On August 6th, 2014, Google made the announcement that they would be switching from HTTP to HTTPS. But what’s the difference in the two, and now, over a month later, where has all the HTTPS gone?
Whereas HTTP stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure. That extra letter in the acronym means that a website uses an SSL certificate, or secure sockets layer, to establish a secure connection with the server, encrypting data from visitors to the site. HTTP sites lack this extra security step, so unencrypted data can be read by the server, which can then be used to collect various data. When Google first announced this move, the web giant announced it as a means for a new ranking signal, though it is not part of an algorithm update but rather a separate signal altogether.
At the announcement, Google didn’t just stop at promoting their own personal reasons for pursuing the migration; as part of their “strategy to promote security and user safety across the internet in general,” they are also calling for HTTPS to be everywhere, urging webmasters to make the switch to adding SSL certificates to their websites. But, why? Some are calling this a move that was more directed toward improving PR than actual safety and security for its internet users. The problem is, “HTTPS only protect against a very limited number of site vulnerabilities,” but it does not protect against hacking or various attacks that involve database or server exploitation. HTTPS is useless when it comes to websites that do not require a user log in, so many see it pointless for sites that do not store or transfer personal data to transition to HTTPS. For these reasons, it seems odd that Google would taut this as a move to improve ranking signals and security for users because the majority of the sites wouldn’t use HTTPS in the first place, and if used, it would be a lightweight signal that would act only as a differentiator between pages identically ranked. Basically, it doesn’t mean too much when it comes to search rankings.
HTTPS has its place, and it’s ideal for sites that collect personal data and need to keep this data secure and protected, such as banking sites, ecommerce sites like PayPal, and social media sites, but beyond that does it really impact rankings as promised by Google? Forbes reports that right now, not really, but since Google owns 68% of the search engine market share, it is foreseen that HTTPS will “eventually play a bigger role in search ranking algorithm.” And as far as SEO goes, there seems to be no need to switch right now with lacking data so far showing any improvements in SEO rankings.