Rapid Immersion: Should I Move My Website to HTTPs for SEO?

As a Sydney SEO agency, one of the questions that often comes up is: should I move my site to https for SEO? To help answer this, we thought it would be fun to create a little video highlighting what to think about, and to include references to some of the best HTTPs SEO materials on the web. So if you’re wondering about whether or not you should make your website secure, and how it will impact your search engine optimisation efforts, this video (and post) is for you.

HTTPS Secure Website SEO Items Mentioned:

SSL SEO Checklist – Major Items

  • Ensure all website elements use HTTPs to avoid serving content from secure and unsecure locations, thus triggering browser warning messages. This includes all CSS, JavaScript, widgets, images, etc. Serving secure and unsecure elements together can cause warning messages.
  • Use Google Webmaster Tools Fetch and Render to ensure crawlability of SSL content
  • 301 redirect each http:// URL to its new https:// version
  • Update all internal links to point to the https:// version of each page
  • Register the secure version of the website with Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
  • Update all robots.txt for each subdomain, linking to each XML sitemap for autodiscovery
  • Manually submit HTTPs sitemaps
  • Ensure all website elements use HTTPs. This includes all CSS, JavaScript, widgets, images, etc. Serving secure and unsecure elements together can cause warning messages.
  • Use Google Webmaster Tools Fetch and Render to ensure crawlability of SSL content
  • 301 redirect each http:// URL to its new https:// version
  • Update any canonical tags to reference https://
  • Update all internal links to point to the https:// version of each page
  • Register the secure version of the website with Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
  • Update all robots.txt for each subdomain, linking to each XML sitemap for auto discovery and manually submit HTTPs sitemaps
  • Review social plugins to ensure social counts (i.e. likes, shares) are counted for https URLs
  • Ensure that robots.txt is up to date and doesn’t inadvertently block priority content

If the site is to be moved to SSL, the following elements will need to be carried out:

  • A plan, similar to the aforementioned checklist
  • A staging server, that can be tested and checked for any issues prior to cross-over
  • A post-launch strategy, especially important immediately after launch
  • A link building plan, to drive an influx of new high-quality links to https:// URLs, as an additionally positive signal
  • The implications of moving to side SSL without these in place are a significant risk to organic search visibility and as a result, lower visitors and conversion rates. Unfortunately, launching with errors may cause a loss of rankings that persists even after the errors are fixed.

Helpful HTTPs resources for SEO

Video transcript:

Hi and welcome to Rapid Immersion, where we discuss questions and topic areas within the digital marketing ecosystem.

In this video: Should I move my site to https? If you’re wondering about whether or not you should make your website secure, and how it will impact your search engine optimisation efforts, this video is for you.

Let’s start by talking about what exactly https:// is, and what it does.

HTTP is the protocol of the web used to load most web pages. The problem is that this protocol is not overwhelmingly secure; a motivated hacker can monitor your data traffic and see which websites you’re accessing. As you can imagine, this becomes a problem if your website asks visitors to complete online forms that contain their confidential information, as unscrupulous individuals can more easily eavesdrop on these browsing sessions.

So to help protect privacy, network engineers developed the HTTPS protocol. The S stands for ‘secure’, which signals that the secure version of the protocol is in use. With the secure version, your browser will encrypt data passing through it. In order to understand this encrypted data, a unique decryption code is required. The hacker needs that decryption code which is hard to get, otherwise the data is meaningless. Using the secure protocol version makes it a lot harder for third parties to listen in or interfere with browsing sessions.

OK, so upgrading your website to be secure offers your visitors a more private browsing experience. Now let’s talk about why this matters for SEO. In August of 2014, Google acknowledged that offering a secure website experience would be a positive ranking signal. This announcement created a widespread motivation in the webmaster community to explore the topic, especially among website owerrs that may have not traditionally considered becoming secure such as those who aren’t in the ecommerce or finance space.

The question is: how important is it to upgrade to the secure protocol version, for SEO?

Well, the answer is, it depends on your individual situation, what your site is about, what your audience would expect from a site in your category, the cost to benefit ratio, and that kind of thing. But generally speaking..:

For now and in the immediate future, having a secure site is considered a lightweight ranking signal. If you make the switch to the secure protocol version, it would be reasonable to expect either no change or a small uplift in organic search visibility if the process of upgrading is carried out correctly. What most website owners need to keep in mind is that there are plenty of other SEO centric activities that are more strongly weighted signals that could be pursued instead of this move.

Adopting a medium and longer term view, offering a secure browsing experience is likely to become more important and valuable, so we do recommend exploring it. The folks at Google are making a push toward a more secure web, and as the dominant search engine in most markets, it’s wise to align your SEO strategy with their big picture goals. It would also be reasonable for Google to gradually increase the importance of this ranking signal.

Something else to consider is that by moving to the secure protocol, more of your visitors may be willing to input form details and transact with your website because it’s safer to do so. And if your website becomes more effective at accomplishing your marketing goals, the value of your visitors from organic search (SEO) – and visits from all channels for that matter – increases. As you think about the SEO value of offering a secure website experience, it’s beneficial to also consider the wider impacts.

If you’ve made the decision to move your site to HTTPS, there are vital technical elements that need to be thought through to ensure a smooth transition from an SEO perspective. Please do know that there are horror stories online of websites that make the switch to https:// and lose out significantly, so please consult with your web developer and SEO agency carefully to plan the move. With respect to specific action items for you more technical people, you’ll find a list of items underneath this post that we like to keep in mind, as well as links to additional resources on the topic.

All the best for now, hope this information has been helpful, thanks for tuning in and see you in a future video.

Cheers,

Chris

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