An Update on Google’s SSL Ranking Factors – Part 2
Further to my earlier post on SSL ranking factors Part 1 I can now offer some elaboration and clarification.
You may remember the background to this. A personal idea first muted by Matt Cutts, Google’s introduction of the SSL ranking factor comes at a time when some high profile sites have suffered at the hands of Heartbleed and other security issues. Google would rather the web was a secure safe place for businesses and searchers. The introduction of the SSL ranking factor, albeit as a minor signal, is Google’s way of encouraging online businesses to get the message: To migrate from HTTP to HTTPS. And who is not to say the signal won’t carry more weight in the future as Google itself has intimated?
We now know for sure that the SSL ranking factor is indeed a standalone ranking signal. It’s unrelated to the Panda algorithm or any other. This makes sense, because unlike Panda and other algorithms, the SSL ranking factor is run in real time. This means as soon as you migrate even one url to HTTPS, Google should index it immediately and you should be able to see it in the serps. It will also be given a small ranking boost. This doesn’t mean it will necessarily change position in the serps. Nevertheless kudos will have been given even although there may be no obvious immediate changes to your ranking.
As you may have surmised from my comments above, Google’s SSL ranking boost is on a per url basis. This means even if you only migrate 1 or a handful of urls, at least to start with, these urls will receive the ranking boost. Don’t be lulled into thinking Google doesn’t want you to migrate your entire site – it does. However if you want to take things slow, especially if you are thinking of managing your own migration, then you will still receive the ranking benefits. I did say in my last post , migration can be awkward, especially with platforms such as WordPress. A bit by bit approach therefore has a lot to recommend it.
A further consideration is how sites in other indexes such as the news index might be impacted. Tests show that Google News Sites can change to HTTPS with no issues and the changes are indexed promptly.
There is however one red herring to mention again. Google suggests you use the Change of Address tool in Google Webmaster Tools. However it doesn’t support HTTP to HTTPS migrations. In time it most likely will but there’s no indication of when. In the absence of the tool, Google is suggesting a 301 redirect is sufficient to tell Google you have changed and I support this approach.
Now there is a widespread view that changing the address of a website damages rankings. It can be the case but is mostly due to pilot error. It’s easy to get confused when undertaking a migration. The backend view of a site lists many different urls and folders and isn’t always intuitive. However this type of change, largely at the behest of Google, won’t be disruptive if handled by someone who knows what they are doing.
Is it worth bringing in professional help? If you get significant traffic or are 100% reliant on your site for revenue, it’s probably worth engaging an expert even if you or someone who works for you does the heavy lifting. Having someone look over shoulder will ensure you won’t make any catastrophic errors such as failing to back-up your current site!