have called for “HTTPS everywhere,” encouraging all sites to use HTTPS to ensure that the data they transmit is secure.

In order to motivate sites to implement this security, Google has started to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. This means that sites which use HTTPS will receive a small boost in their search rankings. At the moment, this is what Google calls a “lightweight” signal, affecting less than 1% of global search queries, but they may increase the importance of this signal over time. This means that if your site does not currently utilize HTTPS, it is a good idea to implement it as soon as possible in order to receive this benefit.

How Do I Use HTTPS?

In order to implement HTTPS on your site, you will need to purchase and install an SSL Certificate from a Certificate Authority such as Digicert or Verisign. Google provided the following tips for SSL implementation:

  • 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.
  • Update your website’s address in Google Webmaster Tools to make sure Google indexes your site’s content under the new URLs (see Google’s site move article for more information).
  • 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.

As concerns about online security remain ever-present, it’s important to make sure your site is meeting the standards that users expect. If you haven’t yet implemented HTTPS for your site, doing so will not only give your users peace of mind when accessing your site, it will improve your search rankings in order to help you get found. Do you have any questions about how to install an SSL certificate and make sure your site is using HTTPS? Do you have any concerns about whether your site is configured correctly to allow Google to index its content? Sign up for our free SEO Diagnostic Report to find out if there is anything else you need to do to obtain the best search rankings, or feel free to contact us to speak with an SEO expert.