Rationale is building for moving your site to https but the http to https SEO impact can be considerable and you should take the necessary steps to reduce any negative after-effects. In this article we explain why https migration matters and the steps you can take to ensure a seamless transfer and minimal impact on your SEO.
If you’ve ever seen “https” or “http” in the web address of a website (e.g. http://www.example.com), you might have wondered what it stands for.
These are technology protocols that make it possible for website servers to transfer data through to your browser (such as Chrome), so that you can view and interact with websites and links. Without these protocols the web would look very different from what we know now.
HTTP stands for “Hyper Text Transfer Protocol” and is the technology used to talk between web servers (where website data is held) and web users (through their web browsers).
HTTPS is similar to “Hyper Text Transfer Protocol” but with the important addition of a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) that encrypts the data being passed from servers to browser. For example, if you gave your credit card or personal details in a form, that data would be encrypted as it was transferred through the web to the companies using it. You will know when a site is using SSL because the web address will change from http to https at the beginning e.g. https://www.example.com It is rare to find an online shop or site with sensitive customer data not already using this protocol. However, a large proportion of other sites, such as standard brochure sites, are still relying on http, given that previously there was no real need for SSL as there was no real sensitive data to handle. However, increasingly more sites are moving over as they realise the benefits to https and SEO effects this has. However http to https SEO can be considerable and the right steps must be taken to mitigate.
There are various reasons to make the switch but the primary one is that it will ultimately make your site more secure and trustworthy. There are legislative changes this year to the handling of customer data, with large penalties for misuse or negligence. An https online environment will help you to make customer data and your site more secure in general. You can learn more about the rationale behind https and SEO effects here.
This has been humming in the background for some time now; but a recent blog post https://security.googleblog.com/2018/02/a-secure-web-is-here-to-stay.html by Emily Schechter (Chrome Security Product Manager) has given a date of July 2018 to start marking all HTTP sites as “not secure”, alongside the release of Chrome 68. This means that your site will display the bottom message if still using just http protocol. Obviously this doesn’t look particularly user-friendly and may put off visitors to your site.
Perhaps the most subtle but certainly not the least important is that Google takes https protocol into account when ranking sites in search results. HTTPS was officially acknowledged as a ranking signal in 2014 and, although there are no plans to increase the weight of this signal, we do know that Google favours any site that gives trusted user signals and so it should be considered within any search strategy. You can view some expert opinions on why https and SEO matters to your website here https://www.semrush.com/blog/https-just-a-google-ranking-signal/
Web users are increasingly bothered about what will happen to their data. Studies have shown that, even with non-sensitive sites, users will trust those with https and secure signals more. A big red warning sign from a web browser about a site being less secure will no doubt make users think twice about visiting, especially as more sites make the switch over and the message becomes less common.
http/2 is starting to be rolled out by content delivery networks and web hosting companies. To get the vast performance benefits that come with http/2 you will need to be using https because of browser support.
Without an https site, referral data from other https sites is blocked within Google Analytics. So, you just don’t see the source of all the traffic coming from https sites linking to your content, it just goes into “direct traffic”.
What is the process of moving my site to https?
Site migration from http to https can have a considerable impact on search rankings if not updated correctly. The involved steps, such as accessing htaccess and updating internal links, are not simple jobs and should only be performed by someone trained and knowledgeable in these areas. “Having a go” at this process could have significant impact on your rankings.
Google treats a change to https pretty much as it would changing to a whole new domain name. So, by implementing https, you are effectively changing the page addresses for all of the pages on your site – none of which Google will have indexed. All of a sudden it will be sending searchers to web pages that no longer exist, as they will be using http protocol.
Google user searches for “ABC SEO Agency”
Google serves the web page it has crawled, indexed, knows and loves. http://www.abcseo.com
When the user clicks, that page no longer exists, it has been replaced by https://www.abcseo.com instead.
But Google has no idea that this page exists. The user gets a 404 error message. Google logs this as a bad user experience and thinks… ‘Well, I won’t send anyone there again.” Hey presto, your search rankings drop through the floor. The http to https SEO impact can be seen straight away.
All of the work that you have done in helping Google identify and rank the pages on your current site could be undone overnight with a migration to https if the correct steps are not taken.
Of course, Google is not going to recommend something that is going to negatively impact sites that have taken the time and effort to create great user-friendly, content rich sites that perform well. With the right steps, and following Google’s guidance, you can ensure a smooth migration that does not impact your SEO (although it may wobble for a tiny bit so probably stay away from any big campaigns!) Below are our recommended steps for an SEO-friendly https migration. However, we would always recommend the use of a professional agency if you do not have the experience within this area. At CX Marketing, we can complete your https migration and ensure that you do not lose that valuable search equity. Talk to us about how we can help.