Do I need SSL?

August 22, 2014

So you may have heard the recent news that Google will be using wether a site is HTTPS or not as a ranking factor for its search engine, and you might be wondering how this affects you and your site.

So firstly what is SSL and HTTPS?
SSL stands for “Secure Sockets Layer” and is a commonly used system for securing the connection between a user and a website. A site implementing SSL will have be “HTTPS” at the start of their URL, the “S” standing for “secure”. Many modern web browsers will highlight this, Google’s own Chrome browser highlighting it with green text and a padlock symbol (which you can click for more technical information).

The primary use for having SSL for your site is when dealing with sensitive information that needs to be encrypted on the way between the browser and your server. This is commonly information like passwords, credit card details, but can also be things like what you’re searching for. Googles announcement is likely designed to encourage the sites that deal with this kind of information to adopt SSL, especially in the wake of scandals like NSA mass surveillance. Google itself already moved much of its search over to HTTPS last summer, and its position as leading search provider gives it sway in encouraging certain web trends like this.

What are Google saying?
The other week Google put up a new post on its Webmaster blog (well worth bookmarking if you own a site) stating that from then on they would be using HTTPS as a ranking factor. Google uses a wide variety of ranking factors (around 200 by their count) to assess where your site should appear in a search query.

However SSL isn’t really needed for the majority of websites, if your site deals with mostly static information and doesn’t take direct payments or have user accounts SSL is unlikely to be of any use to your site or users. If your site does deal with passwords, card details or other sensitive information then either you’re likely already using SSL or this is a great wake-up call to implement it as soon as possible.

Ultimately it’s highly unlikely that the pure act of having an SSL certificate will have any noticeable impact on your site rankings, and there’s many much more effective ways of boosting your sites SEO. This certainly isn’t a “enable SSL on your site, get to the top of Google” so don’t be rushing out today to buy an SSL certificate for your site if you don’t need one.

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