Should you switch your site to HTTPS?

Should you switch your site to HTTPS?

When someone searches Google, they don’t just want a site that provides them with authoritative information that’s most related to their search topic. They also want a site that they know is safe and secure. Cyber-attacks are very much a real threat in the modern world, and users and webmasters are right to be concerned about their vulnerability online. Google understands this, which is why having an HTTPS site is becoming increasingly important for all financial and legal companies who want to rank highly in searches and convert clicks into business. But what does having an HTTPS site actually mean and what makes it such a crucial issue for search engine optimisation?

HTTP vs HTTPS: what’s the difference?

HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol, which is the protocol used for transmitting and receiving information over the web: simply put, a user requests information from a server (for example, they click on a link found on a search engine results page) and the server transmits that information to them (by displaying the requested page on the website).

More and more sites are now moving to HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) instead of HyperText Transfer Protocol, and for a good reason. HTTPS works in the same way as HTTP but adds an additional layer of security. HTTPS sites have a protocol known as TLS (Transport Layer Security) that encrypts the data being transmitted between the website and the user’s computer (such as a credit card number or address details), meaning that the data exchanged is protected if hackers intercept it. If an attacker were to intercept the data, they would not be able to access or read it. Only the client and server have the code that can decrypt the encrypted data.

In addition to encryption, TLS also provides sites with authentication, proving to users that they are communicating with the intended site and not an attacker (this is known as a man-in-the-middle attack). TLS also guarantees data integrity, as the data cannot be corrupted without detection.

If a site uses HTTPS and is certified as secure, this will be shown by a padlock symbol in the address bar.

Why else is HTTPS best for your site?

While HTTPS offers sites and their user much-needed security and assurance, many businesses who don’t possess much SEO knowledge aren’t fully aware of the other advantages that having an encrypted site gives them.

Google is very serious about ensuring users will be safe when using their search engine and all their services. Their search engine, Google Drive and Gmail use HTTPS encryption by default, and they want others to follow in their footsteps.

For this reason, in 2014 Google changed its algorithm to favour secure, encrypted connections, with secure sites tending to rank higher than non-secure sites. From a blog post at the time, they said that they are “working to make the Internet safer more broadly”, hoping to eventually achieve “HTTPS everywhere” throughout the World Wide Web.

As Google wants to give webmasters enough time to switch over, the algorithm currently doesn’t take HTTPS into account as much as other key factors, such as having high-quality, linkable content. However, the company indicated in the blog post that they do intend to strengthen the signal because they wish to “encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web”. Therefore, moving a site over to HTTPS should be part of any financial or legal firm’s long-term SEO strategy.

Since July 2018, Google has made it crystal clear for users to be able to see if the site they’re visiting is unencrypted by marking sites not using HTTPS as “Not Secure” in Chrome, which should act as an instant red flag to anyone who comes across the site – not just the security conscious. As Chrome is the world’s most popular browser, a “Not Secure” label could be responsible for scaring away a lot of potential business and increasing your bounce rate (the percentage of visits where the user clicks only on a single page and then immediately leaves without visiting any other pages). What’s more, they almost certainly would not feel comfortable submitting any financial information or personal details.

Trust, credibility, and confidentiality are paramount to the brand value of any financial service or law firm, so it’s vital to do everything in your power to present your site as trustworthy to all visitors. An HTTPS site is necessary for building and strengthening confidence in your firm so that visitors are more likely to stay on your site for longer, share its pages with others, and engage with your services.

Ensuring a smooth transition

So, with a secure site (along with excellent content, solid internal linking strategy, and a large number of inbound links), search engines will view your site very favourably. Unfortunately, moving to a different protocol isn’t always straightforward. Careful planning is needed as it could have a number of knock-on effects to other areas of your site, and there are plenty of factors to consider to ensure you don’t negatively impact your SEO value in the process.

A few essential measures include updating all internal links to point to the HTTPS version of the site, adding permanent (301) redirects where necessary, and making sure to avoid presenting Google with two versions of the same website (leading to duplicate content, which can harm your rankings). The migration also needs to be carefully tracked using analytics software.

Help from SEO experts

A secure browsing experience is something all web users have come to expect. And, as Google itself has said, it’s likely that the amount it factors HTTPS into its algorithm is only going to increase as security on the web increases in importance for all users. So, it would be wise to treat switching over to HTTPS as a top priority if you haven’t already done so. To help with the move, it’s best to enlist the help of a knowledgeable SEO expert.

The BORN team consists of digital marketing and web development experts who can help you come up with the SEO strategy that is best for your company. Contact us today about the best method for migrating your site from HTTP to the more secure HTTPS while making sure your website traffic doesn’t suffer.

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