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Google’s HTTPS Ranking Signal Change – What Does It Mean for You?

  |  August 20, 2014   |  Comments

Google will now use HTTPS as a ranking signal, but what does this mean for digital marketers and do you need to make any changes to your site to adapt to this change?

On August 6, Google announced that they will start using HTTPS as a ranking signal. To be clear, this is not a major algorithmic change like Hummingbird. This is simply one more ranking signal among the other speculated 200 signals Google uses to rank websites.

Not only has Google made all of their products secure, they want to make the whole Internet safer. At Google I/O  a few months ago, Google gave a presentation about an initiative called "HTTPS Everywhere."

In the session, Google employees showed how to make websites more secure by default: the required technology, configuration, performance, best practices, how to migrate the website to HTTPS, and make it user- and search-friendly. You can watch the video here.

Does This Mean a Website Won't Rank High If It Is Not Secure?

"For now it is only a very lightweight signal - affecting fewer than 1 percent of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content - while they give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, Google may decide to strengthen it, because they would like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the Web," said Google.

Does It Apply to Mom and Pop Shops or Only to Big E-Commerce Sites?

Frequently, when Google announces an update or change in their algorithm, it applies to all websites indexed in their system. There is no distinction based on the size or nature of site. However, sometimes Google releases an update aimed at a specific industry as happened with Penguin update, where Google punished websites using black hat techniques to get better rankings.

At this moment, the signal has affected less than 1 percent of global queries.

Is HTTPS Part of Another Algorithm Like Panda or Penguin?

No. Based on John Mueller's comments on a question asked during one of the English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout, the new HTTPS ranking signal is not part of any other Google algorithm.

Watch John Mueller's answer here.

What Are the Best Practices When Setting Up HTTPS?

So far Google has not provided a detailed guideline yet. To get started, they published some basic tips in the blog post in which they announced the HTTPS ranking signal.

In the post, they shared the following tips:

  • Decide the kind of certificate you need: single, multi-domain, or wildcard certificate
  • Use 2048-bit key certificates
  • Use relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain
  • Use protocol relative URLs for all other domains
  • Check out our Site move article for more guidelines on how to change your website's address
  • Don't block your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt
  • Allow indexing of your pages by search engines where possible. Avoid the noindex robots Meta tag.

Google also recommends the use of Qualys Lab tool to test the SSL certificates. Qualys' SSL Server Test is a free online service that performs a deep analysis of the configuration of any SSL web server on the public Internet.

HTTPS Ranking Improvements Over HTTP

At present, there are no case studies on HTTP to HTTPS migration that shows any sign of ranking improvement. However, there are some people complaining online about drops in rankings after the change. There is no way to verify the cause behind those shifts. There could be any number of other mitigating factors impacting their rankings.

Should We Migrate to HTTPS?

About the only instance I can see where a site might consider the transition from HTTP to HTTPS is if complete site migration/redirection was already under discussion for other reasons (overcoming site penalties, complete corporate rebranding, etc.) In those instances, if a company is already considering a complete site migration and the process of redirect mapping is already under way, then the organization may want to consider taking the extra step of shifting the entire site to HTTPs.

If Google indeed decides to strengthen the ranking factor for secure sites, it might be necessary for everyone to migrate their websites in time. But until then, sit tight and watch the dance.

If you have migrated your website, let us know your experience.

Image via Shutterstock.

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Crispin Sheridan

Crispin Sheridan is the Senior Director, Global Search at SAP. As part of the digital team, he established and leads the search and testing practices at SAP. Crispin is responsible for paid, natural, and mobile search and all online testing. Search and testing at SAP are fully centralized and globally funded and run under a hybrid in-house and agency model.

Crispin has proven that search learnings and keyword insights work hand in hand with social media marketing and together can effectively drive B2B lead generation. Furthermore, the development of the SAP.com Test Lab has contributed significant success to SAP's digital marketing efforts.

A frequent guest speaker at conferences, including SES New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Delhi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crispin was appointed to the SES Advisory Board in December 2009. He has also been a guest speaker at the e-Metrics Summit and ad:Tech, and is a member of Google's B2B Technology Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @crispinsheridan and read his monthly SEO column on ClickZ.

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