You hear that sound? It’s the sound of thousands of SEO marketers rushing to encrypt their sites to HTTPS. If you are an SEO marketer, expect a call from your client wanting the latest and greatest in Google ranking signals. Encryption. Don’t worry, the NSA and every other tech company in the world will still be grabbing data like they are strip-mining for coal.
Outside of the obvious Google ranking benefit, there are a few tangible benefits going the encrypted route. It defends against what is known as man-in-the-middle attacks, and you offer the token privacy to visitors. Yeah, just because you are going encrypted doesn’t mean the NSA stopped sucking up the data. Let’s just be realistic on that point. You are getting a perception reward, not a reality-based one.
Google has actually been running the experiment, and giving secure websites a bit of nudge in the ranking departments. A ‘bit of a nudge’ can equal serious conversions and sales. Google trend analysts Zineb Ait Bahajji and Gary Illyes explained via a blog post that the encryption ranking signal will be small, for now.
Over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it’s only a very lightweight signal—affecting fewer than 1 per cent of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content — while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.
Translation, the signal is soft to give webmasters time to upgrade the security of their sites and switch to the HTTPS protocol.
Most security firms are hailing the move. The goal of most firms is a push towards HTTPS being the default on the web.
With everything, there is a drawback. The reason most firms have shied away from encrypted sites is due to cost and performance issues. If switching to a secure standard is now a ranking signal, Google will have to answer the speed signal. A lot of weight is given to the speed of your site. Encryption, in its current state, does impact performance.
What will probably happen is a new cottage industry of firms that offer encryption plus speed. Sites are not going to want to be bogged down by slower connection times. Any nudge in rankings due to using https will quickly be negated if speed becomes an issue.
Mark Sparshott, an executive at ProofPoint pointed this out to the Register. “I welcome Google’s move to use HTTPS as ranking signal and downgrade those sites that are not encrypting connections to their visitors but caution that the minimal scope and weighting Google are applying may not be enough of a deterrent for poor security best practice yet.”
“Proofpoint’s researchers have observed that most websites were slow to enforce the use of HTTPS because the encryption it uses to secure the connection slows down the web experience which is anathema to the mantra of most web based services where latency can drive their users to a competitor’s service. As such some websites provided it as an option for many years but did not make it the default option until recent times.”
Regardless, the news is out that HTTPS is a ranking signal. The run on plugins and SSL certificates will be obscene in the coming weeks. Expect multiple guides to start popping up everywhere on how to secure your site and server.