If you’ve been paying attention to website trends, you’re likely seeing more and more websites using HTTPS and you’re probably wondering about your own website. Before you decide what’s right for you, it is important to understand the difference between HTTP and HTTPS, and what is behind all the chatter about security and Google rankings.
Let’s start with the basic technology. HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) refers to the protocol used to transfer information back and forth from your web browser to the server where the website, and all of it’s associated files, lives. A normal visit to a website includes hundreds of transmissions back and forth as you click links to request pages and your browser receives the information requested and arranges it on your screen. For a website using HTTP, your browser really doesn’t care how the information gets transferred back and forth.
In contrast, HTTPS implements an additional, secure protocol called SSL to transfer information back and forth (hence the “S” on the end). All the data transferred is encrypted with a security code uniquely established between your browser and the web server, so no other parties can intercept and access the information. An SSL certificate is implemented by the web host and validates the identity of the website.
If your website is transferring sensitive information, such as credit card numbers for online purchases or personal information for banking or medical purposes, then you clearly need to have a valid SSL certificate and ensure all traffic uses HTTPS. But what about small business websites? Does it make sense to just encrypt everything all the time? Here are a few factors to consider if you are thinking of making the move to HTTPS.
1. The cost of the SSL certificate
Depending where your website is hosted, there may be an annual cost for an SSL certificate, and it could be in the form of a dedicated certificate and IP address, or a shared SSL certificate in a shared hosting environment. At Iceberg Web Design, most of our custom web development projects come with a free shared SSL certificate. Many existing Iceberg customers can add on an SSL certificate to their hosting plan at no additional charge.
2. Time required for updating internal links
Your website likely contains many links that lead to other pages within your website. Any links that contain the full url of your site will need to be updated to the https:// url. Depending on the size of your website and number of links, it may take up to several hours of development time to fully check the site, update the links, and add any necessary re-directs.
3. Embedded content
If you restrict your website to a secure protocol, that protocol also requires any embedded content in your website to also be served over a secure connection. For example, if you have a page on your website that uses an iframe to pull in content from an external source, that source also needs to use the HTTPS protocol.
A commonly held misconception is that HTTPS will improve the overall security of your website. While HTTPS transmits data more securely between a web browser and web server, it does not provide protection against brute force attacks against your database. A better way to protect your website from hackers is to use complex passwords that change frequently, lock-down login if multiple frequent login attempts are detected, and if necessary, providing an additional layer of protection with htaccess passwords.
5. Google Rankings
With Google including site encryption as a ranking signal in its ever evolving algorithm, many companies are anxious to make the switch in order to boost their SEO ranking. It should be worth noting, however, that this is a very small component of the Google’s ranking system, and companies who do not have HTTPS will likely see no negative impact on their rankings over this one issue alone. Frequent updates to content, utilizing social media and having accurate business listings, as well as off-site SEO efforts, are far more important in seeing improved ranking results.
Just like anything other business decision, you will need to decide for yourself whether the benefit will outweigh the time and cost required to switch to HTTPS. Contact Iceberg with any questions you have about switching your website to HTTPS. We’re always happy to help!