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HTTPS: Google's new ranking signal

June 29 - 2020

Digital Insight 5 min read

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By now, we're used to seeing the 'http' prefix, but what does this additional 's' mean?

First things first, what does HTTP mean? It stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and can be thought of as the language used to deliver information over the web. The 's' we are starting to see across more and more sites stands for secure, and indicates that the website you are using has what is known as an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate. In short, HTTPS indicates that the page you are using is safe and secure when entering sensitive information such as financial or personal details and passwords.

So why are we seeing wider use of HTTPS?

Google have recently announced that they are starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal within their search ranking algorithms. This means there is an additional element that Google will begin to take into account when ranking websites for search results. And ranking well (how high up the page you appear) in Google is important for every business and should be a cornerstone of every digital strategy.

Google have stated that currently this signal is very lightweight - affecting less than 1% of global searches and that it carries less weight than other signals such as high quality content.

What is a ranking signal?

Ranking signals are pieces of information that are used to determine the quality of your website and its pages. Google uses these in conjunction with its search ranking algorithms to work out the most accurate result for any given search query. Google have previously said that they use approximately 200 ranking signals in their algorithms.

Other examples of ranking signals are  keyword density, page loading speed and recency of content updates. HubSpot has produced a great infographic listing many more of these ranking signals.

Why should I switch to HTTPS if this ranking signal is so lightweight?

As HTTPS is currently such a lightweight signal, developers and website owners may be hesitant to make the switch to encrypted, secure connections on every page right away. However, Google have a very strong focus on online security and have said that "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."

Therefore it's recommended to get onboard sooner rather than later as HTTPS will almost certainly become of greater significance in the near future.

Are there any tips for switching over to HTTPS?

If you are planning to switch to HTTPS in the near future Google have provided these basic tips to get you started. If in doubt, just pass these on to your developer.

  • Decide the kind of certificate you need: single, multi-domain, or wildcard certificate
  • Use 2048-bit key certificates
  • Use relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain
  • Use protocol relative URLs for all other domains
  • Don't block your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt
  • Allow indexing of your pages by search engines where possible. Avoid the noindex robots meta tag.

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