HTTP vs HTTPS for SEO is an important issue to consider, and not only because HTTPS and SEO are connected. The value of HTTPS (Hypertext Transport Protocol Security) extends beyond pure SEO because it promotes user confidence and improves conversion rates.
What Are HTTP and HTTPS?
HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is the foundation for transmitting data on the Web, and has been around for decades. HTTP has great value: It’s easy for users and it’s extremely efficient. HTTPS is a secure version of HTTP because it adds to the HTTP foundation a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), that encrypts data.
From the user’s point of view, the attraction of HTTPS is obvious. If you are, say, considering an e-commerce purchase and need to submit your credit card information, you’ll no doubt be concerned about protecting that information, making sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Since HTTP data is not encrypted, such information is exposed to theft by a third party, it could be altered or corrupted during the transfer, or, worst-case scenario, the website you’re ordering from isn’t even the company’s real website.
With HTTPS, your credit card information is far less likely to be intercepted, it cannot be altered during transmission, and you are assured the e-commerce site you’re ordering from is legitimate — because the company must prove it in order to obtain the SSL certificate.
HTTPS SEO Impact
For Google, SEO and HTTPS have been a priority for some time. As Google’s search engine users have become more aware of security threats to online information, they are increasingly wary of transmitting personal information of any kind on the Web. This is frustrating for sellers because security fears prevent people from submitting inquiries or placing online orders. For years, almost all reputable e-commerce sites advertise their SSL certificate — but this doesn’t completely solve the problem since users may not take note of it or understand its significance.
Part of Google’s efforts to support HTTPS include heightening user awareness. For instance, users of Google’s Chrome browser now see HTTP sites flagged as “unsecure” in the address box. Users who are hazy about SSL certificates can’t miss this flag.
By promoting HTTPS, Google is helping its users and the companies to sell to its users:
- Users have more confidence in HTTPS sites. Since that’s what they see on Google, they are more apt to use the Google search engines.
- Companies with HTTPS websites figure to obtain improved conversion rates because users that click on their sites have the confidence to transmit data — e.g., submit an inquiry form or place an online order.
Does HTTPS improve SEO? It is thought that Google’s search engine ranking algorithm puts some amount of emphasis on HTTPS, but exactly how much is unknown. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that HTTPS SEO impact is likely to grow, since security issues will continue to grow. This is the pattern that has developed with a similar issue, mobile-friendly web design. As mobile web usage continued to grow, Google put more and more emphasis on mobile-friendliness in its algorithm.
Aside from a direct impact on rankings, there are a couple of other considerations about HTTPS and SEO to keep in mind.
- Traffic to an HTTP site is categorized as direct traffic — you have no idea from where these direct visitors actually came. This vagueness prevents you from properly honing your online marketing efforts to zero in on the best sources of traffic or improve sources that are underperforming. With HTTPS, you can see the referral data of your traffic — a very significant competitive advantage.
- As noted, HTTPS improves the confidence of customers and prospects visiting your website, encouraging them to communicate with your business. This is a huge advantage whether your site visitors come via SEO or some other source.
Should You Convert to HTTPS?
The simple answer is … yes. Given the HTTPS SEO impact, even if your site is geared for lead generation and the transfer of sensitive data is minimal, there’s enough tangible benefit to justify the switch. Clinging to HTTP is likely to reduce your organic traffic and also reduce conversions.
Keep in mind, however, that converting to HTTPS involves a bit of effort. The changeover requires some back-end development time and expertise. You’ll have to buy an SSL certificate (either directly or through your hosting company), which can cost from the low hundreds of dollars to more than $2,000, depending on your technical requirements. In addition, you may incur higher hosting costs as a result of the switch.
Nevertheless, HTTPS should be considered a cost of doing business, similar to having a telephone system and high-speed Internet connection. With Google’s considerable muscle behind the HTTPS protocol, it’s substantial benefits to consumers and sellers alike, and its increasing relevance in a world riddled with security breaches and online fraud, HTTPS will only grow in importance. If you wait too long to switch, you may soon be looking like a business that accepts orders only via fax or telex.
To discuss how to improve your website rankings in more detail, contact us now or call 855-883-0011.