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For the final factor of our multi-step evaluation of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) factors, we will be turning to security. In May of 2015, The Washington Post provided a timeline of the history of Internet security, ranging from Cold War communication strategies of the 1960s to hacking car navigation and other vehicle systems in 2015. One thing that they did not touch on was the use of an “S” at the end of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)—the origin of the URL address that allows you to access the Internet every day.
HTTPS—or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure—adds an extra layer of security for your website. It protects data (both yours and your users’), specifically informational and transactional data, from being hacked or viewed without your consent. It is an important step in preventing access to personal information, especially if you are an independent publisher conducting e-commerce transactions through your website. But it has become even more important, as Google decided to add HTTPS as a ranking factor for SEO a little over a year ago. Basically, Google is looking for a fully secure web, regardless of the size of your site or whether or not it has a commercial component.
The average score for use of HTTPS among our participants was 1.6 (an “F” grade)—our criterion for a perfect 5.0 being that HTTPS was used throughout the entire website. Only SilkWords received a perfect score, with a few other publishers using the secure layer across a few of their site pages. Let’s have a look at the HTTPS URL format and discover why it has become such an important SEO factor.
HTTPS: A Secure and Smart Addition
The use of HTTPS began in early 2000. As of September 2014, 4.2 percent of the top 10,000 websites were using HTTPS (with that number continuing to rise). So why is it so important?
• Encryption: If your website allows e-commerce transactions—such as book sales—you run the risk of hackers and other third parties viewing and stealing your customers’ personal information. Credit card numbers, just being transmitted in an unsecured format on the Web, can lead to identity theft and a lot of hurt feelings. HTTPS encrypts your customer transactions and other data, preventing their use by nefarious Internet types.
• Referral data: If you are tracking analytics of where your site traffic is coming from, HTTPS can be a big help in finding out who is referring your customers to you. With HTTPS, you’ll know the referring search engine and have access to the keywords used by a user in their search query. Without HTTPS, you won’t get this information. This can assist you in creating better meta tags and product content that will reach your customers in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
• Ranking boosts: The big surprise for HTTPS came in 2014, when Google decided to make the usage of HTTPS an SEO Factor in their ranking systems. This means that if your website has HTTPS, you get a little boost in your page rankings and your link juice. While there is no specific SEO Factor that will shoot your website to the top of SERPs, you know (from reading my previous posts) that to achieve the best SEO you need to focus on multiple factors for positive rankings, each giving a little boost. HTTPS is now one of those factors.
Transferring to HTTPS? Take Care
Those benefits to HTTPS sound pretty good, right? Well, then you might ask why isn’t everyone making the switch to HTTPS? While the advantages of migrating to HTTPS are easy to see, the technical aspects of making the switch can be a bit more confusing without the proper guide:
• Speed is a factor in migrating to HTTPS. Remember my post on page speed as an SEO Factor? With HTTPS, that extra layer of security can slow down your page load speed. Retaining your page speed often requires a bit of fine-tuning by you and your web team.
• Duplicate content is a factor in migrating to HTTPS. Another post in this series, about content duplication and the damage it can do to your rankings, ties into migrating to HTTPS. The change can bring you right back to the problem of multiple pages of the same content if you do not carefully switch your URL from HTTP to HTTPS for all of your site pages. This sounds like an easy fix, but for sites with a) extensive catalogs or b) bad redirects, it can be tricky to ensure that you are maintaining only one version of your content for the search engines to find. You are basically doing a full SEO migration when you switch from HTTP to HTTPS.
• Cost is a factor in migrating to HTTPS. Yes, money and resources can be an issue. There will be a lot of hours spent migrating and testing when you make the switch. Additionally, you will need to pay an annual fee for the benefits of the security certificate (ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,500).
The Final SEO Factor
With this post on HTTPS, you have now reached the end of my analysis of SEO factors we used to evaluate the 12 independent publishers.
Have you implemented HTTPS? If so, let me know in the comments below.
But the wild ride across search engines and websites isn’t quite over yet. Please join me in my final post of this series for a recap of what we’ve read and what we’ve learned, as well as a bit more detail on how our evaluation participants can make improvements to their overall SEO.
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