Security is essential for any online business that handles confidential information. But encrypting your website using an SSL certificate can benefit you in other ways. There is evidence to suggest that encrypting your site with SSL can also improve your Google rankings. It’s standard practice now, and it’s a good idea — for both security and marketing reasons.
- The Value of SSL Certificates:
Without encryption, web traffic passes through the internet as clear text. That means that anyone who is nosy or wants to capture sensitive data can see everything you’re sending — passwords, financial data, secret messages. To counteract this problem, website developers now add encryption in the form of SSL certificates. Using a protocol called secure socket layer (SSL) — or the later protocol known as transport layer security (TLS) — SSL certificates act as digital signatures that create trust relationships on the internet.
An SSL certificate uses the critical public infrastructure (PKI) to encrypt traffic between a website user and the server. This is especially important for financial institutions or sites that handle login details or monetary transactions. SSL certificates turn HTTP sites into HTTPS, and address internet security in three ways:
- Data integrity
So, it’s clear that securing your website with an SSL certificate is a wise choice. But what does that have to do with Google search rankings?
- The Google Algorithm:
Every time you enter search criteria into Google and press enter, the company instantly runs a computing process using a mathematical formula called an algorithm. This is a set of rules that helps the computer make decisions. An algorithm can be simple or complex, with hundreds of variables or only one. It tells the machines what calculations to make based on the inputs given.
How does Google algorithm work? Well, we don’t know a complete about it. They keep it secret, like Col. Sanders’ chicken recipe, or the formula for Coca-Cola. We can only make educated guesses about how Google’s algorithm behaves in the search process. What we do know, perhaps by trial, error, or observation, is that websites with SSL certificates rank better than those without them.
- Google Pushes SSL:
On August 6, 2014, Google announced that it was making HTTPS — websites with SSL certificates — a big priority. “Security is a top priority for Google,” they wrote. And Google made all their web pages HTTPS by default. “That means that people using Search, Gmail and Drive, for example, automatically have a secure connection to Google.” The new push involved encouraging all other websites to do the same.
They called it “HTTPS Everywhere”, and in a video, two Google employees explain their campaign. Google encouraged the use of 2048-bit key SSL certificates, and they guided all the steps required to implement SSL certificates. They also changed their algorithm in the past.
- How Do Sites with SSL Certificates Rank?
According to W3Techs, as this article is written, HTTPS is in use in 56% of all websites. That number is trending upwards as more web developers add SSL certificates to their sites. The effect of SSL certificates on search engine optimization (SEO) is made clear in a 2016 article on the subject by Backlinko. They analyzed one million Google search results, and here is what they found about the use of SSL certificates:
“Although not a super-strong correlation, we did find that HTTPS correlated with higher rankings on Google’s first page.”
Because Google is so secretive with their algorithm, Backlinko had to “reverse engineer” the search engine process to find out what worked best. Their findings match the consensus of experts across the web on the matter: Thus, the use of SSL certificates offers moderate improvement in Google search rankings.
- Reputational Advantage
The positive effects of securing your site with SSL/TLS goes beyond the technical aspects of SEO. It also brings a reputational benefit. Many internet users will avoid websites without the padlock symbol, indicating a secure website:
To drive home their insistence on the use of SSL certificates, Google changed its search box so that unsecure sites are stated to the left of the URL:
Users of secure websites know that they can transact business without worrying about some man-in-the-middle attack. This has more to do with whether people will use your site or move to other sites.
It is clear now that the website holder should buy an SSL certificate and install it on your website. All other things being equal, the presence of an SSL certificate generally becomes a kind of “tie-breaker” rather than a significant Google ranking factor. But the decision to go with an SSL certificate doesn’t rest on rankings alone. Security, reputation, different business validation processes and rankings all contribute to the benefits associated with secure websites. As cybersecurity becomes more prominent around the world, more website owners will see the value of SSL certificates, and will finally take the necessary steps to secure their sites.