HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure)
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is an internet communication protocol that protects the privacy of user data between their browser and the website they’re using.
A secure alternative to HTTP, this protocol is often used to protect confidential transactions such as online shopping orders and online banking. Because of this, HTTPS is widely used by e-commerce sites and sites containing sensitive material.
An example of an HTTPS URL is: https://www.yourdomain.co.uk/payment
How does HTTPS work?
HTTPS secures connections using a TLS protocol that prevents eavesdroppers from accessing private information. TLS (Transport Layer Security) provides secure internet communication by encrypting private information and authenticating the security of a server, ensuring there are no imposters diverting confidential information.
You’ll often see TLS referred to as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). SSL is the predecessor of TLS, but is gradually being phased out after many upgrades to TLS.
When accessing a web page with HTTPS connection, the website will send its TLS certificate to your browser. This certificate contains a public key necessary to begin the secure session. Your browser and the website then establish a uniquely secure connection between yourself and the website.
Many browsers including Chrome, Firefox and Safari will display a padlock icon in the address bar when a HTTPS connection is in effect.
The SEO benefits of HTTPS
Aside from providing a secure online experience for website visitors, there are several SEO benefits to adopting HTTPS:
Boost your rankings
Google now recommends that all websites use HTTPS connections as opposed to standard HTTP. In 2014, the search engine giant announced that its algorithm would now consider HTTPS as a positive ranking signal.
However, like most ranking signals, the influence of HTTPS alone is likely to remain fairly small. It’s important to consider all ranking signals collectively in order to significantly improve rankings.
Improve the accuracy of referrer data
When traffic passes from a secure HTTPS site to a non-secure HTTP site, referral data is lost and instead appears in your Analytics report as direct traffic. This is problematic in that it leaves you or your SEO agency with inaccurate traffic data.
When the traffic passes to a secure HTTPS site, regardless of whether the original site is secure or non-secure, referral information is retained and will appear in Analytics accurately.
The challenges of HTTPS
For all of the benefits of moving to HTTPS, it’s also important to consider the potential implications involved:
As HTTPS requires more communication between servers, page loading speed can be slowed down. Not only is this a problem for user experience, the loading speed of a page is actually a Google ranking factor. However, your SEO agency can do a number of things to reduce page loading speed to lessen the effects of this.
Ranking fluctuations when migrating the site
Google treats a migration from HTTP to HTTPS as a site move with a URL change. Consequently, you may experience fluctuations in rankings while Google re-crawls and re-indexes the site.
Is HTTPS for me?
In terms of security, any website that accepts payments or requires users to enter confidential information should be using HTTPS. However, if you have a small website where the most information you obtain is email addresses for mailing lists, HTTPS is not always necessary. However, the SEO benefits of using HTTPS add an extra incentive to make the switch.
If you’re not sure whether your website needs HTTPS, discuss this with your SEO agency who will be more than happy to help. If you do decide to implement HTTPS, the SEO team can then assist with the steps you need to follow to set this up.