Google Now Rewards Secure Sites–What You Need to Know About Search’s Newest Ranking Factor

August 12, 2014

Google has officially added yet another ranking factor to the list.

This past week, Google announced that whether or not a site is using site encryption will now affect the way that the search engine determines their rankings.

This addition to the way Google’s algorithm ranks sites is designed encourage developers to adopt HTTP, a type of data encryption intended to deter hackers and make data sharing more secure. Google’s goal being to reward sites that are as secure as possible for their visitors.

Why Make Site Security a Ranking Signal?

By promoting sites that have adopted HTTP– in other words, sites that have SSL 2048-bit key certificates added–the search engine is showing that the more secure your site is, the better off your users will be, and thus, as a reward: the better off your rankings will be.

The search engine is claiming the ranking signal is “lightweight” and the ranking boost only minimal, impacting less than 1% of global queries. Although, we’ve all seen what an impact of 1% or 2% can look like from our experience with major updates like the Penguins and Pandas of the past. Google added that they may “decide to strengthen” SSL as a signal over time in order to “give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS.” Nonetheless, encryption will still play less of a role in a site’s rankings than other more powerful factors like the presence of high-quality content both on and offsite.

This change hasn’t been unanticipated. According to Matt Cutts at SMX West at the start of 2014, the search engine has been hoping to make encryption a component in their rankings for quite some time.

Beyond wanting their service to be the best it can be, Google’s a bit of good Samaritan too. As Google fairly simply put it when they made the announcement earlier this week, “beyond our own stuff, we’re also working to make the Internet safer more broadly.”

Next Steps: Will Accommodating Google’s New Ranking Factor Affect Your SEO?

So, is making the switch from HTTP to HTTPS something to be concerned about when it comes to your SEO? Fortunately, Google’s been promoting going HTTPS for years and adding a SSL certificate to your site should only positively impact your rankings. The switch is also relatively easy–at least for newer, smaller sites as many of them are even running on HTTPS on default these days.

For older, more expansive sites, however, the migration can be more difficult and a little more complex–your domain name, all of your URLs, all of your files, everything needs to go over to HTTPS. While many sites have SSL on some of their more important pages–like checkout pages on ecommerce sites–every page on your site should be secure if you want to be accommodating Google’s new ranking signal as best as possible.

It’s well worth it, however, especially now that Google’s giving sites the extra incentive to make the switch. What’s important is to make sure you’re redirecting everything carefully and properly, testing that there aren’t HTTPS errors showing for any of your site visitors, letting Google know you’ve made the change, and tracking everything accurately in Analytics and Google webmaster Tools.

While Google hasn’t released too much information just yet, they have given a few guidelines and best practices to keep in mind.

Here are just a few of Google’s suggestions to help you get started:

  • Decide the kind of certificate you need
  • Use a SSL 2048-bit key certificate
  • Use relative URLs for resources on the same secure domain
  • Use protocol relative URLs for all other domains
  • Don’t forget to make sure your site’s pages are capable of being indexed by avoiding using the noindex meta tag
  • Don’t block your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt

You can also check out Google’s Site move article to get some helpful guidelines on how to change your site’s address or give us a call at 877-866-6699 or shoot us an email at info@nationalpositions.com if you’d like to learn more about how to make your site more secure.

 

 

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