HTTPS ranking: What you need to know

Google has announced on its Webmaster Central Blog that it is 'starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal'.

Essentially, Google’s post on 6 August 2014, informed us that the search engine is introducing HTTPS as a ranking signal in its algorithms as ‘encouragement’ for websites to adopt the HTTPS standard.

Here’s our quick roundup of everything you need to know about the new HTTPS ranking signal and what it means for your site.

Why is HTTPS being used as a ranking factor by Google?

HTTPS – or Hypertext Transport Protocol Secure – is used to make a website secure. It’s designed to protect both a website and its users by protecting the integrity and confidentiality of user data, such as payment details or other personal information.

When giving personal or payment information to a website, users expect it to be a secure interaction. Using HTTPS provides that secure environment, and also helps build user confidence in the site in question.

In Google’s announcement, the search engine made it clear that security is at the top of its agenda.

‘Beyond our own stuff, we’re also working to make the internet safer more broadly. A big part of that is making sure that websites people access from Google are secure.’

HTTPS as a ranking signal, Google Webmaster Central Blog

After a few months of testing, HTTPS has started being used as a signal in Google’s search algorithms. It’s worth noting that, at the moment, this change is only affecting ‘fewer than 1% of global queries’.

Does this mean I should make my domain HTTPS only?

The increased emphasis on HTTPS from Google should be considered as part of the process of deciding whether to make your domain HTTPS or not. Providing a secure environment for your site visitors should already be a major consideration.

Will I see an improvement in visibility if I switch to HTTPS?

The benefit awarded to HTTPS-only websites is not as strong as that given to great content, fantastic UX, powerful citations, etc. There are many other tactics that will offer greater visibility improvements first; this is not a silver bullet.

Will I lose visibility if I do not switch my website?

If your website is the only one in its vertical not to switch to HTTPS, then it may be at a disadvantage. That said it is important to remember that – at the moment – this ‘ranking factor’ is only a minor consideration compared to other factors. Digital teams need to be doing as much as possible to ensure any website offers a great experience before considering HTTPS as a tactic to improve visibility.

Is it possible my website will lose visibility at the time of switching?

Yes, it is possible. A robust migration plan – including, for example robots.txt exclusion and ensuring that non-HTTPS URLs are properly dealt with – is essential to prevent loss of visibility becoming an issue.

We are undertaking a site migration in the next few months – should we plan to swap to HTTPS?

From this point forward, it is recommended that migrating to an HTTPS-only environment is a key consideration for any website planning a migration.

How does Google’s new ranking factor actually work?

Just shy of a week after Google’s announcement, Search Engine Land published an article explaining how the signal works. To summarise some of the key points:

  • The HTTPS ranking signal is run in real time – Unlike Penguin or Panda, as soon as Google indexes a new HTTPS URL, that URL will immediately see a tiny boost. However, it’s important not to expect to see position changes – as we’ve mentioned, the impact will be small
  • The signal is run on a per-URL basis – If your site is partly HTTPS and partly HTTP, the HTTPS URLs will be given a boost, while the HTTP ones will not
  • It’s not related to Google Panda or other algorithms

For more information and other key points read the full article here.

Other useful resources

Keen to know more? Check out the information from Google below:

Moving your site to HTTPS and not sure where to start? Contact us for expert advice.