HTTPS is crucial, and it should be applied to every website without question. But some websites are still operating through HTTP, which can do more harm than good.
In this blog, I will explain what HTTPS is and why you need it.
What is HTTPS?
HTTPS stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure. In other words, when it comes to transferring data on the web, it’s an updated, more secure and encrypted version of its predecessor, HTTP.
HTTPS act as a barrier, preventing harmful attackers from tampering with your website. It ensures that website traffic is genuine and protects the communication between the server and the browser. This alone should be a strong enough reason for switching to HTTPS.
I’m sure you clicked on a website and were presented with a warning telling you the site has been flagged as unsecured, blocking you from visiting it. This is your browser alerting you it’s not safe, which is critical if it’s a site that requires users to provide personal data such as payment. The word “unsecured” is something to remember if you haven’t yet switched to HTTPS or you’ve moved over and want to run a few more security checks.
Would you continue to visit a website that search engines are flagging as potentially harmful and unsecured? It’s not just the security implications you need to consider; it’s users’ first impressions too.
How to check for HTTPS
To check if a website is HTTPS, go to the URL bar on the top of your web browser and look for a padlock. If you see the padlock or something similar, it should be an HTTPS, secure website.
You can click on the padlock for more information about the HTTPS certificate.
Why do you need HTTPS?
This should be clear – to safeguard your website from attackers entering and causing chaos.
Think about your customers’ personal information that is stored. Do you want their login, payment and other personal information from being hacked? Do you want search engines from blocking users from visiting?
HTTP makes it easier for attackers to interrupt the communication between the browser and server with malicious code, allowing them to do and take what they want. It’s like leaving your doors unlocked for unwanted visitors.
How does HTTPS work?
You can refer to HTTPS as an indestructible wall. When HTTPS is applied, it encodes its HTTP forerunner. If an attacker wants to disrupt your website, HTTPS restrict what they can see, leaving them with random characters, preventing them from seeing and taking sensitive data.
However, like anything, HTTPS isn’t 100% bulletproof, but the chances of your website experiencing a malicious attack are significantly slimmer than sticking to HTTP.
To activate HTTPS, you need an SSL certificate to validate it, alerting search engines that your website is secure. An SSL certificate is also referred to as a TLS certificate (Transfer Layer Security). Certificate Authorities (CA) publish all SSL certificates.
There are paid and free versions available but choose the type of SSL certificate carefully so as not to save on cost. There are specific versions of certificates that are more suitable for certain websites, so bear this in mind. Remember, safeguarding your website and data is paramount.
Most free versions come with your hosting provider and CDN plans, so check what’s included in your package. If you’re unsure about the type of certificate you have or upgrading it, speak to your hosting providers or technical team (tech SEOs, web developers, IT professionals).
When choosing a certificate, look at the bigger picture and what will be the most valuable to your business and customers.
Domain Validation (DN)
Domain Validation is the free, basic version, validating the domain name. This SSL certificate is fine for blogs and similar websites, but I wouldn’t recommend it for sites that store sensitive data.
Organisation Validation (OV) and Extended Validation (EV)
These are the paid versions that are recommended for eCommerce websites or sites that hold sensitive data. Paid versions of any certifications tend to have more benefits and, in this case, provide you with more protection from malicious attacks.
HTTPS and SEO: Does it affect performance?
I mentioned earlier the impact an HTTP site can have on users. Here’s why you need to consider your target audience and KPIs.
Visiting a website that is being flagged by search engines as harmful means the user can’t go any further unless they change their browser settings or attempt to use a different browser – but that takes effort. So, first impressions are a thumbs down.
Preventing users from visiting your site will impact overall performance, including keyword rankings, traffic and, of course, conversions and revenue. Also, regardless of whether the HTTP issue is resolved, users will remember your website not being secure, making them more reluctant to create a customer account or make a purchase. This would mean losing existing and new customers to a competitor, putting you in a worse position and losing visibility and credibility.
Google regards HTTPS as a ranking factor, considering it when crawling your site. Granted, it’s a light ranking factor, and other SEO attributes are more impactful, but it’s a big box tick and provides trust signals to search engines.
We know the importance backlinks have on a website, but if your website is operating through HTTP and the backlinks are on HTTPS, and you’re relying on Google Analytics, you won’t see the referral data. Any referral links to your HTTP will be classed as direct traffic, and if you’re running a content marketing campaign, your performance report might not look so good. Imagine attaining a relevant, high-quality backlink and it being disregarded because you have an HTTP site?
Due to the advanced performance, HTTPS supports site speed and protocols like HTTP/2, another Google ranking factor.
While it’s only a “light ranking factor”, HTTPS is more beneficial and rewarding, and for organic search, these smaller attributes can have a bigger impact.
An all-round HTTPS website
When updating to HTTPS from HTTP, ensure all internal links are updated. Like referral links, internal links are valuable, strengthening your website’s equity while improving user experience. For these links to be impactful, ensure they’re switched to HTTPS. If you’re launching a new site, it’s easier to set everything to HTTPS, but all links must be redirected over when you’re migrating a website. The same applies to canonical tags and social media posts (this can be achieved via Facebook’s Open Graph Meta Tags).
Also, you want to ensure any backlinks pointing to your website are HTTPS. For the same reason, users might not be able to visit your website via the referral site if it’s blocked and the links could be harmful.
You can crawl your website to identify HTTP links.
HTTPS defends your website from attackers, alerting browsers that your site is safe and validated via an SSL certificate. It stops search engines from blocking users from visiting your website, allowing users to browse and convert, improving your overall organic performance.
HTTPS is a huge trust signal for everyone, from Google bots to users.
For more information on HTTPS or to check the security status of your website, get in touch with me today.