HTTPS as Google ranking factor
Google have recently announced that HTTPS will be a ranking factor.In case you are not aware about HTTPS then do not worry we will discuss about it later in the post.You can read about Google announcement here.This ranking factor is not a major one as of now.But it will gain importance with time.There are many reasons given behind this change.The most prominent reason is making web safer place to be.
Google has been using this phrase for quite sometime.In past Google came with major algorithm change to punish spam websites.Content farms,spam websites and websites linking to unsafe websites were punished as part of these updates.Starting with Penguin update Google started to come hard on these.
Making HTTPS as one ranking factor in Google search ranking it is making sure that more websites will be using HTTPS.HTTPS is Hypertext Transport Protocol Secure.I will not go into technical details of this protocol.But lets understand difference between HTTP and HTTPS.
HTTPS helps us to secure the information passed through the network.Your visitors use browsers to view content of your website.Your website content is passed over the network to your visitor browser.Now if you are using HTTP then this information is not passed securely.This information can be passed securely using HTTPS protocol.This way you are making sure visitor is getting the information from your website in original form.There is no modification to the information.
In the announcement Google said that they have been running tests so that HTTPS can be included into ranking factor.The results were promising so they included it into ranking factor.I would recommend using HTTPS on your website as well.This blog was not using HTTPS.But I have configured it to use HTTPS after the announcement.
Agreed it is a weak signal now but you may loose your ranking.Assume you and your competitor have similar strength on all ranking signals then this signal may be the deciding factor in ranking well.In next sections we will see how to migrate your website to use SSL (that is support HTTPS).
Implementing HTTPS on your website
Migrating your website from HTTP to HTTPS involves multiple steps.Some of the steps differ based on your hosting provider.I will make necessary comments as applicable while discussing the steps.
Getting SSL certificate
This is the first step.But implementation of it depends on the fact whether you are on Shared hosting or VPS / Dedicated server.Websites using shared hosting can check their hosting provider for SSL support.Most of the hosting provider do provide SSL support.The only thing you need to make sure that 2048 bit key certificate is used.Many web hosting companies also provide shared hosting with SSL plans.
For websites on virtual private server or dedicated server you can opt for separate route.You can buy SSL certificate from third party providers and configure your web server to use that.The cheapest SSL certificate (the one used by this website once) costs $9 per year.There is confusion in blogging world about the SSL certificate to use.But in this link Google Employee John Mueller says the only criteria is implementing 2048 key properly.
So you can go ahead with $9 SSL plan.You can buy the plan or know more about the plan using this link.
Implementing SSL certificate
This is the most technical part of this post.Implementation steps of SSL certificate on your website depends on Your web server and operating system in use.If you are on shared hosting then you should not worry about this.Your hosting provider should help you configure this.But in case you are on VPS or dedicated server then either you will have to do this yourself or get it done by someone else.
I have written detailed step by step post for Nginx web server.In case you are using Nginx web server then you can use the tutorial to configure your VPS.After configuring your web server to support SSL you can carry out next steps mentioned in this post.
Modifying your URL references
Above you have configured your website to be powered with SSL (that is to use HTTPS instead of HTTP). Migrating your website from HTTP to HTTPS is equal to changing URL of every page on your website.Currently every URL on your website starts with http now after the migration every URL wil start with https.
So we need to take care of this change.In implementation section we have seen how to implement 301 redirect from HTTP version to HTTPS version of your website.This will take care of most of the changes.But some changes still need to be made for better results.
You should now change your website address from http://your-domain-name.com to https://your-domain-name.com.For example if you are using WordPress then from Settings –> General option you can change your Site Address.Similar option is available in other content management system.You can also modify your theme files to reference https version of URL.You can also use // version of URL instead of https/.For example if you have an URL of form http://your-post-url then you can modify this to //your-post-url.
It is tough to make this change for all the content but you can change it on common places like your theme files.The usage of relative URL is one thing mentioned in Google announcement as well.So you can modify your website to use relative URL.I have not yet modified all my content to use relative URL (specially post contents).But I have taken care of theme files and other common easy to make changes.
You should also generate or create Sitemap files to use newer HTTPS version of all pages on your website.This is important.This will tell search engines about new location of your website content.Sitemaps will be added to search engine submission sites.We will see it in more details in next section
Submitting to Search Engine Submission sites
You can read this post for list of Search Engine Submission sites.In case you have not submitted your website to other search engine submission sites except Google Webmasters then do so.You should add your new website (https://your-domain-name) to these search engine submission sites list.
Google will ask you to validate this new website.If you are new to Google Webmasters then read this tutorial for details about it.After adding your new website in these sites you should add sitemaps also.
There is huge reaction among website owners about this move from Google.As always some are in favor of it and some are against it.There is also lot of confusion around it.The most popular one is that costly SSL certificate (those which display green ones in address bar) will have higher impact on Google ranking.
But this is not the case to say as of now.The only requirement is usage of 2048 bit key.If you are using 2048 bit key then it is fine.Even cheap or free SSL certificate will do the job.The only thing you need to check is that information exchange is made securely.You can check this using SSL server test of Qualys SSL Labs.The best grade is A+.You can see score of this website here.
Are you moving your website to HTTPS? Consider sharing this post in case you found this useful.