The Internet (or the Search orientated part of it) sprang into uproar last week at the news that Google was now giving a minor visibility boost to sites making use of HTTPS security. Adding an SSL 2048-bit key certificate on your site is suddenly not just an infrastructure and security item but an SEO consideration.
The important thing to note with this announcement is the word “minor.” While Google have made it clear that they “may decide to strengthen” HTTPS by making it a bigger factor in visibility ranking, for the moment it has been confirmed as a “very lightweight signal,” especially when compared to things like high quality content, good structure and a generally all-round excellent user experience.
We had a chat around the offices at 4Ps to see what the feeling was from a search marketing viewpoint.
It’s interesting, remember SSL just means the connection between client and server is “secure”. This is all about eavesdropping as the site itself can be just as dodgy so it isn’t an indication of “legitimacy” for a site in any meaningful way. – Matt Stannard, Head of Analytics & Technology
It’s probably the confusion over what is required for SSL that has – and will continue to – put off smaller companies who might want to revisit HTTPS given this announcement. – Nick Shread, Digital Training Manager
From a UX perspective I think it entirely depends on the type of information a website is handling. Those of a more sensitive nature, such as banks, are going to to need to qualify their safety features to users more than those who aren’t ecommerced based or handle any user data. That is why you typically see online banks and ecommerce sites shouting about their security features, and even adding further barriers to entry to help validate that feeling of security during the user journey. To sum up, yes, you could say it is a usability issue. But realistically if you took a sample of the average internet user, how many people realise the sites they are using are secured with SSL? – Jennifer Lacey, Senior Digital Executive
It bemuses me slightly that HTTPS as a singular metric would have an impact on universal rankings because, in my opinion, it has to be considered in direct correlation with the content of a site and on an individual basis. Surely Google’s algorithm is intelligent enough to asses that a website belonging to a small business without e-commerce capability is not as much in need of an SSL certificate as a huge e-commerce site? You cannot apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach here – or maybe I am giving Google too much credit? – Charlie Kay, Senior Digital Executive
Here’s the critical bit though – what should you do now?
Well, if you were already planning or thinking seriously about moving your site over to HTTPS then now is probably the time to start looking at this in earnest – if it was on your to-do list anyway then it is just a case of timing. Do bear in mind that shifting a site from HTTP to HTTPS does constitute a site move though, so isn’t something to be undertaken lightly or casually. Bear in mind also that moving to HTTPS often has a dramatic effect on your site speed (secure connections often being slower than their non-secure equivalents) so if you have speed issues on your website you’ll definitely want to address those first before you touch HTTPS.
If you weren’t even considering certification, though, should you immediately make it a priority? Well, probably not. It is a big undertaking, not just a matter of paying for it and flipping a switch, and if done incorrectly it will damage your organic rankings more than it will benefit them.
More importantly, as has already been mentioned, Google have pointed out that the impact the HTTPS preference will currently have is extremely low and there are plenty of other things that you can do that will have more of an effect on your site.
Switching to HTTPS isn’t a holy grail that will magically solve all your SEO problems. Like every other tweak and change to Google’s algorithms in this day and age, it is just a smaller part of a much larger picture and if you want to look at it then you should do so as part of a holistic, integrated search strategy rather than as an isolated silo event.
4Ps isn’t just another SEO agency. To discuss how technical SEO and search algorithms are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in user demands and behaviour, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and technology across all inbound channels.