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On August, 2014, Google made one technology a major ranking factor for its search engine. And only websites using this particular technology would have a chance to utilize this factor. Want to know what this technology was?

That technology was called SSL. That’s right. If your website is using SSL certificate, i.e- it operates out of an encrypted security (the Secure Socket Layer, or SSL), it will get a ranking boost. It does sound a bit incredulous, doesn’t it? I mean, why would it matter to Google why a website is using SSL certificate or not, as long as the website is serving the information that its customers want? Well, yeah it does. For those who are familiar with Google’s modus operandi, this should come as no surprise. But, for those who do not know how Google works, we will be cover this topic in detail below:

    • Back to Basics: What is SSL?

      SSL (Secured Socket Layer), or its newer version TLS (Transport Layer Security), is a standard piece of technology that came to forefront about a decade ago. What SSL does is, it creates a secure link between a web server and a browser. This leads to two benefits that websites without an SSL certificate does not provide. One, the connection and data being exchanged remains private, and does not suffer from “leaks”. Two, the integrity of the data being exchanged remains intact. Websites that are SSL certified follow the HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secured) protocol. For e.g- If the URL of your old website was http://www.xyz.com, your SSL secured website would show up as https://www.xyz.com. This way, you can also identify other websites if they are using the secured protocol as well. It is very easy to obtain an SSL certificate for your website. However, if you are facing any problem, you should seek help from professionals. You can learn more about SSL from this link. For an even expanded and technical understanding, you can refer to this whitepaper. The image below will give you a brief idea about how SSL works.

    • How SSL Work

    • How Does SSL Factor Into SEO?

      In the beginning, we mentioned how Google’s modus operandi came to play when the search giant chose SSL as a ranking factor for its search engine. Now, let’s look a little bit deeper, and understand Google’s motive behind this step.

      What we have observed until now, is that Google has always kept its users’ satisfaction in mind whenever they have launched any update for its search engine. Experienced webmasters would know that there were around 200 ranking factors for a website. Meaning, any SEO “expert” worth their salt would have to keep the 200 factors in mind while working on a website. Be it a domain’s age, or the way a website’s content has been written; everything contributes to Google’s ever-expanding lists of updates and ranking factors. Google has also christened some of its major updates with colorful names – Panda, for its content-related algorithm update. And Penguin, for updates related to the quality of links a website uses or that points to a website.

      So, as we can see Google places a lot of emphasis on user experience. Making SSL an integral ranking factor that can make surfing the web secure and ensure the integrity of data hence makes sense.

      Still not convinced about the importance of this update? Well, how about this. Google has updated its own blogging platform, Blogspot, to accept SSL secured URLs for its blogs. So, if you have a blog running on their platform, you can read the following instructions to redirect your URLs from HTTP to HTTPS. Google has also updated its Webmaster to better handle HTTPS websites better.

    • Adoption Rate: Where Do Things Stand Now?

      Google has made it very clear that they will continue using SSL security as a ranking factor. Google’s own webmasters trend analyst, John Mueller, stated as much, when he shared an update regarding this topic from his own Google+ profile. However, it seems some website owners still haven’t taken this update seriously, and have not taken advantage of SSL security for their website. Case in point, various sources have conducted their own study to understand how many websites have adopted SSL. This study by Wired is particularly enlightening. It clearly states that several big shot websites have not adopted SSL yet. This is an alarming revelation, as these websites get thousands of visitors per day. In effect, such websites pose a serious risk to their users.

      Another study, conducted by Ahrefs, pits 100,000 domains against each other to understand how HTTPS affects their SEO. Let us include a few images below to understand the data that they have gathered.

      SSL Adoption Survey

      If we review the data, we can see that a majority of the tested domains do not use HTTPS properly.

      In addition, it has been observed that approximately 2% of the top 1 million websites have switched to SSL/HTTPS.

      Usage of HTTPS by default

      If these stats aren’t worrying enough, get this: In 2014, MOZ conducted a poll to understand how webmasters were planning to adopt SSL. The results were quite shocking.

      MOZ Poll on SSL

    • Impact of SSL: Why You Should Upgrade?

      Pulling all the data that we could get our hands on, we have come across certain numbers that we would love to share with you.

      Did you know, that almost 26% of the internet users worldwide do not think that the current security measures, that are meant to protect personal rights, are good enough?

      This number should not be taken lightly, at least according to Google, which is why they have focused on SSL.

      If you are a budding or experience webmaster with some knowledge about SEO, and you have not adopted SSL/HTTPS yet, we will present you with some facts that just might change your mind. Read on.

      In 2014, after Google announced that SSL would be a ranking factor, a few webmasters decided to stay ahead of the curve and adopted HTTPS for their website. It was witnessed that such websites improved in ranking and visibility after switching to SSL.

      Effect of SSL on keyword ranking
      Improvement in keyword ranking after SSL implementation

      Effect of SSL on page visibility
      Improvement in page visibility after SSL implementation

    • Points to Ponder

      While switching to HTTPS from HTTP, there are some pointers that you should keep in mind. Some of them are listed below:

      • If not done correctly, you might end up 2 different versions of your website. This can be harmful as you will inevitably end up with duplicate content issue, and your ranking will suffer.
      • Google will prefer the HTTPS version of your website over the HTTP. However, this will not result in you losing any “link juice”, as Google will count inbound links from both the HTTP and HTTPS versions of the website. This has been stated by John Mueller as well.
      • John Mueller's statement on SSL

    • TL;DR

      We would like to end this blog by stating some of the conclusions that we have drawn. Initially when the update rolled out, various agencies carried out their own studies. In the end, it was seen that adopting SSL would grant a moderate push towards higher rank. But in the 2 years since the update, an increasing importance has been placed on securer website. Now, if any one visits a non-HTTPS website while using Google’s Chrome browser, they get a warning stating that the connection to the website “is not private”. Meaning, the website has not opted for an SSL secured version of itself. This way, such websites lose potential users. So, even if ranking in search is not a concern for certain website owners, they still manage to lose potential customers this way.

      Hence, for any business owner depending on online sales and website visits, switching to an SSL secured website is a sure-fire way of gaining their customer’s trust.

      Update: Google has started sending notices to webmasters, warning them that from October, Google Chrome will start flagging HTTP websites as ‘unsecured’. Read more about the update on our blog.

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