The Big List of SEO Tips and Tricks for Using HTTPS on Your Website
When it comes to boosting SEO, most of what we do is based on extensive testing and research. However, Google broke this norm in August of 2014 when they informed the internet that they will be utilizing the HTTPS protocol as a ranking signal for their search engine results pages.
With that said, website owners need to know the best practices for HTTPS when purchasing and adding their SSL certificate. In this guide, we’ll go over the advantages of having HTTPS, how HTTPS impacts SEO, and what you can do to maximize your security benefits.
What is HTTPS?
HTTPS is the secured version of HTTP or Hypertext Transfer Protocol. When a user visits their site, their browser submits an HTTP request to the website server to download the data for browsing. HTTP is so commonly used that browsers now automatically assume the protocol and allow you to simply type a domain into the URL field.
HTTPS encrypts the data transmitted between a browser and the website server. This protects any sensitive data from online attackers, phishing scams, and more. HTTPS websites must go through an authentication process, which adds authority and trustworthiness to your site in the eyes of the user when compared to an unsecured website.
Websites that require better security for themselves and their users integrate either an SSL or TLS certificate. SSL, which stands for Secure Sockets Layer, used to be the primary form of encryption online. TLS, Transport Layer Security, is now the industry standard and provides better performance and security for website owners. Nevertheless, you can expect to hear most individuals use “SSL” colloquially when referring to either.
The SEO Advantages of Having HTTPS on Your Site
HTTPS is not only an enhanced extension of the HTTP protocol but also offers a variety of SEO advantages for your site. These factors can influence your site’s quality score both directly and indirectly.
1. Google Will Boost Sites That Use HTTPS
Though the initial boost was much smaller, Google could potentially boost your rankings by as much as 5%. Additional studies may have determined that the boost isn’t quite that large, and may ultimately serve as a tiebreaker between a site with HTTPS and one without. However, it’s important to note that Google reserves the right to provide more weight to HTTPS as a ranking signal at any time.
With that said, businesses of all sizes can still benefit from the small boost that a secured website provides. This may be especially significant for small, local businesses where your competitors may or may not have the ability or funds to upgrade their websites to the HTTPS protocol. Even if the boost does amount to simply being a tiebreaker, it will push you over competitors that opt to leave their site unsecured.
It is important, however, to stress that HTTPS by itself will not prove to be significant. You still need to create and implement a solid SEO strategy that includes remedying crawl errors, eliminating duplicate content and URLs, optimizing site speed, and improving mobile-friendliness. You should view HTTPS as a small, but important step that provides more important benefits beyond the promised ranking boost.
2. Browsers Flag Unsecured Sites
This isn’t so much a benefit as it is helping your website to avoid any penalties. Popular web browsers such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Safari will automatically flag any websites that lack the HTTPS security protocol. This shows a user a warning screen that informs them that their data may be vulnerable when accessing your site.
This matters for your SEO and site rankings as it is effectively telling users to steer clear of your website. It’s easy enough to identify when a website is secure by the green lock icon that appears next to a URL. Users will likely bounce from your unsecured website and look for an alternative that features the security icon.
3. Track Your Referring Channels
Link-building campaigns are a powerful way to boost traffic to your website and increase its SEO value. Whenever you earn a backlink from a website, you will want to track the amount of referred traffic from that link. However, because HTTPS protects user data, you won’t be able to track referrals if you stick with HTTP only.
On the other hand, using HTTPS for your site allows you to track referral data from HTTP or HTTPS websites. The security encryption on your website will secure data from any source and allow you to monitor your analytics as intended.
4. Online Security Promotes Consumer Confidence
This is the flipside of eliminating the unsecured site warning that browsers give to sites that neglect to use HTTPS. Not only will you avoid that warning, but consumers can easily identify a secured website. First, some browsers will still add the prefix protocol to a URL. This will look like this:
However, most browsers now understand the protocol and do not require users to input this, nor do they necessarily display it on screen.
The second sign is a lock icon that is located immediately to the left of the URL. When the lock is closed, the site is secure. A lock that is open with an exclamation point indicates that the website uses SSL, but there are errors present that may cause data to become unsecured. If you are not using HTTPS, this lock will not appear at all.
By having this logo of trust next to your domain name, visitors can browse with confidence. This means that they may be more likely to spend time on your website. They will also feel more inclined to engage with features on your site designed for conversions such as forms or shopping. They know that your website is backed by a security system and are therefore more comfortable with sharing sensitive data.
Tips and Tricks for Using HTTPS
Purchasing and integrating a new SSL certificate on your site provides additional hurdles you may need to overcome. It’s important to be aware of these errors or else you will end up like countless other websites that pay for HTTPS only to have a broken lock indicator next to their URL.
To avoid this, be sure to use this checklist of tips and tricks to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your new website security.
1. Choose the Right SSL Certificate for Your Site
There are three primary SSL certificate types to consider for a single domain.
The first is known as Standard Validation and is the most affordable option available. This will allow you to enable the HTTPS protocol and include a lock icon next to your URL. This option requires you to go through a verification process that proves ownership of your domain. It provides a basic level of security and is recommended for sites that do not exchange sensitive data such as those in financial transactions.
The second type is known as Extended Validation. This verifies ownership of the domain and confirms the registry and ownership of the business. This is a more expensive security option but provides a higher level of protection that’s recommended for sites that exchange highly sensitive information with consumers. This will show the HTTPS protocol, the lock icon, and the business name in a green bar to the left of the URL. It will also indicate the region that the business is registered in brackets.
The third type is known as Organization Validated. This works similarly to Extended Validation but goes through additional efforts to vet the entire organization that owns the domain. The organization name will appear next to the security indicator and provide an added level of security and trust for those that visit the site.
The type of SSL certificate you choose is ultimately inconsequential when it comes to your SEO. However, choosing the cheapest option from an unreputable source is not always a wise business decision as it can cause SEO issues in other ways. You will need to consider what you need based on the size and scope of your business.
More importantly, you need a heightened level of security to protect customers that exchange sensitive data or make financial transactions with you online. It’s your responsibility to protect the confidentiality of your customers. Keep these factors in mind and purchase the right SSL certificate for your business’s needs.
2. Make Page Speed Optimization a Priority
Site speed and mobile friendliness are already major factors when it comes to your site’s SEO score. This is important to note because with HTTPS comes added security layers that can potentially increase loading times on site pages that are secured. A website that already features poor optimization and long load times will be worsened when upgrading to HTTPS.
For this reason, make sure to have your affairs in order when it comes to page speeds. You can utilize Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to check the health of your website and look for opportunities to boost your speed. Otherwise, the negative impact of poor load times will likely undo any positive benefits gained by the act of switching to HTTPS.
If you follow best practices and address any errors found by Google, then the issue lies with your SSL certificate provider. You will need to reach out and explain your speed issues to remedy the problem. As long as your website is passing PageSpeed tests, you should have no issues with the HTTPS protocol. If the problem persists, you may need to switch to a different provider for your website security.
Another strategy that some websites use is to implement HTTPS only on the pages that handle sensitive data. This would include checkout and payment pages within your storefront. You may have experience in using online stores that redirect to separate HTTPS pages for this purpose. However, we recommend addressing outstanding SEO issues on your site before resorting to this. You want your website to be prepared for the future if SSL becomes a sitewide standard.
3. Redirect HTTP URLs to HTTPS
This is a multi-step process but is necessary to ensure that your visitors head to the new, updated version of your website. First and foremost, you will need to tell Google Search Console to crawl the HTTPS version of your website. This process will mark the secured version of the site as the primary one, ensuring that those pages are the ones that appear in search engine results pages.
Note – You will also want to back up the existing version of your website if any errors occur throughout this process. This will protect you and ensure that no data is inadvertently lost in the process.
All of the URLs on your website will currently point to the HTTP version. This includes pathways to images, videos, and files that exist on your website. You will need to manually go through every URL and update these links to the HTTPS version. If you cannot rewrite the URL for every link, you should also create 301 redirects that push visitors to the HTTPS version if they attempt to access the original HTTP version.
4. Update Your Sitemap, Robots.txt, and Disavow File
You’ll also want to make it as easy as possible for Google’s search crawler to download and understand how your website changes. You will need to change all URLs to the HTTPS version. The Robots.txt file should also be updated to ensure that it is not preventing Google from crawling the updated pages. Failure to do so will block you from obtaining the benefits of securing that page.
Likewise, you’ll want to carry over the data you have regarding disavowed URLs. If you do not do so, those disavowed domains can find a loophole and begin backlinking to your domain using the updated protocol. Resubmit your file to Google to carry over your list.
You will essentially need to repeat these sorts of tasks for every aspect of your website. This includes updating internal links to direct to HTTPS versions. You will also need to update tracking tools you use such as Google Analytics, Google Ads, Google Tag Manager, and Facebook Ads. By addressing all of this as soon as possible, you will preserve the SEO work you’ve completed thus far and make the transition to your new site go as smoothly as possible.
5. Perform a Manual Website Test for Errors
If you’ve gone through the checklist and taken every effort to make your transition a success, test things out for yourself. Navigate to the HTTPS version and begin exploring everything as if you were a first-time visitor.
Ensure that there are no broken links or links that direct to outdated page versions. Click every link and check for your security icon next to the URL. Make sure that no images or videos are broken on any pages. Test any filters to ensure that the updated page versions populate correctly. Finally, test any forms or checkout pages with test submissions to ensure that your company can carry on business as usual without unwanted interruptions.
Conclusion – Switching to HTTPS is Tricky, but Doable for All Website Owners!
Switching to HTTPS has several positive impacts on your SEO and will help future-proof your website. It’s expected that Google will increasingly weigh website rankings based upon website security, so it’s advisable to implement HTTPS sitewide.
The initial implementation of your SSL certificate is simple, but the process that follows can be tricky if you’re not prepared. Create a checklist using these talking points and work with your team to prepare. You will need to take manual efforts to update your URLs and redirect users to the new version of your website. This also includes updating mixed content sources for images and videos.
You’ll also need to update your sitemap, Robots.txt, and disavow files to ensure that you carry on the benefits of your SEO work thus far. After you complete these updates, instruct Google Search Console to crawl the HTTPS version of your website as soon as possible.
Some small potential drawbacks can occur by switching to HTTPS. However, by following Google guidelines and following the best practices for SEO, your website should be able to handle the changes that come with this upgrade. As a result, you will see continued results for your SEO efforts and the promised recognition by Google for securing your site for others.