Google likes to give websites that conform to best practices a little extra bump in the SERPS. Because no webmaster can afford to ignore Google, it’s their way of trying to make the web a generally better place. HTTPS is one of the quality signals Google looks for and is officially counted as a ranking signal.
But before you go and buy your first SSL certificate and switch your site to HTTPS, you should be aware that there are a few potential negative consequences of a migration.
Is it worth switching your site over to HTTPS? Let’s find out…
What is HTTPS?
HTTPS is the secure version of the HTTP protocol that the entire web is built upon (the S stands for secure). Normal HTTP sends data between your computer and a server in plain text. This can be intercepted and used by nefarious people in a whole host of different and nasty ways.
HTTPS, however, encrypts all web traffic between your computer and a website by using an SSL connection. This means that anyone intercepting your data will not be able to read any of it, and therefore cannot do anything harmful with it.
Pretty neat! So why wouldn’t you want a secure website? Let’s look at the pros and cons…
HTTPS Pros for SEO
The list isn’t very long but it might be just enough for you to change.
The obvious main benefit for switching your website to HTTPS is security. If you have any kind of user interaction on your website, it is something you should strongly consider. Things like email addresses, passwords, and private messages can all be intercepted and easily read by a hacker if your site’s traffic is unencrypted.
If these things apply to your site it’s a no-brainer and you should definitely switch.
But what are the benefits for a common site without any private data?
This is a benefit that will not directly impact your SEO, but it will change the way the visitors of your website feel about you. You may have noticed the green padlock in the top left corner of your address bar that appears on certain websites. This means a website uses HTTPS and all communications are encrypted. 9 people out of 10 will not know what this actually means, they usually just assume it means the website can be trusted. HTTPS can get your website this little “trustworthy” padlock – even if you are claiming the earth is flat and the moon landing was a hoax.
As we mentioned earlier, Google will give your website a little bit of extra love in the SERPS if it is delivered over HTTPS. It is a signal of a quality website that cares about user experience and security. The amount this helps your ranking is hotly debated, but don’t expect to reach the number one spot just because you use HTTPS. (This being said, you can get a nice little bump on all of your site’s keywords at once just by implementing HTTPS).
Any SEO worth their salt will know that Google moves the goalposts and changes their rules regularly without mercy. At the moment, Google is not heavily weighting HTTPS websites in their SERPS, the ranking benefit is minimal at best. But it is not unimaginable that one day in the future Google actively penalizes websites that are unencrypted. By using HTTPS now you are staying ahead of the curve and future proofing your website for when Google throws its next temper tantrum.
HTTPS Cons for SEO
Since you won’t get penalized for not changing to HTTPS there might be some things to consider before you do the switch. After all, not all sites need total security.
The encryption that occurs between a website and a computer has a performance overhead. This means that your website will actually be slightly slower with HTTPS enabled (in most cases). The amount it slows down is reasonably small, but as page speed is a ranking factor – this is something to take into account.
If you want your own SSL certificate, you are going to have to spend a few hundred dollars. There is no real need to get a dedicated certificate, and you can easily pick up a shared one for around $40. But if you do get a shared certificate, you will have another companies name next to the little green padlock.
Migrating a website to SSL is not a trivial task. It’s basically the same as moving your site to a new domain. There is often a whole host of issues that can unexpectedly occur while migrating that can cause downtime for your site. You need to make sure you are comfortable managing web servers before you attempt the migration yourself.
This is the biggest issue with an SSL migration from an SEO standpoint. If your website has previously been on HTTP all your links are going to be pointed at your HTTP site. When an HTTPS migration is performed, these links are 301 redirected to the HTTPS site. 301 redirects pass nearly all of the link juice they have, but some juice is lost in the process. This will be happening to all of your links at the same time – which could cause a sudden and painful drop in the SERPS.
New sites should consider getting HTTPS from day one, but older sites with an existing backlink profile will have to make their choice wisely – because the consequences can be unpredictable at best.