Google wants the web to be more secure. The web has often been compared to the Wild West, and the world’s most frequently used search engine feels like it’s time to marshal those digital pistoleros, cyber-swindlers, and e-bamboozlers.While Google can’t stop shady folks from making shady sites, they can do the next best thing: make sure that nobody ever wanders down to that dark corner of the internet.
Google’s search algorithm is designed to help users find information that is useful and pertinent. In fact, number one on Google’s, “Ten things we know to be true” is “Focus on the user.” Not only should a user find the information they are looking for, but they should also be kept safe.
If someone asks you where to find the best tacos in town, you don’t send them to a crime-ridden neighborhood where they have a 50/50 chance of making it back in one piece. Sure, that’s where the tacos are, but safety is as important as the tasty objective. Instead you send them to the second best taco shack in the neighborhood that’s safe. Since Google doesn’t want you to get mugged on your way to finding tacos, they favor sites with HTTPS certificates over sites without them.
Last year, Google announced that they are using HTTPS as a ranking signal. However, they mentioned that the effect in their algorithm is light and fewer than 1% all of searches will be affected, and that signals from things such as high quality web content will still be weighted much more heavily, at least for now.
The company implied that HTTPS could become more important in the future by stating, “But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web”.
HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is what you see in the web address bar when data is being transferred using SSL, or Secure Socket Layer. SSL encrypts the data (puts it into a coded form) and checks to make sure the site really is what it claims to be.
You’ll see HTTPS at Facebook, Amazon, and your online banking portal. But do you need it for your website? If you’re taking credit card information, showing people their medical records, or otherwise transferring sensitive data, you must have this level of security. If you’re doing it just for your rankings with Google, it’s time for a cost-benefit analysis.
Prices for for SSL certificates used to be high, but now they’re often free. Check with your web host.
If you’re in a competitive space, the cost is worth it, especially since you’re doing your part to clean up the town. If your web host makes SSL pricey and you’re not actually dealing with secure data, it might be more practical to change hosting.
One thing that’s sure: if you’re hoping to use HTTPS as an alternative to great content, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.