HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is a way to protect data that passes between a person's computer (or phone) and the website. It's becoming a big topic for most website owners. There has been a big push from various companies and the public for website owners to adopt the technology, meaning you may be asking yourself whether you should move your site to HTTPS.
Along with security, deciding to move your site to HTTPS can be a marketing issue. Four years ago Google went on record saying that having HTTPS is now a ranking factor, meaning that even if you have the simplest of websites, you could (in theory) rank lower because you haven't adopted HTTPS.
Should you move your site to HTTPS? I'll give some reasons for and against, and let you decide if it's worth it for your business.
Reasons to Move Your Site to HTTPS
It seems like you can't turn around without hearing about some sort of data breach from a company that millions of people entrusted with their data. The public is becoming more and more leery of websites that their browsers tell them aren't secure.
Here are three reasons why you may want to move your site to HTTPS:
1. Provide security for your users.
Without HTTPS, your visitors aren't provided with a base layer of security that keeps the data that travels between their computer and your website safe.
2. Avoid HTTP shaming.
Browsers are showing warnings for unsecure sites. Google Chrome users are currently shown a “Not secure" icon when visiting a domain without HTTPS, and a more intrusive message and icon when visiting a non-secure page that includes a form with a password or credit card field.
In the future this message will be even more intrusive with a red icon and text. Firefox also uses an icon for non-secure sites. This change will give a very visible signal that visitors shouldn't trust your website, sending a negative message about your brand.
3. See a boost in rankings.
While Google won't say how much having a HTTPS site can improve rankings, two studies show how that it is, at the very least, a moderate ranking signal.
Respected search optimization company Moz conducted a study in 2015. By analyzing 17,600 keyword results from Google, they found that HTTPS was a considered a “tie-breaker" in terms of strength.
And search optimization company Backlinko conducted a study that analyzed 1 million random search queries from three large search data partners. They found that the use of HTTPS was a moderate ranking factor as well.
The Downsides of a HTTPS Move
While there are many reasons to move your site to HTTPS, there are also some very serious technical concerns to think about.
Switching isn't a trivial process, especially if your site is large and has many pages and sections.
For starters, you need to obtain a security certificate for your domain. Then you need to redirect non-HTTPS versions of your website to the HTTPS versions. Installing certificates is no trivial matter, and you'll likely need a developer to help with the transition.
2. Ranking Decline
Whenever you migrate URLs, there is always the chance that they won't rank as highly as they previously did in the search engines. Google does provide a way to inform their search crawlers that you're migrating your website, but it's not infallible.
When you make a change as significant as changing every URL on your website, some fluctuations in the search results will most likely come with the territory.
Outside of the cost of the actual certificate, there is also the cost of a developer's time to implement the security protocol. The cost would vary and be dependent based upon the nature of your business, but even the simplest of businesses would take a few hours of a developers time just to install the certificate.
If your business has user accounts, takes payments or any other logins or secure transactions, you should expect to spend a considerable amount of resources from start to finish.
So the Question Remains: Should You Move Your Site to HTTPS or Should You Pass?
Considering the added security benefits of adding HTTPS, I would say that it would be beneficial for sites—or sections of sites—that deal with user accounts and sensitive data to consider implementing HTTPS. If your website has forms that take credit card information or you have user account that include personal data, then it could be a good candidate for that extra layer of security.
If your website is purely informational and has no logins or forms, or if you don't take credit card information, than the decision to move your site to HTTPS may be more dependent on your business needs and technical capabilities. I believe it could be worth it in the long run, especially if you are looking for potential gains in search rankings.
At the end of the day, deciding to move your site to HTTPS is a business decision, weighed mostly by the nature of your website. As the internet and its tools continue to evolve, however, I believe there will be higher demand for more security from website owners. Adding HTTPS can be an excellent first step in adding that layer of security.
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