As the internet becomes an ever more important part of our lives, the average person has become far more aware of the importance of cyber security. While there is still a sizable gap between the average Joe and any tech employee, most of us understand the potential problems that a hack can cause.
With the advent of SSL and the visual signs that are associated with it, a growing number of consumers are on the look out for SSL enabled websites. This number is likely to continue to increase, and customers will begin to refuse to submit data through HTTP.
What is SSL?
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and is the industry standard for protection of data during transmission. You might also hear people talk about HTTPS and even use it interchangeably with SSL.
HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure, all this designed to do is to tell the computer and the user that the website is using SSL. Using SSL will help to prevent against any interception of your data, and that’s why it’s important to only transfer critical information like your credit card number through HTTPS websites.
How Does it Work?
SSL works by using a huge string of letters, numbers and characters like a master password, known as your SSL Certificate. This certificate is hosted on your website’s server and also on the database of the company that you purchased the certificate from.
All of the data that is transmitted to and from the website’s server is encrypted to the point of being almost impossible to break. This makes SSL extremely secure and the ideal solution for quickly transferring your data through the internet.
Google Wants to Protect Users
The core reason for why SSL has an SEO benefit is that Google wants to protect its users. Google isn’t manually ranking websites, they use a complex algorithm to decide which websites to show to their users, and this means that they have some responsibility to ensure that the large majority of the websites they suggest are safe for users to access.
The risk of a users personal information being intercepted and exploited is exponentially higher on an HTTP website than on what that is SSL enabled. Therefore, Google has decided to alter their algorithm to factor in the security of the website.
Although HTTP is still standard for information websites, we’ve seen large websites like The Washington Post invest 10-months and countless dollars into moving to HTTPS.
It’s clear that the industry is heading to a more secure place and with that, we expect that the algorithmic impact of HTTPS, or more accurately, of not having HTTPS, will increase.
In simple terms; as more websites adopt HTTPS (i.e. they enable SSL), it’s safer for Google to tighten the algorithm on HTTP websites because they’ll impact less “big” and “serious” players.
How Long Do You Have Left?
With this in mind, you should be seriously considering making a move to SSL sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, it can be relatively expensive, especially for websites that are serving huge chunks of data or that have large amounts of traffic.
Most providers will charge you based on the amount of data that you transfer through SSL, and this means that websites relying on huge amounts of traffic and display ads are likely to be impacted the most.
The truth is that you don’t have any time left. Google has already announced that they are using HTTPS (SSL 2048-bit encryption) as a ranking factor.
Fortunately, they have said that it will impact “fewer than 1% of global queries” but they “may decide to strengthen” the ranking effect. They have very openly say that they want to “encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS” and by adjusting their algorithm they are likely to do just that.
This was first announced back in 2014. It seems that to this day the ranking impact is still small, but in a world where a single spot in the SERP’s can correlate to thousands of dollars, it seems like a worthwhile transition.
Realistically, we imagine that by 2020 the algorithm will have been tightened to make the benefit of swapping much greater.
If you’re already taking your SEO seriously, you should consider making the switch ASAP. But if you’re resting on your laurels, you might get away with sticking to HTTP for a couple more years.
Make no doubt about it, SSL is the future and sooner rather than later any website that is serious about ranking in Google will be serving HTTPS addresses.