Boost Your Ranking in Google Search Results with an HTTPS Secured Site

  • July 5, 2016
  • Nic Raboy
  • SEO

There are millions of websites and blogs on the internet with more being created every day. There is very little uniqueness between sites anymore. Heck, there are probably more than a thousand blogs on the internet that serve a similar purpose to Own the Web. Now it becomes a race to rank higher than those other similar sites. If you’ve been keeping up, I’ve written many posts up until now to help you rank higher in search results, but this time we’re going to look at something a little more technical in this area.

Not a lot of people know this, but back in 2014 Google wrote a blog article regarding HTTPS as a Ranking Signal. It is no secret that Google is trying to make the internet a safer place, but it isn’t well known that Google rewards those who practice internet safety. By securing your website or blog, you can make a huge difference in how you rank in the search results.

We’re going to explore securing a website or blog and taking a look at the positive that comes out of it.

HTTP vs HTTPS: What is the Difference?

Before we we take a look at adding HTTPS to a website, let’s take a step back at understanding what it is and how it differs from the HTTP that you might already be familiar with.

HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol

The HyperText Transfer Protocol, also known as HTTP, is a protocol for exchanging data across the world wide web.

HTTP via Wikipedia:

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. HTTP is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web.

In short, HTTP is commonly used for accessing HTML pages. More specifically HTML pages that do not work with sensitive information such as passwords, credit cards, or other similar information.

This is where HTTPS comes into play.

HTTPS: Secure HyperText Transfer Protocol

The Secure HyperText Transfer Protocol, also known as HTTPS, is similar to the HTTP protocol in the sense that it is for exchanging data across the internet. The exception here is that it was designed for the sensitive data that shouldn’t be transferred with HTTP.

HTTPS via Wikipedia:

HTTPS is a protocol for secure communication over a computer network which is widely used on the Internet. HTTPS consists of communication over Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) within a connection encrypted by Transport Layer Security or its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer.

The key here is that it uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Socket Layer (SSL) for encryption. Time for some technical jargon on how SSL works to keep your user data safe.

When a browser attempts to access a website that is secured with SSL, a process known as an SSL handshake occurs. During this process, the browser asks the server to not only identify itself, but also provide a public key. If the browser trusts what it receives, it will encrypt a session key using the public key and send it back to the server. The server will be able to decrypt this message using its private key. Any future communication will use the session key.

More information on SSL can be found via DigiCert.

Why Does Google Care and What are the Benefits Relating to SEO?

As mentioned earlier, Google wants to help make the internet a safer place. User data is a sensitive subject and Google wants to make sure it remains as such.

Per Google:

Beyond our own stuff, we’re also working to make the Internet safer more broadly. A big part of that is making sure that websites people access from Google are secure. For instance, we have created resources to help webmasters prevent and fix security breaches on their sites.

What are the other benefits that you’ll experience beyond just the ranking boost that Google gives you?

More Referrer Information Tracked

If you’re running a website that only uses HTTP and you receive traffic from a website using HTTPS, the depth of information you receive is very shallow. In fact, the referrer information will be seen as a direct visit. If you’re using HTTPS, all referrer information will be captured regardless if the other website uses HTTP or HTTPS.

Having this referrer information is important because it allows Google to better determine how to rank your website, not to mention it is more informative when tracking via Google Analytics.

The Website or Blog is Secure

HTTPS doesn’t just make the website or blog secure in the perspective of sensitive data like passwords and banking information. Don’t think that you don’t need HTTPS if you’re not accepting sensitive information. The reasons being:

  1. HTTPS secures all information including form data, and URLs.

  2. HTTPS validates the identity of the website the user is accessing, eliminating man-in-the-middle attacks or other similar malicious activity.

Securing Your Website or Blog via an SSL Certificate from CloudFlare

HTTPS and SSL takes a little more technical know-how than just setting up a standard insecure website. So how does one get up and running with a secure website or blog?

There are many ways to do this. For example you can do any of the following:

  1. Purchase a certificate through a reputable dealer like InCommon or Verisign and install it directly to your Apache, Nginx, or IIS compatible web server.

  2. Get a free certificate from the service Let’s Encrypt and install it to your web server.

  3. Use the free service, CloudFlare, to issue a flexible certificate without ever having to touch your web server.

On both my blogs, The Polyglot Developer and Own the Web, I am doing option 3. On The Polyglot Developer I’m also doing option 1. You don’t need to do both though, and for most people it is probably best to do only option 3. In fact, my wife, Maria Raboy, has a blog that only uses CloudFlare for HTTPS.

If you’re using a shared hosting service like BlueHost, you can usually configure CloudFlare via the hosting provided cPanel. In the scenario of a shared web host, you’ll want to choose a CloudFlare flexible certificate.

CloudFlare Flexible SSL

If you’re using a virtual private server (VPS) or anything other than a shared host, you’ll have to configure your domain name for use with CloudFlare. Although not difficult, it may be a bit more time consuming.

Validating the Certificate and HTTPS Configuration

Regardless on how you chose to get started with HTTPS, you’re going to want to validate that it is correct. Your rank in Google isn’t going to change if you didn’t set up SSL correctly.

There is a great free service that exists online by Qualsys SSL Labs called the SSL Server Test.

Qualsys SSL Server Test

Enter your website or blog including HTTPS and after a few minutes you will be presented with information about the security of your setup.

Don’t worry if you don’t end up with a perfect score on every test. Just make sure your score isn’t terrible.

Conclusion

Although announced a few years ago, not everyone realizes that having a secure website can boost your ranking in Google search results. It does take a bit more effort to switch from HTTP to HTTPS, but it is worth it. If you don’t have the technical chops or don’t have access to your web server, you can use my preference, CloudFlare, to get set up with an SSL certificate for free.

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