In a departure from my recent blog postings, I’m going to take a minute to share a recent Google announcement and what it means for, well, anybody with a website.
If you didn’t hear, Google announced a new factor for ranking websites. If your website has an SSL – displaying as HTTPS – it may receive a slight bump in organic ranking. The factor is considered to be fairly “lightweight,” but that hasn’t meant businesses aren’t taking it seriously and rushing to get an SSL applied to their website.
What Does an SSL Have to Do with SEO?
You typically hear how important content is in search engine ranking, but it’s not the only factor. Most search engines consider the overall website experience for the visitor – which includes factors like how long it takes the site to load, whether the site is mobile/responsive, etc.
By factoring the website’s level of security, Google is effectively saying that the content on the website is more trusted than a site without an SSL. To the end user, this (theoretically) means the site provides information that is more legitimate.
In this case, Google has said that they will factor the SSL on a per-URL basis. This means that if you have a website that has an online shop, and you only apply the SSL to that part of your site, the shop will receive the ranking boost while the rest of the site will not. Here’s an example:
Your website: http://www.example.com
Your online store: https://www.example.com/shop
A few of our clients have their websites set up this way, because the only time information is being passed is when a customer is on their shop making a purchase.
Does This Mean I Need an SSL Now?
The answer to this question is really yes and no. Traditionally an SSL is used by websites that pass secure information, like online stores, banks and social media sites – essentially a website that retains sensitive information about its users. If your website doesn’t ask for this kind of information, then you probably don’t need one.
But, you can count on your competitors having seen this news, and if they go out and get an SSL, you may want to consider it as well. It’s a little bit of “keeping up with the Joneses.”
What if I Don’t Get One?
It’s hard to say what the ultimate impact of this announcement will be. An SSL on your site doesn’t hurt, it’s just an additional cost. There are different kinds of SSLs, which are purchased on an annual (or multiple year) basis. You’ll need to work with your hosting company to get it configured and applied.
If you choose not to get an SSL, you’re not going to be penalized – you simply won’t get any benefit. It seems to be part of a broader move to get more websites to migrate towards HTTPS. At some point, all of your competitors will likely have one and that will force you to get one, and then the “benefit” is going to be negated.
When I heard the news, my first thought was “I wonder if Google is going into the SSL business.” No word on that yet, but if they do that’s quite the cheeky move. And while most SEO companies kowtow to the omnipotent Google, they aren’t the only search engine game in town. No word on whether others like Bing and Yahoo will follow suit.