Until now, Google was too shy to disclose any ranking factors used by their search engine bots. All those roaming around various tutorials were nothing but rumors (some were legit too). It was a big surprise for online communities when Google announced that quite a boost in search results ranking is awarded to websites that are secured with Https encryption. Like traditional tips and tricks, Https is not just another trick. It involves difficulties, risks and cost of implementing it. However, there are several advantages of using it like tightened security and encryption, improved referral data and quite a boost in ranking.
To begin the discussion, we will first describe the advantages of switching to https that also includes various https SEO impacts.
SEO advantages of switching to https
With increased security, there are a number of advantages that are great concerns of SEO’s and online marketers for their advantage:
- Increased referral data:
Referral data is often stripped away when it is transferred through a traffic that is passing for a secured https site to a non-secure http site. In your analytics details and reports, this traffic flow can be seen as ‘direct traffic’. This involves a great risk of not knowing from where the data is actually coming. For instance, if your website uses http, traffic coming from websites such as hacker news would be shown as ‘direct traffic’ since this website uses https. However, there is a simple solution for such situation. If any kind of traffic is passed towards https site, all the referral information is preserved securely. This is done regardless to the original site using http or https, so it would not be a problem. Since there are a lot of websites implementing http to https migration, it has become even more important.
- Ranking boost with https:
Despite of Google confirming that ranking boost is provided for the website secured with https encryption, it is also a fact that if compared for each 200 rankings, the effect / or influence of https over ranking would be quite small. Moreover, some results show that there was very small (not even noticeable but somehow it got) or no advantage in search result rakings for the website using https encryption (may be Google fooled us all for its own advantage or for enforcing their policies). Moreover, https encryption is very hard to get it isolated on its own, just like most of the ranking signals.
So, despite of it being useful, don’t expect a magical effect over your search engines ranking from it. In fact, if ranking are your only concern, there are plenty of other things to try such as attract links, local optimization, quality content, international targeting, targeting relevant search phrases, etc.
- Security and Privacy:
It is believed by many online communities that https is useful only for those websites in which sensitive passwords are used / transferred. However, that is not the complete truth. It has been tested and proved that https / SSL encryption can help almost any regular website (even those with boring content). There are several ways in which security is served to any website through the https / SSL encryption such as:
- Https helps to verify that the server on which website is working is the one it is supposed to
- Tempering by any third parties is prevented by https
- It restricts main in the middle kind of attacks which ultimately makes the website more secure and encrypted in user’s or visitor’s perspective.
- All website communications and even URL can be encrypted using https.
- Https protects browsing history and inputted sensitive details such as credit card numbers from being stolen.
Considering these https SEO impacts, https is only affordable to try if and only if it is advantaging your online business in one way or other. It is certain thing that your search engine results ranking would be given quite a small boost since the security and trustworthiness of the website would be increased due to added https encryption.
Common challenges when switching from http to https
After knowing all the positive impacts, one might definitely want to deploy https encryption over their website as soon as possible. However, it is not going to be as simple as it does sounds. So, there are some challenges that you are much likely to face while performing an http to https migration. After discussing them, the discussion would be continuing to the process of properly deploying https encryption.
- Mistakes while deployment:
Several parts of the website are required to move individually when moving website to https which makes the process comparatively complex. There is a strong possibility of important parts and details being left over.
- If important URLs are blocked in robots.txt
- If the canonical tags are pointed towards wrong URL that is much likely HTTP
- Are browsers’ bars are displaying warning due to your websites. These warnings are much likely to frighten your future customers away.
However, these problems are very rare to happen, that too only if the procedure is one carelessly. There are a number of webmasters that observed ranking and conversion plummets after successful deployment of https encryption. In most cases, http to https migration helps as a simple fix for multiple problems. However, it is recommended to beware of the risks involved.
- Speed issues:
Extra Communication Bridge is required between various servers for successfully getting https working. This may very well cause your website to slow down. This effect is even intense with slower servers. It means that it will make slower websites even slower (duh?). Now since you are deploying https for better search engine results ranking, you would also consider speed since it is also a ranking factor, especially when loading websites on other platforms than computers such as mobiles or tablets.
Don’t let yourself feel down, since there are various practices. If followed properly, your website can be developed enough to handle https while maintaining the same speed it possessed before the implementation or deployment of https. This is not it! Innovative technologies such as SPDY are considered https friendly. These technologies allow you to speed up the website even faster compared to when the https was not deployed on the website.
Even basic SSL certificate would cost your websites $100 to $200 on yearly basis. For small website or startup website, this amount is comparatively significant. However, these high costs also serve as a barrier which is less likely to be crossed by most of the spammers. Other than these certification costs, it is completely free to switch to https and deploying the encryption to your website.
- Every part of the website might not be ready for the https:
You might very well notice as a website maintainer and developer, that not every single component of your website would do well with https encryption. Most common issue in these criteria is that some of the old school web application would not support websites with https URLs. Many AdSense users complained about significant decrement in their average income after they implemented SSL encryption and certification over their website. This decrement is an effect of Google restriction on the ads that are SSL-compliant.
One would be definitely surprise to know that even some of the Google’s own tools do not support end-to-end https migration. They are stuck with partial compatibility, at least for now. As the migration process is spreading with the speed of bits and bytes over the web, it looks quite possible to achieve 100% SSL encryption soon enough. However, experts have warned about upcoming pains with these achievements.
How to switch to https properly
There are a number of advantages (with some risks involved) and many positive https SEO impacts and SSL SEO impacts as well. Besides that, most of the websites that represent a physical business prefer to switch to https encryption for secured transactions since they involve transferring funds. Despite of all the advances, many website owners are hesitating performing http to https migration upon their website due to the fear of some risks or them lacking with the proper and most accurate process.
For such website operators / owners, we have decided to breaking down complete process of switching from http to https:
- Starting with server testing:
Server testing is important before beginning the actual process. It will allow you to get the website in right stage and test everything without screwing the website in real manner. However, you are certainly not going to do something you cannot recover from. Yet, it is important to practice, test and a have a plan before implementing any practical change to your website.
- Crawling the current website:
This will help you figuring out the current state of the website. It is also important for comparison purpose such as, your website before implementation and after implementation.
- Reading the documentation:
These documents mainly include documentation related to https servers or CDN servers. Many people complain about running in CDN issues after the deployments. Some homework before practical implementation would save you from that.
- Getting a security certificate and installing it on server:
Hosting environment in which your website is kept is crucial for this. Server setup would be important too. It is noticeable that most of the procedure is documentation rather than any technical installation.
- Updating references in content:
Search and replace method on the database is most effective for doing this. All you require to do is to update references and internal links to use https instead of http in all relative paths. You can simply replace every http with https (be careful though).
- Updating references in templates:
This process is very well dependant on your way of deploying. It might be done with Git or even Notepad++. Although, make sure that all the references including scripts, images, links and all are using https and relative paths.
- Updating Canonical and hreflang tags:
In most of the cases, CMS systems used with the websites takes care of canonical tag updating. However, it is recommended to double check since it is not necessary. If hreflang or any other kinds of OG tags are used by the website, CMS would take care of updating them. Again, there is no harm in cross checking.
- Some more updates:
In order to make sure that no part of the website would break down after the deployment, one needs to make sure that nothing is missing in the website and everything is up to date including plug ins, modules and add-ons. These issues are often encountered in internal site search module and various forms.
- Change the CMS setting and crawl again:
There are various CMS settings that require to be changed. In major CMS systems these settings are most commonly properly documented migration guides. Once all the settings are updated crawl the website again. Make sure that no links are missing and nothing is broken within the website. If you are using a crawler you can export any insecure content directly. You must make sure that any external script used with the website supports https completely.
While performing a http to https migration, if these aspects are considered, the chances of getting into trouble would be greatly decreased. This is not the actual process of switching from http to https, however, this would be probably helping you to follow the original process more safely. HTTPs migration was never an easy process since its introduction. However, for more security and encryption, it has become comparatively necessary. This method would probably help you to avoid most of the risks in the process.