Does HTTPS have superior SEO value for webmasters?
It was the 6th of August when Google made the announcement that HTTPS had begun to be a ‘lightweight ranking signal’. In an official post on their blog, the search engine giants identified that their motives for initiating the move was down to security reasons and their appreciation that an increasing number of site managers had begun utilising HTTPS. It also somewhat cryptically outlined that HTTP would serve as a signal for under 1% of worldwide search queries, a remark which has spurred an intriguing question; does the usage of HTTPS instead of HTTP have superior SEO value for webmasters across the globe?
Earlier comments from Google’s head of spam Matt Cutts illustrated his desire for SSL to be incorporated into the search engines algorithm for deciding rankings, whilst the company has consistently reiterated its intention to encourage wider adoption of HTTPS.
So, what exactly are HTTP and SSL?
For all who are unfamiliar with the jargon that has been displayed thus far, HTTPS or Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure is essentially a safer and securer incarnation of the commonly used HTTP. Typically, HTTPS is utilised by ecommerce websites for activity that requires higher amounts of security protection, such as for making secure online transactions and payments.
SSL, or Secure Costs Locket, is simply a practice which supplies safe connections for transferring files. Thus, SSL is utilised to encrypt the connection of a file, rather than the file itself.
For example, you can tell whether a domain is encrypted or not by simply looking at whether it starts with HTTPS, rather than the conventional HTTP.
Will HTTP utilisation impact my rankings?
Before Google made their official disclosure about HTTP being a ‘lightweight’ ranking signal, Searchmetrics conducted a research study into how HTTPS would impact rankings this year. Following an evaluation of the average rankings attained by directories under both HTTP and HTTP, the study illustrated that there was a rise in the number of encrypted URLS between May and June last year. However, the actual reasons behind this trend were down to the activity of numerous prominent domains, such as play.google.com, who seemingly inflated the actual significance of the move. Thus, when these were taken out of consideration, the overall visibility between domains using HTTP and HTTPS were almost exactly the same.
This led to Searchmetrics concluding that there “no relationships have been discernible to date from the data analyzed by us between HTTPS and rankings nor are there any differences between HTTP and HTTPS.” They also ruled out Google using HTTPS to influence ranking factors, though it should be noted that these conclusions were made before Google had made any official remarks in the area.
In order to test Searchmetrics conclusions, I initiated the migration of a couple of my own websites to HTTPS, and failed to notice any meaningful changes in my rankings. Interestingly, there was barely any difference in the amount of traffic my sites were generating from the Google search engine, with a 0.5% rise for one of them between 15th August and 1st September and an even smaller 0.25% with another of them. Clearly, the ranking benefits of HTTPS are yet to be seen empirically.
Due to Google’s importance and power within the search engine industry, it might be worth contemplating the adoption of HTTPS into your domains, because they have now repeatedly reiterated encouraged webmasters to do so. Whilst they may be styling HTTPS as a ‘lightweight ranking signal’ at present, this could change at any point, and this would put those who had heeded their advice in a substantially stronger position than those who didn’t. Moreover, the security its implementation brings undoubtedly benefits domain users and visitors, which could mean that HTTP will begin to have a far more prominent appearance in Google’s ranking algorithm at some point in the future.
However, at present, it really does appear to be all about security, and changing from HTTP to HTTPS has seemingly little SEO value at the moment. You will have to make the decision whether you are willing to take time out of your schedule in order to make the appropriate changes to your own domains, though you should do so knowing that it only has longer-reaching, anticipatory merits, rather than any immediate boost to your endeavours.