Google recently announced it is going to start using website security HTTPS as a ranking algorithm. It’s only a slight factor, “affecting fewer than 1% of global queries” and carries less weight than, for example, high-quality content.

On Twitter, @RyanJones, an SEO expert in UK, summarised things nicely: “for the record, there’s about 100 things you could do right now that would have a bigger SEO impact than switching to SSL”.

Regardless, much of SEO is a game of hundreds of small wins, so it would be foolish to ignore a small win.

So, our advice is: don’t panic, but do move to HTTPS.

Google states: “over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”

We’ve had a number of clients move to HTTPS this year (with our encouragement) and seen no disruption to their traffic.

What is HTTPS?

First off, let’s explain Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). HTTP is the primary technology protocol that transfers data between the client and server in plain text, which allows users to link and browse on the web.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is another protocol, but uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Unlike HTTP, HTTPS encrypts the data flow between the client and server to create a secure and safe web for users. Basically, this makes it much harder for people to spy on your traffic. With the growing concerns around web security, this has been rapidly becoming a hot subject online.

HTTPS migration guidelines

Here are some of our tips on how to migrate to HTTPS with minimal downtime to your website.

Content Loading

Since the HTTPS version of the site will typically use more resources to serve the site as it is encrypting the connection, it is important to note that Google takes into account page speed in its algorithm, so it is important the infrastructure can deal with SSL. Also, care needs to be taken to ensure all content is moved to HTTPS to avoid mixed content warnings. All internal links should start to use HTTPS, not just to pages but also for images.

301 Redirects

Since the secure (HTTPS) version of the site may be considered a new domain in the eyes of Google, it will be important to ensure that every URL on the current site is 301 redirected to the corresponding URL on the new site to let search engines know the site has permanently moved. This is also necessary to avoid the possibility of having duplicate content, which can create issues.

Another advantage of having 301s, is there are many sites already linking to the HTTP version – therefore these 301 redirects will ensure that the value of these links will be passed on to the new HTTPS pages.

Robots.txt file

Add a robots.txt file on the new HTTPS domain and exclude any folders that should not be crawled and/or indexed by search engines. FIRST can provide recommendations on the URLs that should be excluded. Assuming no changes to site structure, this file will be the same as the robots.txt on the HTTP site.

Webmaster Tools

There are a few things to consider with regards to the migration to a secure server when it comes to Google Webmaster Tools.

Since HTTP and HTTPS are considered different sites, the HTTPS version will have to be listed separately in Webmaster Tools.

You can contact FIRST if you require any assistance with switching your website from HTTP to HTTPS.