HTTPS Algorithm Update
In early August Google announced SSL and HTTPS are to become a ranking factor within its algorithm. An announcement of this nature was always going to cause a stir and create discussion. Is a HTTPS update worthwhile? Does it really matter if you still have great content? Will it distract from the SEO work already being carried out?
The update means Google will give preference to secure websites (HTTPS) within SERPs and by adding encryption to a website owners may see a ‘lightweight’ rankings boost. At the time of the announcement we were told the update accounted for fewer than 1% of search ranking factors, but over time it may be the case Google decides to increase this measure.
But with so little value at the moment, is it worth panicking about switching to an encrypted website?
Here’s what we know at the HTTPS update so far, what we can expect in the future and why SEO is much more than just encryption.
HTTPS Works on a Per-URL Basis
Instead of working across a website, HTTPS works on per URL basis. This means that if you’re creating an entire new section or side to your website at the moment, you can do this in HTTPS and begin to future proof for any chance the weight of the ranking factor may increase.
What this does mean is changing the website as a whole is going to take time and - as of yet - Webmaster tools does not support a change to HTTPS within its change of address form. Every page will need a 301 redirect.
It was noted at the time of the announcement that further guidance on how to change and best practice for a change will be published in Google’s Webmaster Blog.
In terms of ranking factors (at this moment in time) updating to SSL/HTTPS is going to have a minimal impact, so small in fact that a website is unlikely to increase its position in search engine results pages based on switching to HTTPS.
The Longer Term
Of course, updating to HTTPS will offer a website better data integrity and authenticity.
As a ranking factor HTTPS is likely to become more apparent, but don’t fret as this isn’t going to be any time soon, so you don’t need to grind to a halt all current SEO activity to make sweeping and time consuming changes across a website.
What you can do however, is plan for the future by slowly implement changes as new pages are introduced. Keep an eye on the Webmaster Tools Blog for updates – particularly if it is announced that HTTPS will be supported within the change of address tool or anything else aimed at making the process of migration to SSL/HTTPS easier and simpler.
Steps to consider before these switches will be a decision on the type of certificate needed – a single, multi-domain or wildcard choice will be dependent on the type of website being managed; Google also wants to ensure that site owners use 2048-bit key certificates, with matching URLs for resources on the same domain.
HTTPS sites will also need to be set up to avoid any crawling blocks through robots.txt and indexing of all HTTPS sites should be made possible by avoiding no index meta tags.
The Immediate Future
As mentioned, HTTPS as a ranking factor is unlikely to have a huge impact for the foreseeable future as Google continues to offer guidance. If you have the resource both time wise and financially then by all means changes could be implemented.
This being said, there are plenty of other ranking signals that will be having a substantially bigger impact on search engine rankings.
Think about carrying out an SEO health check, that URL structures are consistent across the website and content on a website offers real, readable, value to a customer. Beyond this, think about a link building campaign and marketing activities. All of these and more will still be the core focus of your SEO strategy, particularly as HTTPS remains in its early stages.
As Google announces more guidance on HTTPS, Polaris will continue to offer input. As an SEO agency in London we work hard to remain at the forefront of the industry. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help you.