Google’s latest announcement yesterday spoke about how they are introducing HTTPS as a positive ranking signal.
If you’ve not heard the news as yet, Google has announced that it will provide a minor ranking boost to sites with a SSL 2048 bit key certificate.
It’s not truly surprising that this factor is being implemented, as Matt Cutts did mention that he’d love to make SSL a ranking factor recently at SMX West.
The search engine giant cited tests over the previous months regarding HTTPS, claiming there was a positive result in terms of relevancy and HTTPS in search rankings. Needless to say there are plenty of positives revolving around encouraging sites to add HTTPS to their website, particularly in a safety and privacy regard. However, for SEO it could potentially be a bit of a mixed bag.
Even though Google has claimed that those who implement HTTPS will receive a small ranking benefit, implementing it may cause problems. This could result in the benefits from implementing HTTPS causing more of a negative impact cumulatively when its impact on other SEO is taken into account.
Google’s advice here doesn’t necessitate a knee jerk reaction. We’d suggest that it’s best to evaluate whether you’ll benefit or not before implementing HTTPS, particularly as it’s a very light ranking factor and one that has a lot less weight than quality content or page speed for example – something we will discuss now.
Page Speed and HTTPS
In short, HTTPS and HTTP access are both cached unless the caching header disallows it. Traditionally, this has not always been the case, however according to Security Evaluators around 70% of sites they tested across a range of niches didn’t forbid browsers from caching stored content on a disk. That said, as regards this case study 30% did.
The result of which would mean that these sites may load slower than those that allowed caching. As page loading speed is increasingly a ranking factor, especially on mobile, implementing HTTPS access and blocking caching would slow a page. This could negate potentially any benefit that HTTPS access would bring in SEO and lead to a drop in rankings.
Moving a site to HTTPS requires you to take a belts and braces approach. For example, make sure that you don’t block crawling of your HTTPS site using robots.txt. Ensure that your site can be indexed where possible by avoiding the noindex robot Meta tag. This article is quite a good guide.
These are not the only ways an SSL Certificate can hurt your rankings, there are potentially more:
301s and Canonicals
Both 301s and canonical need to be sent to the new HTTPS link, or you may not benefit from either. This can be done manually, or via .htaccess and is certainly something worth thinking about if you’re going to move your site to HTTPS.
If your .htaccess for example is not changed correctly you could end up with both HTTPS and HTTP versions on your site and this would lead to a duplicate content issue as Google will crawl both. This could have significant repercussions and is also something that you need to be aware of.
It’s also worth mentioning that you will need to change your internal links too. These will need to be altered to HTTPS from HTTP; otherwise Google will find it harder to crawl the site – something that can cause all sorts of problems for rankings.
If you do decide to move to HTTPS then you will need to monitor the migration carefully in your Webmaster Tools to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Like anything in the SEO world, different things work for different websites and you should carefully re-evaluate the pros and cons for your website in this regard.
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