Secure Socket Layer – SSL – is a technology used to encrypt data that travels between a website and a user’s computer. You are probably already quite familiar with SSL technology – you just may not have realised how prevalent (and useful) it is. SSL encryption is typically used to encrypt sensitive personal information, like credit card details at the checkout of an online store. By using SSL these details are encrypted so that in the even of cybercriminals intercepting those details, they will be unable to read or use that information.
An unusual announcement from Google
But recently Google have announced changes to its indexing algorithm that gives a slight priority to sites that use SSL when defining search engine rankings. Google is usually quite tight-lipped about how its algorithms work, so it is clear that the company is determined that more sites should implement SSL to protect users as they browse every page on a website, not just during the checkout process. The search team claims to be making the Internet safer by “making sure that websites people access from Google are secure.”
As a result, website owners are being encouraged to apply SSL technology to their entire site to protect their customers and potentially receive a favourable Google ranking.
Not the only factor to consider
Although using SSL could potentially help your website rank slightly higher in search results (and therefore more attractive to potential customers) it is important to realise that this technique alone provide a massive boost. “For now it’s only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content,” cautions the Google Webmaster blog.
“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,” the blog post continues, suggesting that encrypted website technologies may yet become more important.
Already making a difference
The decision to use SSL as a ranking factor has already started to have some effect. Speaking at the Search Marketing Expo East conference, Google’s Gary Illyes claimed that “only 10% of the crawled and discovered URLs on the web are HTTPS URLs.”
He then went on to emphasise, “looking at all the queries done on Google, 30% of the first page of the Google search results for each of those queries have at least one HTTPS URL listed in the results.”
Purchasing and implementing a new SSL certificate can be a fiddly process. But this latest change from Google suggests that webmasters will need to apply SSL sooner rather than later, even if only to gain a small boost over their competitors.
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