Blog Post

Should You Switch from HTTP to HTTPS?


Google announced last month that it’s going to start using HTTPS as a rankings factor. Recently, news about this change surfaced again because Matt Cutts transitioned his personal blog from HTTP to HTTPS. We thought that this would be an ideal opportunity to elaborate on what HTTPS is, the difference between HTTP and HTTPS, and how this change might impact your rankings. Watch this Daily Brown Bag to learn more about HTTPS and whether or not you should switch from HTTP to HTTPS.

Also available on YouTube.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Hello, and welcome to the Daily Brown Bag. Today, we're going to be talking about HTTPS secure search as a ranking factor. I'm Chad Hill, and I'm joined by Adam Stetzer.

Good afternoon, Chad. Welcome to the Brown Bag.

The news we're covering here goes back to last month, Chad, when Google announced that it was going to start using HTTPS as a ranking factor. I guess the reason it surfaced again here is that today we see reports that Matt Cutts has officially moved his personal blog from the not secure HTTP protocol to HTTPS.

A quick primer for folks. What is the difference between HTTP and HTTPS? The S stands for secure. HTTP is unencrypted traffic, which means in transit those packets are in clear text and could be, theoretically, snooped and put back together and read.

Traffic that uses the HTTPS protocol invokes SSL, secure socket layer. This is when a certificate exchange happens as the browser first establishes contact with the web server, and they agree upon certificates and encryption, and then everything that's passed over the public Internet is therefore unreadable if it were to be intercepted.

Why does Google care about this? They've been pushing for a 'more secure web,' Chad. We've talked about this over several of our Brown Bags.

I think they've got several agendas. One is they're saying privacy and user experience. They're also, of course, behind the scenes, I think, talking about this idea that spammy sites are less likely to invest and go through the cost and administrative hassle associated with maintaining SSL HTTPS certificates.

We've heard some push back that says well, when you've got more HTTPS this means there's less data for webmasters because of the not provided issue, although I think that one may be as largely overblown.

Chad, I'd be interested in your perspective. I guess at the root of today's Brown Bag the question for you is is HTTPS a ranking factor, and should we be running around telling our clients they need to hustle and change this.

Yeah, this is definitely an interesting topic for a couple of reasons. One is we're fairly geeky, and I think you did a great review of what HTTPS is, because I think most people don't even recognize that they're on a secure site and the browser does give you some indications.

Another interesting reason is we were just talking about how Google has sort of ended the authorship program. We talked a lot about how authorship was offered up as a carrot for you to link your personal profile to the content you create.

Here's another one. This is the beginning the life cycle of this experiment with Google. We're going to talk about it and the reasons that we probably are going to say that you might want to check it out.

HTTPS as a ranking factor, Google has basically come out and said this would be a lightweight ranking factor. They announced this through their webmaster channels and have talked about that.

As you said, Adam, they have invested a lot in providing tools on the speed of websites and the security of websites, because the faster the web is the more secure the web is. They know there's a better user experience. They can sell more advertising dollars. It makes sense. Of course, the SEO side of it, as you said, Adam, is that it also probably helps prevent some of these anonymous sites out there that Google wants to get off the web.

It's a lightweight ranking factor. My guess, or at least what they have indicated, is that it would possibly increase in strength over time. That hasn't happened yet.

The third one is that their initial research showed that this as a ranking factor did improve the quality of the search results. But, just recently Searchmetrics did a study of ranking factors. This came out at the end of August, where they said there were really no discernible signals or signs that this secure HTTPS factor was actually providing any kind of meaningful impact in the rankings. Again, the adoption rate is very, very small in this, so it's probably not a very significant sample.

I do think that given where we are it probably makes sense. What Matt Cutts is doing makes sense to be looking at this. There are many hosting companies that can help you do this very easily. There are certainly more difficult ways to go. Again, I would certainly recommend most websites taking a look at this assuming that the administrative burden isn't overwhelming to see if it might give you a little bump.

All right, great coverage. A lightweight ranking factor for HTTPS. That means if you want to do absolutely everything that can help you, this needs to be on your list.

It's a lightweight factor, so if you think this is going to be the factor that really changes your rankings and springboards you to page one, think again. There's no magic bullet.

That's our coverage of the HTTPS issue. We'd love your thoughts. We'd like to know if you advise your clients if this something you think they should do, and is it worth the time and the money. Drop us a comment, and subscribe while you're at it.

We'll see you tomorrow at another Brown Bag.