So, there’s been a lot of talk in the industry recently about websites making the switch to https and with good reason. Since the revelations over government eavesdropping back in 2013, companies such as Google and Facebook have been taking major strides to protect user privacy and their data.
There is a lot of momentum right now with the Reset the Net initiative, which has encouraged high profile platforms such as WordPress.com and Tumblr to make the switch. We have also seen Google, Bing and Yahoo moving to secure search with increasing speed. Google in particular has been incredibly vocal about this over the last few months with several of its engineers evangelising about SSL on social networks and at conferences. Google cemented its stance on https earlier this month by announcing that it would now be a ranking signal.
So what are the key benefits of using https, and why should you care?
Although it is only a small ranking signal (affecting fewer than 1% of global queries) at the moment, we can expect Google to increase the importance of https within its algorithm in the near future.
The simple fact is that https makes mass surveillance much more difficult, so you will be doing your bit to protect privacy on the web. It will also give customers more confidence when browsing your website or making purchases.
Beware, here be dragons!
If you are planning on making the switch to https then the fact remains that you will effectively be changing all the pages that are indexed by search engines. If you don’t manage the forwarding of these pages carefully then you can lose rankings, visits and ultimately revenue.
The good news is that if done properly, you can make the transition to a secure website easily and without any noticeable impact.
Site Migration checklist: Don’t leave home without it
Okay, so you’re ready to make the move: what next? The steps below will help you get through it.
1. Page forwarding Make sure you implement permanent (also called 301) redirects so both search engines and visitors are directed to the secure versions of each page. Make sure this is on a one-to-one basis and don’t be tempted to redirect all pages to the new homepage. You can use a global redirect rule to handle all redirects in the appropriate manner.
Keep the redirects for a minimum of 6 months, this will give search engines long enough to transfer all page authority to the new versions.
2. Let search engines know Having Google & Bing webmaster tools accounts is vital. If you haven’t already, make sure you verify both the HTTPS and HTTP variants of your website.
Although the Change of Address form in Webmaster Tools doesn’t support https yet, this may change in the near future so keep an eye on it.
3. Prepare your website Consistency will be vital in helping search engines understand, index and crawl the right version of your website. Update your site navigation along with any other internal links and use rel=canonical across your entire website; make sure this points to the new https versions of your pages.
You’ll also need to submit an XML sitemap containing the new URLs as this will tell search engines which version of your website they should index.
4. Audit your 3rd party assets Are you using external images, maps or videos that are hosted on a non secure URL? If so then users will not be able to view them on your secure pages. This is often overlooked so make sure this is a consideration in your roadmap as it may involve further investment.
5. Monitor your traffic closely Use your analytics platform and webmaster tools data to keep an eye on traffic to both versions of the website. This will be vital in measuring the impact of the move and spotting any mistakes made in the previous steps.
So what’s the conclusion?
It’s definitely a good idea to move to https. The main question to ask is: when? Make sure you have a clear strategy in place that protects your position in natural search and let your customers know why you are making the switch.
Whilst you don’t have to migrate your website straight away, https should be part of your longer term roadmap as it will play an increasingly important role in natural search.