SSL & HTTPS Google Ranking Factors Part 1
Earlier this year Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, said he’d like to make SSL a ranking factor. This wasn’t the first time he’d been publically supportive of SSL, but the web environment generally is now taking security issues far more seriously (following Heartbleed). At the time, Matts comments were purely personal, but now Google is making it a reality.
This month Google announced that going the HTTPS route by adding an SSL 2048-bit key certificate on your site, will give your site a minor ranking boost. Prior to making the announcement Google had of course being doing its own testing and says the HTTPS ranking signal shows a positive correlation with relevancy and rankings.
So why is HTTPS becoming more important? The security of websites has become a major issue with a number of high profile cases proving no firm is too big to be caught out. Add to this Google would like the web to be as secure as possible and you have the background to the news about HTTPS becoming a weak ranking factor (for now).
HTTPS (as opposed to HTTP) allows for pages and data to be transmitted securely using encryption. Google itself is now encrypted (https://www.google.co.uk/).
You may be wondering why the HTTPS protocol isn’t the norm, but the key question for a small business is should you make the move to upgrade?
Up until now it’s been widely believed only checkout pages handling financial transactions required encryption. This is certainly the model many large online retailers follow. Basically Google is saying this structure isn’t secure enough so an entire domain needs to go over to HTTPS.
As a small business, perhaps not even running an ecommerce site, you may be wondering what to do for the best. Any migration, such as the move to HTTPS from HTTP, can be complex and can have a negative effect on traffic if not handled correctly.
My view is that this is a must-do within the next 18 months and I shall be putting my money where my mouth is by moving my own site. Google has already stated that they may decide to strengthen the HTTPS ranking signal in the future. Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of essentially a free gift from Google? Many ranking factors are known, some are surmised and others are unknown. My view is we should all take advantage of this.
Migration to HTTPS should be handled by someone conversant with the process, but it is a one-time process if handled correctly and then you are done. A professional will be able to track the migration using your preferred analytics package and via Google Webmaster Tools. When moving your site it’s important to use relative urls for all pages on the same domain. It’s also essential you tell Google your website address has changed. Google should be able to freely index the new pages so avoid robots.txt and the noindex robots meta tag. Some types of sites are trickier than others to move. WordPress sites for example, can be awkward. Consider getting professional help to minimise downtime.