Improve search ranking and conversion rates with HTTPS

It has been tagged as the final 1% on the SEO journey but there are other advantages to running your entire website over HTTPS. Are you running the green address bar?

After years of cowboy style tactics such as link exchanges, keyword stuffing (or spamming) and doorway pages to trick search engines into believing a site has real value we’re finally at a point where the search engines are outsmarting such trickery.

Thankfully, this means we can get on with legitimate SEO practices that benefit both the users and search engines, with the confidence these black-hat techniques won’t negate this good work.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS uses an SSL certificate to secure transmission of data between a website and your computer’s web browser. It offers a trusted connection that validates a website so that you can be confident they are who they claim. Once a connection is established the website encrypts data that only your browser is able to decrypt, and vice versa with your private data you share with the website. The green address bar in your browser indicates that your connection is secure.The Green SSL bar

Traditionally SSL has only been essential for commerce related sites where you might share your credit card and even then the only secure pages were those with forms asking for private details. More recently however there’s a trend towards using SSL on any site and all of the site.

While not without complexity, costs and risk, the benefits of running HTTPS encryption can be compelling.

The Google Love.

Google recently announced a boost in ranking for sites running on HTTPS. While they were clear to stipulate this won’t be a huge lift as there are over 200 other attributes that also determine a sites ranking it did nonetheless send a strong signal to webmaster’s to reflect on the value that can be had from operating a secure site. So let’s be clear, this benefit alone should not be the primary reason for deciding to go HTTPS.

User Love.

As the web evolves users are increasingly familiar with the secure address bar. Whether they are aware or not the confidence it brings users to see this will only increase. It may well be that in just a few years we’ll be seeing HTTPS on virtually all websites.

HTTPS delivers security and user confidence in a few ways:

  • Verification that the website is legitimate
  • Encrypts all communication, thus preventing anyone observing your browsing patterns or communications, particularly possible when using free and public WiFi hotspots.
  • Prevents tampering by 3rd parties, stopping the chance for man-in-the-middle attacks.

These points are validated when measuring e-commerce websites with some tests showing significant increases on conversion rates after applying HTTPS everywhere.

More referrer data.

When a visitor is transferred from a secure HTTPS site to your non-secure HTTP site, the referrer data is stripped from your analytics. This session is therefore flagged as ‘Direct’ in Google Analytics as you’re none the wiser as to where that visitor arrived from. Naturally this can lead to making decisions based on incorrect data.

Summary

Let’s not ignore the encryption overhead slows secure connections down, although this is not a huge concern these days thanks to faster CPUs. Of course there are costs associated too but in the overall scheme of things these are relatively manageable at between $100 and $500 per year, depending on the type of SSL certificate installed. If you arrived here looking for tips on how to optimise your site for search, then sure this will help, although there’s a dozen or so other techniques should check prior to tackling HTTPS. Ultimately it won’t be a case of gaining advantage by running HTTPS but rather being disadvantaged for not doing so.