In its early years, the internet had very few rules and regulations. As a result, the online browsing experience came with a high level of risk. Over time, however, the influence of technology and security has drastically changed the user experience of the modern searcher. Recently, stories of prolific security breaches and cyber hacks resulting in compromised financial information and personal data have permeated. This has only exacerbated the need for robust internet security and data encryption, mainly when billions of people rely on the internet every single day.
Enter SSL – which stands for Secure Sockets Layer. SSL certificates have evolved from a luxury piece of the website puzzle to a must-have for almost any business, both in terms of its credibility and, as we’ll uncover in this article, driving organic traffic to its website.
What Is an SSL Certificate?
SSL ensures the encryption of data as it is transmitted through the internet. Think of SSL as a set of rules – protocols, if you will – for establishing encrypted and authenticated links between computers and servers. The SSL certificate is effectively the digital document that identifies the website, domain name, and information about the site’s owner(s). SSL certificates exist in small files that bind a cryptographic set of keys to a website to transmit the data. These keys consist of a public and a private key.
The public key allows the browser to initiate an encrypted communication session with the web server via the HTTPS and TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocols. The private key is concealed on the server. You can identify a site as complying with the HTTPS protocol with a visible padlock icon in the main URL bar at the top of a browser. If a padlock icon is not there, the referred page is not using the HTTPS protocol; thus, a secure connection cannot be established between the browser and the server.
HTTP vs. HTTPS
HTTP – Hypertext Transfer Protocol – is a protocol for transferring data over a network. A browser generates HTTP requests as the user interacts with web elements, such as hyperlinks. These HTTP requests go to the server, which generates an HTTP response, which is effectively an answer to HTTP requests. HTTPS does everything that HTTP does but uses TLS/SSL to encrypt these requests and responses, digitally signing them in the process. The ‘S’ in HTTPS stands for ‘secure.’
It’s clear to see that SSL certificates go a long way in ensuring any digitally transmitted information is well protected from malicious third parties, such as cybercriminals or hackers. However, SSL certificates have a much more profound impact than simply encrypting transmitted data; SSL can affect a website’s search engine rankings and positions. Therefore, it’s in a trading business’s best interest to invest in SSL if not already doing so.
Does SSL Affect SEO?
Google has been outspoken about its commitment to promoting web safety and security. Google has reported that stable websites with valid SSL certification would be prioritized over sites that do not have such credentials. It’s difficult to find hard metrics or data that show how impactful an SSL certificate (or lack thereof) can be on a site’s Google rankings. Many other SEO and ranking factors are constantly at play, not to mention Google’s constantly evolving algorithmic changes. For example, one site with two solid and reputable backlinks might outperform sites with thousands simply because it has a valid SSL certificate.
Other SEO Ranking Factors (Besides SSL Certification)
- Site and page speed
- Keyword relevancy and optimization
- Quality backlinks
- How easy are the site’s crawling and indexing
- Mobile-friendliness and responsiveness
- Local ranking factors
- Niche expertise
- Fresh and relevant content
Organic ranking factors are always going to change or evolve as Google updates its algorithm. While learning and understanding all of them is a gargantuan task, we know the key characteristics that Google is trying to demonstrate throughout all of them. These are expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T). SSL certification might not be the highest-priority ranking factor, but it undoubtedly influences how well a site performs in SERPs. Sadly, it is impossible to determine exactly how much it can boost a site’s rankings due to the overwhelming amount of variables associated with making a website successful and high-performing.
However, for the benefit of customers who, statistically, prefer to visit HTTPS-enabled sites over HTTP-enabled ones, it seems like a relatively small pill to swallow. It shows your site is verified and committed to protecting consumer data and also being safe from cyber incidents. For the sake of a relatively small cost to your site, it’s inherently more worthwhile than risking reduced numbers of traffic and, by extension, fewer sales, and poorer rankings.
Benefits of SSL Certificates
To recap, there are several benefits of having an SSL certificate. These include the following:
- SSL protects sensitive information.
- It provides you with improved search engine performance (if you are taking other steps to improve your SEO).
- SSL helps you satisfy other regulations, such as PCI/DSS.
- It improves customer trust and faith in your business.
- SSL is reassuring for referring domains in backlinks.
- It prevents intrusion from hackers or phishing scams.
- SSL enhances your brand value.
- It improves the customer experience and interface, with no visible warning signs in browsers that could dissuade customers from visiting your site.
How to Get an SSL Certificate
One more straightforward way to obtain an SSL certificate is to talk to your web hosting provider or its support team. Some website hosting providers offer SSL certification as part of a hosting or support package, while others charge for it on an ad-hoc basis. But, asking your hosting company to set up a secure connection on behalf of your domain can be straightforward, and you’ll have to do very little. They will likely take care of the entire process for you.
However, you can also set up HTTPS, the complexity of which will depend on the server you are using. It’ll begin by submitting a CSR (Certificate Signing Request) to a legitimate Certificate Authority when applying for an SSL. Following that, the authority will generate a certificate, which requires verification through a private key that you will need to keep safe. You’ll then need to install the SSL certificate for your domain via your control panel. You can find specific steps in our quick guide to installing SSL on your website, including steps on how to redirect HTTP to HTTPS.