Should you use HTTPS for SEO?

Dr Search, AKA Dr Pete has recently released his findings about HTTPS in a blog post detailing data Moz has been tracking in the two years since Google made HTTPS a ranking signal back in  August 2014.

The results demonstrate that around 1/3 of all page one results on Google now use the HTTPS protocol suggesting it’s time to get serious about changing to HTTPS if you’ve not already.

What is the HTTPS protocol?

If you look at the top of your browser in the address bar you might still be able to see http:// or https:// in front of the domain URL (at the time of writing this GrowTraffic is still operating under HTTP but we’ll soon be sorting that out!). HTTP is the standard way of accessing a website whereas HTTPS offers more security by inserting a layer of protection by encrypting with SSL (secure socket layer) which shares a difficult to hack element with the destination server.

In August 2014 Google said:

“We’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now, it’s only a very lightweight signal, affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals, such as high-quality content.”

With this announcement there was a promise that Google would endeavour to keep everyone safer one the web and it seems their commitment to security is coming true in the way they are rewarding HTTPS websites.

Once of the reasons I’ve not acted on HTTPS for my own website is up until now I’ve found a great deal of difference between the rankings of those sites with it and those without it.

My findings have been validated by those from other search outlets such as Searchmetrics who found little if any discernible difference after the initial announcement.

per cent of https results on google page 1

2016 is a very different beast though. Around 33% of all page one Google results now uses the HTTPS protocol. The steady growth in number of websites with HTTPS is probably due more to Google’s successful campaign to make the internet safer than it has to do with any algorithm changes (there are no large jumps to back that up).

As Dr Pete says: “They’ve successfully led search marketers and site owners to believe that HTTPS will be rewarded, and this has drastically sped up the shift.”

If you think about where this might take us in the future, it’s not unreasonable to assume around 50% of all results on Google page one will be HTTPS in the next year and a half and knowing Google that would suggest there will be a change in the algorithm to add some weight behind this new norm within 12 months or so, whereas Dr Pete goes as far as suggesting this could take place within the next 6 – 12 months.

The point is, if you’ve not now is definitely a good time to implement the HTTPS protocol on your site. It’s inexpensive and your web developer or SEO should be able to help you set it up (although it’s not difficult).

One word of warning before you rush out to buy an SSL, remember this is a sitewide change and there will be a short-term impact to your website’s rankings. Famously Buffer experienced a very steep drop off in traffic when they implemented the HTTPS protocol (the image below demonstrates the organic sessions Buffer had when compared to the previous period).

organic-traffic-isolated-compared-to-past-in-GA-1024x180

The question is, with top ranking websites increasingly using HTTPS, how long can you afford not to be secure?

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