The Pros and Cons of Implementing HTTPS for your Website

First off, what is HTTP

HTTP, or HyperText Transfer Protocol, is the protocol used by the World Wide Web. It defines what actions browsers and servers should take in response to certain commands or messages.

For example, when you enter a URL in your browser, this actually sends an HTTP command to the web server directing it to fetch and transmit the requested web page.

HTTP is designed to permit network elements to improve or enable communications between clients and servers.

High-traffic websites usually benefit from web cache servers that deliver content on behalf of upstream servers to improve response time. Web browsers cache previously accessed web resources and reuse them when possible to reduce network traffic.

So what is HTTPS

HTTPS is the more secure version of HTTP The S actually stands for secure, and it means all communications between your browser and the website are scrambled or encrypted.

HTTPS is often used to protect highly confidential online transactions, such as online banking websites and online shopping order forms. The encryption within HTTPS is intended to provide confidentiality, integrity and identity.

What are the benefits

One of the benefits of HTTPS, as mentioned above, is security and encryption. Your information remains confidential and secure because only your browser and the server can decrypt the traffic.

On the 6th of August 2014 Google actually confirmed that HTTPS is a ranking signal within its complex algorithm:

“Security is a top priority for Google. We invest a lot in making sure that our services use industry-leading security, like strong HTTPS encryption by default. That means that people using Search, Gmail and Google Drive, for example, automatically have a secure connection to Google.

“Beyond our own stuff, we’re also working to make the Internet safer more broadly. A big part of that is making sure that websites people access from Google are secure. For instance, we have created resources to help webmasters prevent and fix security breaches on their sites.

“We want to go even further, a few months ago, we called for “HTTPS everywhere” on the web.

A study by Moz actually showed that websites that were transferring from a HTTP server to a HTTPS server actually received a drop in traffic initially, but this was soon resurrected and traffic was restored to normal.

Additionally a study shown on Searchmetrics demonstrated that there was no positive correlation between HTTPS and higher rankings Nevertheless, Markus Tober from Search Metrics said:

In my opinion therefore, Google has not yet rolled out this ranking factor – and/or this factor only affects such a small section of the index to date that it was not possible to identify it with our data.”

This report was released in late 2014, so my assumption is that this ranking factor probably has rolled out now and is taking full effect.

Although HTTPS used to be quite expensive to implement, it is now available at no extra cost compared with traditional HTTP.

What are the cons?

  • Website speed can decrease because of the complexity and math involved to encrypt and decrypt;
  • It's annoying to generate keys, install intermediate certificates and can be a pain if your SSL certificate expires. Google will send errors to your website users even if you are not using it.

You'll need to balance the drawbacks against the positives, but in our opinion the possible SEO improvements, as well as the impact on consumer trust, make HTTPS implementation a no brainer for almost all brands.

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