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Understanding Always On SSL and SEO

‘I don’t know of any reason why you[r website] wouldn't be able to rank with just HTTPS,’ says Matt Cutts of Google.
Created: 29 Jan 2014 • Updated: 19 Aug 2014
Jimmy Edge's picture
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Update, August 19 2014: Google has now said that the use of SSL is now a positive ranking factor: "over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We've seen positive results, so we're starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal." [1]

‘I don’t know of any reason why you[r website] wouldn’t be able to rank with just HTTPS,’ says Matt Cutts of Google.

Always On SSL is a mechanism for ensuring that every interaction with every page of your website is encrypted from the moment a visitor arrives to the moment they leave. This goes beyond using SSL on transaction pages, like sign in and payment portals.

There are many benefits to switching to an https site, however many people worry that it will hurt their search engine rankings, damaging their SEO. As stated by Matt Cutts, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Why you need Always On SSL

‘It is incumbent on all stakeholders to take reasonable steps to protect trust and consumer confidence,’ says the Online Trust Alliance. One of the most important benefits of Always On SSL is customer reassurance.

Websites are under increasing attack from malicious software, online fraud and session hijacking. This puts your visitors and reputation at risk.

At the same time, people are becoming increasingly savvy about the risks of cybercrime and data loss. They look for proof that the companies they interact with are taking working hard to protect them, which is exactly what Always On SSL shows.

With an https site, visitors can immediately see visual cues such as a padlock, or (with Extended Validation SSL Certificates) a green address bar highlighting the authenticity of the site they are on.


Securing sites and sustaining SEO

So why do people worry so much about the effect of Always On SSL on their search engine ranking? Well, it is important to make the switch from http to https carefully and comprehensively. If you don’t, that’s where the damage can happen.

In particular, remember:

·         Load speed. By enabling encryption across your site, there will inevitably be a small amount of extra processing power involved, so it may be worth assessing your web server infrastructure. This isn’t, however, a deal breaker.

‘Only like one in 100 searches, which means one in 1,000 websites, is so low on page speed, that it actually affects its ranking, whereas HTTPS can be a really good thing for users,’ says Matt Cutts.

·         Redirection. When you switch to https, it is like switching to a new domain, so it is important to remember http->https redirection and other canonicalisation procedures. In the same vein, be sure to list the https site separately in Google Webmaster tools, as it’s technically a different site.

There are a few other tips and tricks that Google’s John Mueller recommends, and some that ProWebmasters suggest as well. So, if you do it right, Always On SSL won’t hurt your SEO. And it is thought that the commitment to security that https demonstrates might even be favoured by Google.

All the cool kids are doing it

Switching to Always On SSL is no longer just for fringe sites. Several major sites such as Facebook, PayPal, Twitter and Google have all switched to Always On SSL and Yahoo! Announced they will be following their lead in early 2014 . In fact, Google regularly points to PayPal as proof of an early adopter that was able to retain its high search engine ranking, even after the switch to an https-only site.

Google itself started out by just enabling Always On SSL for its Gmail and Google Apps services, but in May 2010 it also enabled an encrypted search function. This allowed visitors to keep their search queries private from any potential eavesdroppers or over-zealous site owners.

This is a perfect example of the increasing psychological benefit for customers of https sites; it is not just their credit card details or address they are worried about losing online now. People want to have control over how much they reveal about their shopping preferences, habits and tastes.

Google not only recognises that, but very clearly supports users’ goals with Always On SSL as well.

To learn more about SSL, from the history of encryption, to the newest and strongest encryption algorithms visit our interactive infographic ‘SSL Explained’ now.  

And for our updated blog post (August 2014) on the news that SSL is now a possitive SEO ranking factor please go to this post now.