If you have been running a website for some time, by now you might have already heard about the importance of SSL certificates. They’ve become almost a universal standard across the web, and almost all websites are using them today. Have you ever wondered why businesses of all sizes install them even when they can go online without their installation?
The answer lies in security and SEO. While you may already be aware of the security implications that come with not installing an SSL certificate, you may not know the impact that it leaves on the SEO and search rankings of your site. That impact is much more serious than you can imagine. And in this article, we’re going to explore that impact of SSL certificates. Let’s get started:
SSL Certificates: What are they?
Before we dive into the details of how SSL certificates affect your search rankings, it’s important to understand what they are and how they work. SSL certificates are unique digital identities installed on any web server. The certificate that is issued to your site won’t be issued to any other site in the world.
This is ensured by the trusted Certifying Authorities (CAs), which are involved in the business. By giving a unique, inimitable identity to your website it helps browsers of your visitors confirm that they’re indeed sending their data to your own web server and not to that of someone else.
But there’s also one more thing that SSL certificates do. Besides confirming the identity of your web server to visitors they also encrypt all user data before sending it to your server. This dual role of identity confirmation and encryption is what makes SSL certificates one of the most basic requirements of modern internet safety.
HTTP vs. HTTPS: The Difference That SSL Certificates Bring
Once you install SSL certificate for your website, it starts loading over HTTP Secure (also known as HTTPS) protocol instead of the default HTTP. This is a secured version of HTTP protocol which confirms the identity of your web server and instructs the web browser of your visitors to transmit all data only after encrypting it, as I described above. That way, even if someone steals the data packets being transmitted between your visitors and your website, he/she won’t be able to uncover any information from those stolen packets. The data your visitors send you will be accessible only to your website – not to any 3rd party that is trying to snoop on it in transit.
HTTPS As Ranking Signal:
The above described important security functions of SSL certificates are the reasons why Google started instructing webmasters to secure their sites with SSL. Google rarely talks about the signals it uses in its algorithm to rank websites, but it talked about HTTPS being a ranking signal immediately after it had started ranking down websites over HTTP in its search results. A blog post was published by the company telling people about this move, which shows how much importance Google gives to HTTPS. If your website is not on HTTPS, it will certainly be ranked lower in SERPS of Google, and you can’t blame anyone for it except for yourself.
Other Ways How HTTPS Affects Your Google Ranking:
Besides the direct impact of bring ranked below other sites by the algorithms of Google, there are also some other indirect ways how not being on SSL affects the SEO of your site. Here they’re:
- First, there are limitations related to Google Analytics. Google withholds referral data in Analytics if you’re not on HTTPS, which means that you can’t analyse your traffic properly.
- So, if you receive any serious amount of traffic from a source, you won’t be able to find out about that source. All its traffic will be shown as direct traffic, if your website is using HTTP instead of HTTPS.
- If your website is on HTTPS, on the other hand, then you can clearly see all the sources of traffic in Google Analytics, which will enable you to better analyse your marketing strategies.
- Secondly, if your site is not on HTTPS, you’re treated unfairly in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and other browsers as well. A ‘Not Secure’ label is shown before your website address, which gives a very insecure feeling to your visitors.
- Those who do not understand why this label is being shown feel that something is very wrong with your website, and therefore many of them leave your site quickly after opening it.
- This increases your bounce rate, which is another factor considered by Google in its ranking algorithms. Even if all your users understand why that label is being shown, its mere presence on your site means that you don’t take the security of your visitors seriously. And in that case… why would your visitors want to take you seriously?
- And thirdly, if your website is not over HTTPS, cyber culprit may also use it to their advantage. They can do an MiTM attack on your visitors to steal the information. Even simple information like email and contact numbers can help them target your visitors, due to which many (or even most) of your visitors may start visiting your competitors’ site instead of yours.
- This may build their brand a stronger one, and a strong brand once built brings not only direct traffic but also more traffic from SERPs even if a site is ranking 2nd or 3rd.
- Google also considers both direct traffic as well as clicks in search results as important ranking signals, so overtime your site may start slipping in search results even for those keywords which were driving decent traffic to you at some point.
So that’s how an SSL certificate affects your search rankings. And the only way to secure yourself from this chaos is to install the certificate on your web server. It’s also your duty, because your visitors visit your site with trust. If that trust is broken and the information of your visitors is stolen/leaked, they may never return to your site. Worse, you may also face some legal consequences for the same. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest that you secure your website with an SSL certificate. It’s also not difficult to do so, as you can easily buy SSL certificate from any CA of your choice at a price that you can afford. So, I would suggest that you buy it and install it today!
Also published on Medium.