This month, our team spent time working on a new SEO strategy that we wanted to share with our readers: SSL Certificate for your website. One of the leaders in SEO plugins for WordPress, Yoast, inspired us to take the step for our agency website, and we wanted to first understand how difficult it was going to be and also what kind of benefits we might have for doing this.
The Basics of SSL
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. Its the security technology that establishes an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. So all data that is passed between both is private and integral.
SSL has been a standard for e-commerce platforms and social networks, but this year its starting to gain more widespread to protect user data. Because privacy is becoming more and more of an issue, users want to be sure they are on a website that is legit and that their browsing experience is safe, even if it is just a blog or casual website.
For example, If you approach a website that has a form submission, without SSL, you are risking yourself to someone who may have access to that data that is being submitted.
Why Does This Benefit SEO?
As of right now, Google is silently mum on whether SSL ranks higher than non-SSL websites. I should clarify that when I am describing what an SSL website is, it is a website that has every page secured, not just a checkout page or a form submission page.
But one thing you can notice, is that when you do a Google Search, you can see that the top websites that are typically listed at the top are https:// domains. This could be a coincidence because they are also your top ranking websites, but it should does factor something in.
If you look at it from Google’s perspective, getting an SSL Certificate for a website is costly, it takes time to complete, and you must be verified. So in their eyes, if you have one of these throughout your site, you are more legitimate than a website that may not have the same credibility. Will this outrank good content on a website? Definitely not, but if two websites have the same quality content and one is secured with an SSL Certificate, I would be in favor of the secured website.
Once users than understand the value of SSL, they will take notice at the green text in their browser window and then you’ll see an increased bounce rate. Its the same idea if you goto a website and realize that its an outdated website with old HTML, broken photos, and Flash; you’re more likely going to run back to Google for another option.
How Can You Do This?
From firsthand experience, this entire process is not easy. It isn’t something you can have done instantly and it takes some time to get past each step:
1. Buying a trusted certificate
We used Godaddy because they had a 50% off sale. You have to pay for it each year, so we pre-paid for two years to keep the discount.
2. Verifying your company
I’m not sure how easy other companies are that issue certificates, but Godaddy does make some of the process easy. There are digital forms to fill out and validate. They had us also verify our corporation information, our company phone number, and we had to have our licensed accountant fill out and email back a verification form. This entire process took us about a week of back and forth. Their customer support was great and really helpful for this.
3. Website configuration
If you don’t know how to code, I strongly urge you not to play around with files, because if you break something, you’ll end up spending more than necessary. We had two of our team members working on this: One developer was working on the actual code of the website and one of our server administrators than had to configure our server settings to match the SSL requirements. Prior to doing this, our website had a Grade F, and once configured, we have successfully achieved an A- (we are still trying to get an A+, but its very difficult).
4. Let Google know you have made the switch
Go into your Webmaster Tools and add the new URL with the https://, and let Google know it’s your preferred domain. Make sure you have a redirect setup to send someone from http:// to https://, otherwise you’ll have issues with your rankings. You also need to go into your Google Analytics Admin and change the http: to https: and then reconnect your new webmaster tools account.
Can Nivo Help?
Of course! Sometimes it’s just easier to have someone else do this for you. We’ve already done this for our site and we’re configuring it with several clients, so we have a really good idea how to implement this.
One thing to take note, is that half of this process comes down to the hosting of your website. If you have a managed server by a company that won’t make any modifications for you, then you might want to look at another hosting option. It’s one of the reasons why we have decided to setup our own cloud hosting platform in Amazon’s Web Services. Our hosting is WordPress optimized and our plans start at $25 a month. We’ll move your website over at no additional cost, and you’ll receive the following:
- Professional Security Plugins to lock down your WordPress Site
- Plugin and WordPress Updates to keep everything secure
- Brute Force Protection and Malware Scanning
- Automated website and database backup to an offsite location
- Unlimited email accounts (with webmail login)
- cPanel setup
Essentially, we are stepping it up a notch by offering a managed server along with some additional IT and website development time in the mix. No other company is doing this and we are catering to the companies that really don’t want to deal with the hassle of hosting. (Note: If you are hosting your website on Godaddy or someone like that for a really low cost, jump ship!)
Take a look at some of these resources to look further into the benefits of SSL and whether your site is setup properly:
Yoast Article: This is the article that gave us the inspiration to convert to SSL. Its worth a read, however they make it sound much easier than how it really is.
SSL and SEO: Google announcing in August that secure websites will rank better. Not extremely significant now, but it will be in the future.
Godaddy SSL: We recommend getting the SSL EV, its more time consuming, but if you’re going through this trouble, you might as well make sure you have the full protection. It only will benefit you if Google gives better rankings for the EV certificate later on.