Should I Change from HTTP to HTTPS for SEO?August 12, 2014
Pablos Holman is a hacker. If he wants to, he could easily keep a record of all the websites you visit, the duration of your stay, the information input into the page, and even impersonate the HTTP address of a page you’re visiting when you’re using the free Wi-Fi at a hotel, coffee shop, or airport. The web’s first defense against people like Mr. Holman’s attacks is HTTPS.
To encourage more websites to switch from HTTP to HTTPS, Google officially reveals HTTPS encryption as a ranking signal within their search algorithm. In the long run, making HTTPS a Google search ranking signal will make the web more secure and faster for the user.
What’s the Difference between HTTP and HTTPS?
The internet runs on Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP. When you’re on a web page and click on a link through your browser (say Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Firefox) a request is sent to the server of the link’s website. That request is sent through HTTP which allows you to see what’s on the next page.
The web as we know it runs mostly on HTTP version 1.1, which was codified in 1999, and has several security issues (like man-in-the-middle, and eavesdropping attacks) that can be addressed with Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secured, or HTTPS. HTTPS is simply HTTP with a layer of data encryption.
By adding TLS/SSL encryption to HTTP, you get HTTPS, a more secure webpage.
“We need to think about encryption not as this sort of arcane, black art. It’s a basic protection.” Edward Snowden
The Bigger Picture Beyond Security – Page Load Speed and Mobile Users
Google has developed an open networking protocol that improves page load times called SPDY (pronounced Speedy) which requires HTTPS. Initial tests have shown a mean page load time reduction of 23% compared to traditional methods (HTTP) on mobile. Internet browsers Chrome and Firefox are both committed to supporting SPDY, and so are Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari. The bottleneck for SPDY to work its page load speed magic mainly lies on websites to be in HTTPS, and hence the Google ranking incentive. As of July 2014, only 25.1% of the internet’s 153,257 most popular websites have SSL encryption (a basic requirement to set up HTTPS) for their websites.
By creating a faster internet, search engines stand to gain the ability to serve more answers to users. With more user queries, you can expect more ads. And don’t forget, we’re now living in an age where mobile internet usage outweighs desktop, so faster mobile page load speeds are welcome.
Looking Back – The Decision to Favor HTTPS Didn’t Happen Over Day
The gradual progression to an encrypted search landscape started in October 2011, when signed-in Google users would have secured search by default. By September of 2013, Google.com became HTTPS by default, Chrome followed suit on January 2014 and so did Gmail on March 2014. Google’s push for HTTPS across all web properties, and not just websites with logins and credit card information, protects both brands and their users from malicious online attackers.
A lot of momentum has built up to push HTTPS as a Google search ranking signal.
Caveats: Improper HTTPS Implementation Will Cause a Lot of SEO Harm
In order for your website to reap the HTTPS ranking signal benefit on Google search, your website’s pages have to be updated. Page redirects chains, non-HTTPS canonical links, and improper instructions to Google’s search index can cause longer page load times, non-HTTPS versions of your website to be index, and the HTTPS Google search ranking benefit to be lost. Therefore, dropping the ball on implementation will cause more harm than good. Make sure you have the support and resources to make these technical SEO changes on your website before you make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS.
A Lightweight Signal for Now, a Heavier One in the Future
From an SEO standpoint, HTTPS is still a very lightweight signal. According to Google’s Online Security Blog, it is “affecting fewer than 1% of global queries.” You can expect Google to increase its weight to encourage adoption, as the issue isn’t just about how well trusted a website is, but also page load speed, another official Google ranking signal.