Back in August Google made the surprise announcement that secure websites would get a boost in rankings. While secure sites, or https sites, were necessary for some companies that held confidential information—banks, lawyers, education organizations, etc.—the majority of websites work with http websites, or non-secure websites.
Google never used to give preferential treatment based on security, but the new announcement makes it clear that if you want the best SEO possible, you’re going to need to switch to a secure https website.
What Google Says about Secure Websites
The reasoning behind giving secure sites a boost in rankings was because Google wanted to the web to be as safe for users as possible, and HTTPS sites are a way to help. According to the announcement, however, the boost in rankings won’t be overly significant. They said:
“For now it’s only a very lightweight signal—affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high quality content—while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS.”
What’s interesting about this snippet though is the last sentence. We all knew content was the most important thing for rankings and we’re no stranger to Google changes that don’t affect many queries, but the last sentence suggests that this could be more significant in the near future. Google also stressed that all types of websites, even content-focused sites and blogs, should make the switch. Google is “giving webmasters time” to make the switch, so the sooner you can jump on that bandwagon, the better for your future SEO.
So are there any cons to switching? At this point, it doesn’t look like there is any reason not to switch to a secure website. Although it will take a little bit of time, it won’t change anything for your site negatively, so you only have something to gain.
How to Make the Switch from a Non-Secure to Secure Website
If you’re unfamiliar with what makes a site secure vs. non-secure, don’t sweat it. It’s clear that the “S” at the end of the “HTTP” on a website means something is secure, but what it actually means is a site without that “S” (or without that security) is sending information across the web in plain text. The data is not encrypted, so it’s easier to read and find information. The “S” encrypts this data, making it more secure.
You can switch your website to a secure website by changing the URL from http to https. According to the official Google Help page, you can do this in just four steps:
- Prepare the new site and test it thoroughly. Unfortunately, you’re going to need to essentially create a new site. For a move to HTTPS, you need to get and configure the required SSL certificates on your server, which you can learn more about here.
- Prepare a URL mapping from the current URLs to their corresponding new format. You have to map your old site’s URLs to the URLs for the new site. Find your important URLs by looking through your sitemaps and start there. Once you have a list, you will want to update annotations in the sitemaps entry for each page, update all internal links, and create and save the new sitemaps.
- Start the site move by configuring the server to redirect from the old URLs to the new ones. There is no need to submit a change of address if you are only moving your site from http to https, but you do want to remove all robots.txt directives on the source site so that the Google bots can find all of the redirects to your new site.
- Monitor the traffic on both the old and new URLs. As always, use Webmaster Tools to monitor traffic including your sitemaps, index status, crawl errors, and search queries.
Of course as you may have realized, there is a lot more to this than just what is written above, and it can get detailed. If you need more information, I highly recommend checking out the link above for Google’s instructions or visiting this article from DesignModo that does a great job of showing screenshots and walking you through the process.
Tips for Optimizing a Secure HTTPS Website
Once you’ve gone through all of that work, the worst thing you can do is not optimize your new https website. While optimization techniques are the same between secure and non-secure sites, there are a few things that you should pay special attention to with https including:
First, watch your load time. An https website often takes longer to load, so a strong host helps. Second, always keep your SSL certification update so that your SEO doesn’t suffer, and lastly, make sure your pages that offer content are http and not https so that they are sure to get indexed and rank well. I recommend visiting this article for more information.
Have you made the switch to a secure website? Let us know what you thought of the process and if you’ve seen an improvement in your SEO rankings in the comment section below.