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Should you act on Google’s new HTTPS ranking signal? [@SmartInsights alert]

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 12 Aug, 2014
Essential Essential topic

5 reasons why migrating all site pages may be a bad idea

Importance: [rating=1] (Signal currently affects only 1% of queries)

Recommended link: Google Webmaster Blog announcement

https-imageYou will know that Google uses hundreds of ranking signals to return the most relevant results for a search, plus many filters to remove spammy or duplicate results too. But it’s rare for Google to announce what these are or to disclose new signals. So, the recent announcement from the Google Webmaster Blog that use of a HTTPS (HTTP Secure) will be used as a positive ranking signal prompted many, particular retailers who will already use HTTP Secure in checkout, to take notice. Google’s precise words were:

“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”.

You may be wondering what HTTPS is? From a user point-of-view, it’s what we see as a padlock in the browser bar when we’re on a secure page like a checkout page. From a technical point of view it uses a security certificate to authenticate a website and encrypt communications between server and client - Wikipedia has full details.

I’ve been discussing the relevance of this for Smart Insights with Stuart Miller our CTO and we think no since we already use secure HTTPS for signup and payment pages and the risks of implementing it across all site pages look to high. The reasons are:

  • 1. The signal only affects 1% of user queries according to the Google announcement. And we don’t know whether these relate to us, so the "“up side” seems small. I haven’t seen which type of queries discussed. Does anyone have any thoughts on types of queries?
  • 2. Loss of ranking due to 301 redirects. We would need to redirect our existing HTTP pages to HTTPS since they are separate pages as far as Google is concerned. Since Google doesn’t now flow all of the authority for a page to a redirected page this looks like a risk to lose traffic.
  • 3. You have to make sure all assets are secure. Each asset such as image also needs to be reassigned. If you use absolute rather than relative URLs that may cause some problems or at least redirects. Barry Schwartz on Search Engine Roundtable summarizes:

    “You need to test and then test, to make sure the HTTPS certificate doesn’t show errors to your users. There can be images, videos, and third-party includes that need to be adapted on the pages to ensure that it doesn’t give the user a security warning”.

    So that’s time consuming and could affect the user experience and conversion.

  • 4. SSL certificates have a fee. Secure sites will already have these, but other types of sites will have to pay for them.
  • 5. Pages may load more slowly. This isn’t significant (300ms in one test on this useful G+ thread by Google’s John Mueller), but ironic since Google is always telling us to take care of page load times which is also a signal.

So that’s how we see it. “No way”" currently, but one to watch for the future. What about you? I hope this summary helps you if you’re discussing making this change for your site or clients.

Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. 'Dr Dave' is known for his strategic, but practical, data-driven advice. He has trained and consulted with many business of all sizes in most sectors. These include large international B2B and B2C brands including 3M, BP, Barclaycard, Dell, Confused.com, HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, M&G Investment, Rentokil Initial, O2, Royal Canin (Mars Group) plus many smaller businesses. Dave is editor of the templates, guides and courses in our digital marketing resource library used by our Business members to plan, manage and optimize their marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is also keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. My personal site, DaveChaffey.com, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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