There has been somewhat of a buzz in the SEO community over the past few months as to the power of having a website on a secure server. In lay terms, that means that your web address begins with https, rather than http, indicating a higher level of encryption and data protection. It actually stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure.
Traditionally https has been used in areas where safety and data security has been important. For most of us as web users this would be on sites where we would need to give personal information, or credit card details. So, online shopping websites, government sites etc would all be https. You may have noticed a little padlock symbol in the top left of yourbrowser window, indicating the extra propection being afforded.
Google Says HTTPS Is A Ranking Factor
In August 2014 Google made an announcement on their Google Webmaster Central blog that https would now be considered as a ranking factor. You can read it here.
In this announcement they stated that they want to make the web secure, and that making https the accepted standard for websites was part of their goal in achieving this.
It’s worth noting, whatever your feelings about Google as a company, or some of their business practices, they have contributed enormously to making the internet experience we all take for granted as useful, efficient and enjoyable as it is.
They announced that a website having https would be considered a positive ranking factor, although only a very small one. At the time I, and a number of other SEOs, ran tests on websites, adding secure certificate hosting to them, but there was no measurable impact in terms of search rankings.
Google Favours HTTPS Over HTTP
Then in December 2015 Google announced that they would be ranking https pages over http pages as a matter of course. Read that here. This announcement caused a great deal of confusion, as the spin around it, on various websites and forums, made it appear that https websites would rise to the top and non-secured websites would drop.
Upon more careful reading what Google actually said was that where there are two versions of a webpage, Google will rank the secured one. That was it.
However, in the world of SEO and website development many people chase one “magic-bullet” after another, and this announcement was seized upon. Sales of secure certificates must have taken a spike in the weeks after that blog post from Google.
Again, I (and others) have tested the effect of switching to https, and I have seen no noticeable positive impact.
Should You Switch To HTTPS?
In short, “Probably“. Despite there being no big ranking impact, Google has indicated that it is something it will increasing expect from websites.
Take a look right now. Open another window in your browser, and Google the main search phrase you want your website to rank for. If you see two or three of your competitors on page one with https already, then you need to take care of this right now. These are the sites you are directly competing against, so why would you give them any advantage over your website, even if it is a small one?
If none of your competitors are using secure certificate hosting then there may be less urgency, but why not use this opportunity to get one factor in your favour.
Is The Juice Worth The Squeeze?
Of course, as a business owner you only want to spend money on things that are worth it. However, SSL certificates are not costly. Your hosting provider should be able to install one for around £50 – £100 per year.
Ultimately the choice is yours. There is no measurable benefit that I have seen at present (March 2016), but that will likely change as more and more sites switch. Https and the little padlock are also a trust signal for your website visitors, meaning they can be assured that there is nothing untoward on your site. It is also seen as a Trust signal by Google.
Google don’t own the internet, but they do own the main portal that your customers use to access it, so when they have publicly declared what they expect, it’s wise to meet that expectation.