Keeping your personal information private is an ongoing and increasing concern for online users. With the technological advancements of digital channels, e-commerce, artificial intelligence and social media, it is becoming difficult for website users to stay afloat with all the requirements around staying safe in the cyber world.
To make sure your website is not adding to cyber security anxiety, or becomes one of those unsecured channels that risks exposing website users’ personal details, you need to start taking security seriously. One of the most effective ways of adding an additional and effective layer of security to your website is to install a SSL certificate and migrate to from HTTP to HTTPS.
When website owners make the move from HTTP to HTTPS they will not only be getting that nice green padlock next to their URL, but they will also be satisfying both website users and search engines by:
- Encrypting and securing all website visitors’ personal data collected on your website (contact forms, gated content, etc.)
- Telling search engines that you take your visitors’ security safety seriously, which in turn may result in better rankings SEO efforts and placing on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs)
Being a non-technical website owner unfortunately makes a lot of technical, design, usability and SEO best-practices out of reach without a professional, and sometimes it is best that way to ensure best-practices are followed. In the below article, we will cover all the main topics relating to HTTP, HTTPS and SSL certificates to make sure you understand what they are, why your website needs them and what the benefits are in having it.
Understanding HTTP vs HTTPS and SSL certificates
HTTP: Hyper Text Transfer Protocol
Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is a process for sharing information between online users (sender) and the servers where specific website/digital information is stored (receiver). HTTP is in essence an “application layer protocol,” which means that it is a platform that defines how data is transferred between sender and receiver and what actions servers and web browsers need to take in response to specific commands that they receive.
A practical example of HTTP at work is when you type in a website URL into your browser you are sending a command to the server the website is hosted on to deliver specific content and information on a specific page you requested to see. Each URL on a website has different commands to render different information. The main thing to keep in mind about HTTP is that this platform does not care how the data gets from A to B, but rather that it gets there. This makes intercepting requests between senders and receivers, and hacking websites a lot easier.
HTTPS: Secure Hyper Text Transfer Protocol
Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTPS) is fundamentally different to its HTTP counterpart in that its main aim is to focus on how data gets from A and B and to make sure that no one else can understand the requests between the sender and the receiver.
HTTP was the first and most crucial step in developing the web into what is today. Unfortunately, with that evolution in technology came the opportunity for the interception, manipulation and hacking of requests between senders and receivers. This gave birth to HTTPS, which adds an encryption layer between sender and receiver. With the HTTPS platform anyone, or anything, were wanted to intercept a message between a sender and receiver would not be able to understand it. Thanks to a specific code that is created by the SSL Certificate, only the sender and receiver can decipher what is being sent.
SSL: Secure Sockets Layer
An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is what is required to change your HTTP domain to a HTTPS domain. It is also the global standard in website security technology that allows data to be encrypted, which is the process of scrambling data in a way that only the recipient of that data can decipher it.
Another way to think of ad SSL Certificate is to refer to it as a ‘digital passport’ as it blocks unauthorised access and only allows access when specific criteria are met. This process allows users to keep personal information such as credit card numbers, usernames, passwords, emails, etc. safe.
There are a wide range of SSL Certificates available for purchasing from a wide range of suppliers, but all these certificates fall within 3 main categories, namely:
- Single – secures a single fully-qualified domain name or subdomain name
- Wildcard – covers one domain name and an unlimited number of its subdomains
- Multi-Domain – this SSL Certificate secures multiple domain names
Over and above the categories, SSL Certificates also have different validation levels that include
- Domain Validation – Certificates that fall into this level are the least expensive, and cover basic encryption and verification required to meet HTTPS requirements. This validation includes validation of the ownership of the domain name registration.
- Organisation Validation – in addition to basic encryption found in Domain Validation, this level of validation requires the verification of ownership of the domain name registration and well as certain details of the owner.
- Extended Validation (EV) – this is the validation method that not only costs the most, but provides the highest level of security possible. This is achieved by conducting a thorough examination of the ownership of the domain name registration, company verification, legal requirements, as well as physical and operational existence before the certificate is issued.
So, why does your website need HTTPS with a SSL certificate?
The single most important reason why your website needs an SSL certificate, and have a HTTPS domain, is to prevent intruders or hackers from tampering with the messages that are being sent between senders and receivers.
Intruders and hackers can create malicious attacks on unsecured messages that are being sent. Such an attack can manipulate a sender or receiver into giving up sensitive information or inject code that can create a ransom situation.
There are a lot of ways that these attacks can be initiated and include manipulating things like images, cookies, scripts, HTML, etc. It is important to note that it is not limited to only the data on your website (or that you are sending, and can occur anywhere in the chain, including the senders local machine, a public Wi-Fi hotspot (or hacked home or office Wi-Fi set-up) and even a compromised server where your data is stored.
HTTPS protects senders and receivers from these threats by removing the ability to listen to, and watch, messages that are being sent.
A very important misconception about SSL Certificates is that they are only reserved for E-Commerce platforms and instances where private information is gathered. This is not the case as an employee on a compromised website can give access to an intruder to access the company network or gain access to private information from a local machine.
The importance of HTTPS:
- More than 85% of website users would abandon an e-commerce payment if their personal information was sent over an unsecured connection
- Google has mentioned that it is working towards a fully secured web in the future, which means you can get ahead by being secured without it being mandatory and gain some SEO benefits
- Some website browsers (Google Chrome) warn users by labelling websites as unsecured if a website does not have a SSL certificate installed
- HTTPS websites load faster than their HTTP counterparts which impact PageSpeed and ultimately SEO rankings
- According to a Google encryption report, 85%+ of the web is currently secured via HTTPS
- Google has made it known that it places a higher emphasis on secured site rankings
- More than 40% of Google 1st page organic search results are secure
- HTTP has had an impact on SEO and has been a ranking signal for Google since 2014
- An SSL Certificate is required for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).This technology allows for almost instant loading of information on mobile devices and with mobile search rankings becoming a priority for Google, having speedy and optimised mobile pages is non-negotiable.
What are the benefits of HTTPS?
HTTPS benefits to website users
For users, privacy is of utmost importance. For HTTPS, security is of utmost importance. So, it quickly becomes evident that users get what they want with HTTPS by getting the security they need to protect their privacy.
Search engines and web browsers have become more focussed on the end-user and aim to keep them informed. By labelling websites as secure and non-secure, users have become empowered like never before. Users now know when it is safe to hand over private information and when they should move along and Google has great plans to make it very well known when a website is not HTTPS.
By incorporating HTTPS into SEO best-practices, users are also being provided with increasingly secure results from search queries.
HTTPS benefits to businesses
There is no denying that companies need to take their security seriously and do everything they can to keep their visitors safe.
Some of the benefits that will be experienced by businesses with SSL Certificates include, but are not limited to:
- Increased conversions – visitors feel more comfortable handing over personal information and completing online transactions if they know that it is safe
- Boosted customer confidence & trust – if the customer knows that the business takes their privacy seriously and takes the necessary steps to protect them then business confidence and trust will follow
- Enhanced organisation security – seeing your website as an extension of your brand means that you need to keep it well looked after. HTTPS keeps all your employee’s safe and mimic your organisational security policies.
- Improved SEO Google Rankings – Majority of the sites on the first page of Google are now HTTPS, which means Google is practising what they preach when saying that they favour HTTPS sites.
- Differentiation from competitors – your competitors may not be aware of the importance of HTTPS and may still be running on HTTP
Closing thoughts on HTTP vs HTTPS & SSL and how they impact website visitors and SEO alike
The key takeaway from this article is security. Making sure your website visitors’ personal information cannot be compromised through any of your digital channels. It also highlighted the key differences in HTTP vs HTTPS so that website owners can be better informed about what is required to uphold security requirements.
The migration to HTTPS can be quite a tricky task to those not experienced in migrating domains. Doing it incorrectly can have a devastating impact on SEO that could eliminate all the hard work that has been put in. Contrary to that, if this is done properly then it will no doubt boost SEO and not only provide you with better rankings, but also build trust and confidence in using your website and company.