Google has announced that https is a ranking signal and Chrome browser users will be warned when accessing non-secure websites starting in January 2017. What does this mean for marketers and website owners?

HTTP vs HTTPS: What It Means

At the beginning of any web URL, you’ll see either “http” or “https.” The HTTP stands for “hypertext transfer protocol.” The “S” stands for “secure.” When you use a secure site, incoming and outgoing data is encrypted using an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Certificate. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for third parties to intercept information.

Why Should Sites Switch to HTTPS? 

Websites that run without encryption can be easily compromised. When a site is secure, visitors can be sure that they’re not actually on an impostor site. These security concerns alone make a good case for running HTTPS only.  And then there are the Google changes. In the earliest phase of Google’s new browsing setup, HTTP pages that ask users for sensitive data like passwords or credit card information will be marked as non-secure. Google’s long-term plan is to mark all HTTP sites as non-secure.

So, What’s Stopping Small Businesses from Switching?

Even with the Google announcement, some small businesses are choosing not to make the move to HTTPS. They may feel that the added security is not really necessary since they aren’t asking users to enter any information. Making the switch can get pretty technical, too, and many small business owners don’t have the time or the know-how to do it.

Tips for Switching

Even if you think your site doesn’t need security encryption, your visitors probably do. Nothing scares web traffic away like a scary-looking warning message announcing that your site isn’t secure. Also, keep in mind that Google’s algorithms have slowly been changing to favor HTTPS sites, and that trend will continue in future updates. You could pay a heavy price for not switching as soon as possible. Here are some tips for getting it done.

  • Purchase an SSL certificate and install it on your website’s hosting account.
  • Check that any links on your site are changed from HTTP to HTTPS. Otherwise, those links will be “broken” once you switch.
  • Use relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain. Configure any hard-internal links within your website, from HTTP to HTTPS.
  • Update canonical tag with https URL
  • Create 301 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS. This will notify the search engines that the addresses for the pages on your site have been changed. That way, anyone who has bookmarked your site before the change will be redirected to your new secure site.
  • Update sitemap to use https version of URL’s
  • Set up an HTTPS site in Google Search Console and Google Analytics.

HTTPS is quickly becoming the new normal, and in the ever-changing world of SEO, it's probably not a good idea to get left behind. One example: the White House recently called for all federal websites to use a secure connection. It's better to be ahead of the curve and secure your site now before you end up getting penalized for not doing so.