When is it time to use HTTPS

It’s no secret that Google have been looking at HTTPS as a ranking signal for some time now. Like many other ‘rumours’ around organic SEO rankings, there comes a point where specific vertical sectors should pay heed to the demands of their audience and the expectations of the search engines that rank them.

Michael Hewitt published a great post on Econsultancy this month that measured the effectiveness of HTTPS and the correlation between websites that have moved to using a secured protocol and how they ranked on the SERPs.

The numbers speak for themselves. In May 2014, just 5.52% of top 100 ranking websites used HTTPS, by November this had grown to an average of 6.93%. Putting this into context, this includes all sectors, initially it doesn’t look like a tidal wave of change, however when you look at the numbers granularly across specific sectors it tells us a very different story.

The Finance sector has greater demands on security. In May, 10.51% of the top 5 results were running on HTTPS, by November this had grown to 17.41%. There were headlines in the marketing press a few months ago on how Google were going to hit the Pay Day Loan market. Looking at the top 100 results, 25% of results are now using HTTPS, however if you look at the winners (the people who actually get the majority of organic traffic in this space) it tells us a story that cannot be ignored. Over 70% of websites that get top 5 results now use HTTPS, in June this was a mere 36%. Does HTTPS help you rank better? Yes is the short succinct answer. 83% of websites with No 1 positions in the short term loan market use HTTPS.

Beyond the finance sector, there is still change towards this trend. Research suggests that gambling, legal services, travel and retail websites are all seeing a correlation between improved search positions and using HTTPS. Most of the top 5 ranking positions in these vertical sectors have seen a 2 – 3% rise in websites using secured protocol.

Does size matter?

The size of the website does seem to matter. Websites with multiple thousands of web pages (like Travel and Retail websites) do have a wider range of pages and services they can offer. Unlike the smaller pay day loan websites with that one call to action form, there is a good chance that a higher % of pages wouldn’t fall into the high risk category. Added with the problems of an increased load time (another ranking factor) and brand and sector penetration, it takes enough big players to go with the flow before Google will make the algorithmic distinction to say that this is the norm for a specific vertical or sector.

Michael Hewitt makes a strong case for this trend in the gambling sector. Sportsbook websites are normally very large with specific pages for each event, however Casino and Bingo websites are normally smaller with a far greater need for those specific pages you play on to be secure. As a result of this, 5 times as many secured Bingo websites with top 10 results feature on page one on Google than Sports betting websites.

I’m moving to HTTPS, will it stop hacking and plug in injections?

No, it won’t stop someone with the knowledge hacking into your website but it will dramatically increase the chances of it not happening, where there are millions of unsecured sitting ducks to choose from. WordPress plug-ins are regularly being hacked producing unsuspecting backlinks to Viagra pages on other peoples websites that have also been ‘injected’. This is fixed by removing the plug-ins and re installing them. Using HTTPS may just make a hacker pick on a website that’s a little less secure than your own.

The future for 2015

Smaller, heavily regulated websites (like finance and governance) will need to move over sooner than most other areas of business. We will see more sectors seeing this as the normal thing to do. As more users prefer to click on secured websites, Google will see this as the expected course of action and will rank websites accordingly.

As a result we will see more botched website migrations to HTTPS and more fingers pointing the blame across the board room table as the world goes ‘secure’. If your thinking about making the change, there is more to think about part from buying an SSL certificate, you’ll be changing the address of your website, telling the world and its search engines about it and trying not to kill off your search visibility and revenue at the same time. Speak to a specialist if you want to know more, there is a good chance you may need to address this issue in the coming year.

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