Why HTTPS is the way to go for SEO
by Chris Ioannou and Greg Perkins
HTTPS is about to become a search market norm, but there’s a lot more to consider than technical SEO. The extra layer of security provided by HTTPS can impact rankings and bring benefits that filter across most areas of a business.
Wait, what is HTTPS?
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick intro. Google’s advice on Search Console Help details how the encryption of data exchanged between HTTPS site servers and site users makes connections more secure. Effectively, HTTPS connections protect site users from eavesdroppers and people attempting to steal their information.
Well, since 2014, HTTPS has been a lightweight ranking factor for Google. But with Chrome — and also Mozilla Firefox — ‘gently’ prompting webmasters to make the switch throughout 2017, SEOs confidently predict that it will soon pack a heavier punch. So, let’s take a quick walk through the case for HTTPS.
Opting for HTTPS helps users interact with your website in confidence.
Cyber security is important — now more than ever. From October 2017, Google Chrome 62 will show a ‘NOT SECURE’ warning whenever users input text into fields on an HTTP page, and this will also occur on all HTTP pages when browsing on Incognito mode.
These warnings will become potential blockers to eCommerce transactions and any interaction involving personal data, including email-address-for-free-stuff inbound marketing campaigns. And this will become a game-changer in time.
Security means customer confidence
Opting for HTTPS helps users interact with your website in confidence. It gives the domain a certain level of credibility, nurturing trust between both brand and consumer. This can ultimately lead to business benefits — including the golden nectar of ROI — further down the line.
As an SEO-focussed agency, Caliber take the position that you should change to HTTPS if you haven’t already done so. First, consider Google’s position on the matter. Then consider the extra possibilities, which we’ll walk you through:
1. The ability to use HTTP/2
2. Better traffic visibility
3. Better user signals
Why use HTTP/2?
Available with HTTPS, HTTP/2 allows you to establish a single connection between your browser and the server, moving all the files you need to open a page. On HTTP, every single file needed to load your HTML page required an individual server connection. These include:
- The stylesheet
- Any other media onboard
Each element had to be downloaded individually. It’s hard to say how many files an average website would have, but let’s say 100 for the purposes of this article. That means 100 separate connections to be made for a page to load. These actions put strain on your site server and increase load times, which is detrimental to SEO performance, including user experience.
As users we constantly download media-rich pages, expecting near-instantaneous load times — or else.
Meanwhile, with HTTP/2, there’s just one connection. In that single connection, you essentially do an initial virtual handshake, transferring all the files simultaneously. The need for extra overheads is eliminated and the process becomes more straightforward and faster at the same time.
As users we constantly download media-rich pages, expecting near-instantaneous load times — or else. Choosing HTTP/2 allows the whole process of downloading assets to be streamlined. And HTTPS itself has more inbuilt optimisation, in the quality of analytics data available.
Better data means better campaigns.
Let’s get visible (traffic)
Another benefit of HTTPS is the clearer traffic visibility afforded to webmasters. When a visitor arrives on an HTTP site, clicking through from an HTTPS-enabled site, the referrer data is stripped and the session is inaccurately recorded as direct traffic. With HTTPS-to-HTTPS transitions, referrer data is passed on intact, and this is also the case when users travel from non-HTTPS sites to an HTTPS one.
All in all, you’ll have increased visibility on your referral sources after switching to HTTPS. From an analytical perspective, this represents a goldmine of data just waiting to be passed on to the marketing department. And better data means better campaigns.
User signals — the icing on the SEO cake
From a user perspective, the confidence that comes from seeing HTTPS certification can help maintain softer metrics, like reduced bounce rates, and increased page depth and dwelling times on site. These major trust signals reinforce the case for HTTPS and shouldn’t be scoffed at — they can be a deciding factor when you’re looking for marginal gains in page one rankings.
HTTPS is a full-spectrum issue
In short, switching to HTTPS could be the catalyst to better results across all aspects of your website:
Often looked upon simplistically as “a technical update”, the switch has broader applications:
- Infrastructure: improved site security and loading times.
- Analytics: a trove of better data.
- Content: can be served faster and tailored to accurate analytics info.
- Citations: link-earning campaigns can also be created around better data.
- User signals: improved soft SEO metrics like ‘long clicks’ and improved bounce rates.
Changing to HTTPS can bring benefits on many levels. If your brand hasn’t made the switch yet, it’s time to give it serious thought. Make sure to sell the idea in on all the levels above. Almost everyone in your organisation stands to gain.
At Caliber, we’re hooked on holistic approaches to SEO and digital marketing. Take a look at our previous work to see how we build our campaigns from the foundations up.