Google confirms HTTPS as a ranking signal
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
On August 6th, 2014, Google announced that it is starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal within the search result. The S in HTTPS stands for Secure, so this change essentially means that any websites using secure and encrypyed connections across their domains will benefit from this ranking update.
The formal announcement follows comments from Matt Cutts (Head of Web Spam) at SMX West in March where he said that he would like Google to make HTTPS a signal within the search rankings.
WHY HAS GOOGLE MADE THIS CHANGE?
Google doesn't control the web, but increasingly we are seeing Google use its influence to put presuure on websites to conform to what it considers best practice. Google coerces website owners by penalising websites which don't use the standards it considers as best practice and Google has done this before with site speed and mobile design.
In 2010, Google announced that site speed was a ranking signal and in 2013, Google confirmed that sites which are not mobile friendly would not rank well. As a result of Google penalising websites which were slow and not mobile friendly, sites were forced to address these issues in order to avoid losing visibility within the search results.
Since 2010, Google has been experiementing with encrypting search results and over the last 12 months Google has made strides towards encrypting all its services. In September 2013, Google confirmed the rollout of encrypted search to all users and in April 2014, Google announced it was expanding secure search to all clicks made on paid ads. Other search engine providers including Bing and Yahoo have also embraced the move to encrypting search results and consequently the vast majority of search queries made today are encrypted.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS
As a result of this change, we anticipate that secure and encrypted connections will become the norm for all websites in the future rather than being limited to, as it is currently, primarily ecommerce websites.
Google has clarified that right now HTTPS is a very lightweight signal which will affect less that 1% of search queries globally, but it has stated that this may change over time as Google encourages all site owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS.
Ultimately we think this good news for users on the web as websites using HTTPS encrypt the data between the browser and the site, thereby protecting the security of what a user chooses to do on that site.
WHAT COULD THIS LOOK LIKE IN THE FUTURE?
Since July 2014, Google has alerted mobile users when a site is likely not to be compatible with their device. Sites using incompatible technologies like Flash have lost significant click share as a result of this change. In the future, and it is likely it won't be before many months, it's possible that Google could alert users when the site does not use HTTPS.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR CLIENTS NOW?
All our clients should consider using HTTPS for all content on their websites as this will likely become the global standard and in addition, there will be a small marginal benefit within the Google search results from doing this in the short term.
For clients with websites already using HTTPS, they need to check whether this is being used across the whole domain or just in specific pages where sesnitive data is transmitted. Google has been clear in this announcement that it wants websites to use HTTPS across all the content on the website, not just checkout or login pages.
SETTING UP SITES APPROPRIATELY
Our SEO teams are at hand to ensure your websites are set up appropriately with HTTPS. The main items our teams will need to address are the following:
- Appropriate choice of single-domain, multi-domain, or wild-card certificate
- Use of 2048-bit key certificate
- Use of a web server that supports HTTP Strict Transport Security
- Use of relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain
- Use of protocol relative URLs for all other domains
- Migration strategy for moving content from HTTP to HTTPS
- Ensure all pages on HTTPS can be indexed
If you have any further questions regarding this change, please contact one of your Search leads:
DAVID TOWERS, Director of Search EMEA: firstname.lastname@example.org
CHARLOTTE LIM, Director of Search NA: email@example.com
ANTONY YIU, Director of Search and Performance APAC: firstname.lastname@example.org
GREG SHICKLE, Head of Performance UK: email@example.com