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Is It Important to Move Your Website to HTTPS?

Table of Contents

    What is HTTPS?

    Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is a way to make your website more secure. By adding the ‘S’ onto the end of HTTP you’re adding a level of encryption between the information being passed back and forth between your website and web browsers. It’s fast becoming an SEO marketing essential and one of the first issues a reputable SEO agency will pick up during a website health check.

    An additional layer of security to ward off any nasties basically.

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    Up until 2014 the use of HTTPS was mostly reserved for websites offering online purchasing (eCommerce) and any website that required the user to enter sensitive personal information like credit card numbers, PINs, account numbers, etc.

    Then in 2014, Google made HTTPS a ranking signal in order for all website owners to migrate to HTTPS eventually. The announcement on the Google Webmaster Central Blog in 2014 stated:

     “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. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web”.

    As a result of this ‘encouragement’ from Google, a recent study by Moz shows 32.5% of search results on page 1 of Google use the HTTPS protocol. In the study, Moz predicts when we hit the 50-60% mark, Google will turn up the algorithmic volume on HTTPS. That’s likely to happen in the next 16-17 months.

    So inevitably it does look like all websites will need to make the shift sooner rather than later, but be warned it’s not as simple as adding an ‘S’ to the end of your HTTP. There’s a lot of consideration and care that needs to go into migrating to HTTPS and we encourage you to seek expert help when you do this.

    The Risks Moving to HTTPS

    If you care about your organic growth and SEO then you do need to consider the move carefully. It’s important to involve your SEO manager and web developer in the process so they can make the transition as smooth as possible.

    Like any big website change particularly one that involves site-wide URL changes, there’s no exact answer as to how your website and keyword rankings will be affected. However if you follow Google’s best practices and have trust in your SEO expert and web developer you’ll be on a good track to making your website better in the long run.

    HTTPS Migration Best Practices

    What do you need to do when you decide to move your website to https? Here’s a basic checklist:

    • Obtain a security certificate from a reliable certificate authority with a high level of security (2048-bit key). It’s important to make sure the certificate is registered to the right website name and at all times the certificate is kept valid and up to date
    • 301 redirect the old http pages to the new https on a page-to-page basis
    • Make sure all internal links are also pointing to the new https
    • Make sure the xml sitemap and robots.txt files are updated
    • Make sure your web server supports HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) and that it’s enabled (this tells browsers to automatically direct users to the https version of a page even if they type in http alongside telling Google to show the secure URLs in the search engine result pages)

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    • Verify the new HTTPS version of your website in Google Search Console and upload the new sitemap (note you don’t have to use the change of address tool if you’re just moving from HTTP to HTTPS)
    • Where possible update all offsite links to the website, this may include on your social media pages, any business directories and anywhere you may have guest posted

    For further reading material we would recommend Stone Temple Consulting’s Complete Guide to SSL and SEO.

    Will your traffic and rankings drop when moving to HTTPS?

    Google clearly states on their HTTPS migration support pages that they treat the HTTPS switch as a site move and ‘you may experience a temporary fluctuation in site ranking during the move’.

    This occurs because Google needs to re-crawl and index your website again. How long the ranking recovery takes is not a set-in-stone answer as Google has no fixed crawl rates and it also depends on your server speed.

    In Conclusion

    Moving to HTTPS should be in your short-midterm website plan however it’s important when you do make the move that you’re prepared to manage the risk involved and have experts on hand to guide you along the right track.

    When you make the move, you may see a small ranking boost, however don’t expect to automatically jump to the top of the search results. To put it in perspective, currently the HTTPS ranking signal carriers less weight than high-quality site content so make sure you work out your online priorities for your website and budget.

    If you are considering making the move to HTTPS now or in the near future and would like further advice from an SEO perspective, please contact us online

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