Matthew Laurin

Considerations for Making Your Site Secure: SSL as a Ranking Factor

A lockRecently Google put out the word that security is going to be used as a factor in determining where a website falls in the search results pages.  This leaves webmasters and business owners scrambling to either check the current status of their SSL certificate, finding out how to buy one or trying to understand what’s involved.

What is SSL and a Security Ceritficate?

SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer and is a standard for establishing a secure connection between a web server (the place where a website is stored) and a browser (the thing used by a person to access a website).

An SSL certificate binds together a domain name, the host name or server, and the identity of a company or location.  In other words it identifies a website as being who they say they are to the user.  Certificates are issued by trusted authorities of which there are only a handful in North America including Symantec, Comodo SSL, GoDaddy, and Globalsign.  You can learn more about SSL certificates and Certificate Authorities on Wikipedia.

How Do I Get an SSL Certificate?

Security CertificateObtaining an SSL certificate is relatively simple but installing it can be slightly more complicated.  You can usually obtain a certificate through your web host.  Plans and pricing vary with some hosts now offering a threshold of monetary protection should damages occur as the result of a failed security feature.

In general you can expect to pay anywhere from 50 to 100 dollars for the year for a good SLL certificate.  Once you purchase a certificate, there is an installation process involved.  This typically requires uploading a file to your hosts server (and on your website) to verify that you are the owner of the website and that the certificate is associated with that site.

If you do your own website work this is relatively easy.  If you don’t, you might have to have your webmaster/developer do it for you.  There are also some WordPress plugins you can implement if you are using that platform.

server-performanceHow Will having An SSL on My Site Affect Performance?

There are some performance considerations when installing a security certificate.  It is more resource intensive for your host’s server to deliver secure pages to your visitors than non-secure ones.  For the most part if you have a static website with just content, not a lot of pages and your traffic volumes aren’t extremely high (i.e. hundreds of thousands of visitors per month), you probably won’t notice that much of a performance dip.

If you have dynamically generated pages, lots of images (such as in a larger-scale eCommerce site) or lots of visitors to a site; you may have to formulate a better strategy than just slapping a certificate on the site.  For example if performance is depleted by installing the certificate, where else can you compensate for the lost performance?

SSl and Google

secure-googleGoogle announced in a Webmaster blog post that security would be used as a factor in their algorithm for ranking websites in search.  With tools like spam detection in the Webmaster Tools interface and a company mission to provide users with a high-quality product, user experience has always been paramount for Google.

It makes sense then that they would favor websites that also work to make a better experience for their users (this time in the form of making sure their browsing experience is safe).  Even though the company claims that less than 1% of global queries will be affected, adding security to a site (for many users) is a cost effective and simple way to position your site in SERPs.

If you are switching your site over, you’ll want to be sure and do it right which can mean a few more steps than just purchasing a security certificate.  In addition to that you’ll want to:

  • 301 redirect your non-secure pages to your secure pages (http to https)
  • Claim your secure URL in WMT and set the secure version of your URL as the one you want indexed by Google
  • If you are using a CMS like WordPress and there is a setting or field for the site URL, make sure the secure version is the one listed
  • If you have canonical URLs set on your site, make sure the secure version is the one you have listed as the one that should be indexed

Security has always been an important topic in the online world.  As more and more of our lives take place in a digital world it’s important that the entities handling our information are taking the proper precautions.  It’s great that leaders like Google are taking steps to ensure that happens.

What do you think about Google’s announcement that security is now a factor in ranking websites?  Join in the conversation by commenting below.



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