Making the web a safer place is a goal Google has been pursuing for a while now. In 2014, they announced that HTTPS was a ranking signal as a way to motivate webmasters to make the move.
In their announcement in December 2015, Google said they will be indexing HTTPS pages by default.
This means that from now on, when two URLs from the same domain have identical content but are served over different protocols, i.e. HTTP and HTTPS, Google will typically index the HTTPS version of the URL as long as certain conditions are met.
As you can see, it’s a clear message to webmasters: “make your websites secure. We’re not going to let this go”.
For the technically savvy, all the following conditions have to be met for a HTTPS page to be indexed automatically:
- It doesn’t contain insecure dependencies
- It isn’t blocked from being crawling. I.e. by robots.txt file or robots noindex tag
- It doesn’t redirect users to or through an insecure HTTP page
- It doesn’t have a rel=”canonical” link to the HTTP page.
- It doesn’t have on-host outlinks to HTTP URLs
- Sitemaps list the HTTPS URL, or doesn’t list the HTTP version of the URL
- The server has a valid TLS certificate
What Do You Need to Do about It?
Firstly, I believe encrypted pages are good for two main reasons:
- Protects your data: It aids in the prevention of others seeing your search results page and login information.
- Good for ecommerce: There is a level of trust associated with secure sites and it makes it harder to have details stolen.
But as an SEO, I’m conscious it’s not something a webmaster can just jump straight into. The main issues revolve around:
Will It Affect Rankings?
If you migrate from HTTP to HTTPS and ensure the proper steps, measures and precautions are in place, it is unlikely to affect rankings – there is likely to be fluctuations for a short period but rankings should stabilise after a few weeks.
When migrating you do not have to do anything in Google’s Search Console. Although, having properties for both http and https is useful to monitor for any issues.
If you have a secure version of your site and Google is already indexing its pages you should not see any difference in rankings, it is likely to lead to a smooth, gradual transition (Although it is still early days with many SEOs concerned about duplicate content issues).
Will It Affect Server Performance and Page Load Times?
This is an area that needs investigating at a development and testing level. Encrypted pages can cause all sorts of bottlenecks, but technologies are constantly being developed and adopted.
Google has been involved and supported the development of the standardised version, HTTP/2, the next-generation protocol improving the way information is transferred over the web with more features which lead to better performance.
Looking further, Google consistently recommends implementing HSTS. As well as creating an extra barrier of protection against, when implemented correctly, HSTS sites have the potential to be accepted onto browser safelists which most major browsers are or will be involved in. Being accepted means less server overheads as browsers will use an internal redirect when seeing the unencrypted version of a page.
Won’t It Be Expensive to Develop and Maintain?
Costs for buying certificates can be prohibitive. It is really dependent on how many domains and subdomains are involved but there are workarounds, even free ones, which Google currently accepts and might be endorsing in the future, but for ecommerce stores it is better to be safe than sorry and stick with recognised certificates.
However, a good level of expense can be attributed to development time to prepare and convert the site to HTTPS such as ensuring all the site’s dependencies are secure, including canonicals, internal links and XML sitemaps, etc.
Free Guide to Help
As you can tell, moving to HTTPS is not something to consider lightly but should definitely be on your things to think about this year.
To help you make the move, we have produced a jargon-free guide to help you through the process. You can access the full guide for free, by clicking the button below: