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HTTP vs HTTPS Explained

Migrate From HTTP to HTTPS With SEO Best Practices.

By
James Gibbons
Migrating From HTTP to HTTPS for SEO

With the increasing number of cyber-attacks & data breaches, website security has become a top priority for businesses & individuals. One of the most effective ways to secure a website is using HTTPS instead of HTTP. The 'S' in HTTPS is the major distinguishing factor, symbolizing 'secure.'

This extra layer encrypts the data transmitted between a website & its users, making it much more difficult for hackers to intercept & steal sensitive information.

In this blog, we'll delve into the intricacies of HTTP vs HTTPS & the steps to implementing this secure protocol on your website. Embrace the era of secure communication & safeguard your website's data with HTTPS.

What is HTTP?

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is a fundamental internet protocol serving as the foundation for data communication. It is used for transmitting various types of data, such as text, images, videos, and other multimedia files.

It is a set of rules that dictate how web servers & browsers communicate with each other.

Think of it as the language that our web browsers & servers use to chat with each other about the websites you're trying to visit. It allows users to navigate the web, click links, and open up new pages.

How Does HTTP Work?

Well, it's like a conversation between your browser & a web server. When you type a web address into your browser & hit enter, your browser sends an HTTP request to the server hosting the requested website.

This request is akin to asking, "Hey, can I have the content of your website, please?" If all is well, the server responds with an HTTP response, delivering the requested data back to your browser. It could also display a '404 error' if the page doesn't exist.

How Does Google Interpret HTTP?

Google & other browsers send HTTP requests to websites when it ‘crawls’ the internet to index web pages.

When Googlebot crawls a website, it sends an HTTP GET request to the server hosting the website, requesting the page's content. The server then responds with an HTTP response, which helps Google understand the web page's structure, content, and relevance.

Google favors websites using HTTPS in its search rankings. This nudges web developers to prioritize page security but also serves as a reminder that HTTP lacks robust security measures.

Why is HTTP Not Secure & its Consequences?

1. Lack of Encryption: All data transmitted over HTTP is sent in plain text, making it vulnerable to interception by third parties. It means sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, and personal data, can be easily stolen if intercepted.

2. Stateless Nature: Each HTTP request from a client to a server is handled independently, without any context or memory of previous interactions. This statelessness complicates real-time communication, as the server lacks awareness of the client's current state or the ongoing conversation.

3. Inefficiency in Data Transfer: Internet communication can be slow due to the extra 'paperwork' or headers in HTTP requests & responses. This excessive information bloats the messages, affecting speed, especially slower connections.

4. Limited Push Capabilities: HTTP is primarily a request-response protocol, meaning the client must initiate each communication with the server. It can lead to delays and inefficiencies for real-time applications that require frequent updates or constant communication.

As you know, using HTTP can lead to data breaches, identity theft, and financial fraud. Businesses that rely on HTTP put themselves & their customers at risk, potentially facing legal & trust issues and significant financial losses.

HTTP Connection is Not Secure
HTTP Connection is Not Secure

For these reasons, it is crucial to move from HTTP to a more secure method of data transmission – HTTPS. In the next section, we will delve deeper into understanding HTTPS and how it can protect data from being intercepted or altered.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS Lock Icon Showing Secure Website
HTTPS Lock Icon Showing Secure Website

HTTPS, short for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, is an advanced & secure version of HTTP. HTTP is like a conversation between two people in a crowded room where everyone overhears your words. HTTPS, however, is similar to that conversation in a private booth where no one else can eavesdrop.

The primary purpose of HTTPS is to enhance the protection of your data by encrypting it.

Once encrypted, the data is then transmitted over a secure connection. It safeguards any sensitive information, such as login credentials & personal details, ensuring they remain inaccessible to malicious third parties.

This is why, when browsing, you should always look for the padlock icon in the URL bar, which signifies the presence of HTTPS. If the website has HTTPS, the URL will start with "https://" instead of "http://". It means that all communication between your browser and the website is encrypted & therefore secure.

How Does HTTPS Work?

When you visit a website using HTTPS, a whole sequence of events known as an 'SSL handshake' (SSL standing for Secure Socket Layer) takes place. Your browser requests the website's server for identification. The server then sends back a copy of its SSL certificate for verification.

Once your browser verifies this certificate with the certificate authority that issued it, it sends a message back to the server. The server acknowledges this by sending a digitally signed acknowledgment to start an SSL-encrypted session. This intricate dance ensures the integrity & privacy of the data exchanged between your browser and the website.

Benefits of HTTPS on SEO

1. Increased Ranking Signal: Google highly prioritizes security & officially recognizes HTTPS as a ranking signal in its algorithm. Secure websites are perceived as more trustworthy, leading to higher visibility in search results.

2. Enhanced Data Security: When using HTTPS, browsers will label your site as secure. It increases the likelihood of users spending more time on your site & boosting engagement metrics.

3. Improved Referral Data: When a user clicks on a link from another website to reach an HTTPS site, the referring information is preserved. It allows search engines to accurately track the source of traffic, which can be beneficial for understanding user behavior & optimizing SEO strategies.

4. Positive User Experience: A secure HTTPS site evokes confidence in users when they see the padlock symbol before your URL in the address bar. It strengthens user trust & engagement and improves SEO rankings.

Types of SSL/TLS Certifications

SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security) certifications are digital certificates. They authenticate the identity of a website & encrypt the information that's exchanged between a server and a client. Various certification types offer varying security levels, catering to the unique needs of businesses & websites:

1. Domain Validation (DV) SSL: It is the most basic type of SSL certificate. It simply verifies that the person requesting the certificate has authority over the domain. That’s it. It doesn’t validate the legitimacy of the organization running the site. It is typically used for blogs or personal websites where transactional data is not processed.

2. Organization Validation (OV) SSL: A step up from DV, this certification verifies not only the domain ownership but also the existence of the organization. It is often used to provide additional assurance to their visitors without the higher expense & longer issuance time than an EV certificate.

3. Extended Validation (EV) SSL: This is the highest level of SSL certification. It involves a thorough examination of the business by the certificate authority. Besides domain ownership & business existence, they also verify the company's legal status, physical location, and operational status. It’s ideal for e-commerce websites, banks, and other websites dealing with sensitive customer data.

How SSL/TLS Certifications Work?

These SSL/TLS certifications utilize a combination of symmetric & asymmetric encryption to secure a connection between the client & the server. Here's how the mechanism works:

1. The process initiates with a "handshake" when the client & the server establish a connection.

2. The client requests the server’s public key by requesting the SSL certificate.

3. Once the client validates the SSL certificate with the CA (Certificate Authority), it encrypts the server’s public key & sends a 'premaster secret' (a randomly generated number).

4. The server then decrypts this 'premaster secret' using its private key. Both the client and server now have a shared secret.

This shared secret is then used to create a symmetric key, which is much faster & more efficient than asymmetric encryption for transferring data. From this point, all the data transferred between the client and server is encrypted & decrypted with this symmetric key, ensuring a secure connection.

Remember, the server cannot access the client's private key, and vice versa. The private keys are used to decrypt the premaster secret to create the symmetric key, while public keys are used to encrypt the premaster secret. This mechanism makes SSL/TLS certificates an incredibly secure method of transmitting data online.

HTTP vs HTTPS for SEO: What's the Difference?

Factor HTTP HTTPS
Security Offers no security measures, allowing hackers to intercept and tamper with data. HTTPS uses SSL/TLS protocols to encrypt data and provide a secure connection between the server and the client.
SEO Google does not prioritize HTTP websites in its search algorithms. An HTTP site can rank lower than an HTTPS one if all other SEO factors are similar. Recognized as a ranking signal by Google and can boost SEO rankings.
Trust No visual indicators of security, potentially losing trust from users. Gives visual indicators like a padlock icon, boosting the user's trust.
Bounce Rate HTTP websites may see a higher bounce rate as modern browsers warn users that these sites are "not secure." It can decrease bounce rates because users feel more secure browsing these sites.
Referral Data HTTP sites often lose referral data when a website links to another domain, impacting SEO data accuracy. It keeps referral data intact, providing more SEO data tracking and analysis accuracy.

How to Switch From HTTP to HTTPS?

Switching from HTTP to HTTPS involves multiple steps. Let us look at each of the steps in detail:

Purchasing an SSL Certificate

To migrate from HTTP to HTTPS, you first need to purchase an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate. This small data file digitally binds a cryptographic key to your organization's details, ensuring a secure connection from a web server to a browser. The type of SSL certificate you should purchase depends on your needs.

They are categorized into multiple types, including single-domain, wildcard, and multi-domain SSL licenses.

1. A single-domain SSL certificate secures one fully qualified domain name.

2. A Wildcard SSL certificate protects the domain & its subdomains.

3. A multi-domain SSL certificate covers multiple domain names.

There are plenty of trusted vendors where you can purchase an SSL certificate. It includes Comodo, RapidSSL, Symantec, and Digicert. Compare the prices & the features of each certificate before making a decision.

Installing Your SSL Certificate & Creating a Sitewide 301 Redirect

After purchasing & validating your SSL certificate, you must install it on your server. This process may vary depending on the server type & the control panel that you are using. It's advisable to consult your hosting provider's documentation or support for specific instructions.

After installing the SSL certificate, your website should now be accessible through HTTPS. However, HTTP URLs will still function, and this might result in duplicate content issues. To avoid this, set up a permanent 301 redirect from HTTP to HTTPS on your server. It signifies to search engines that your site has permanently shifted & automatically guides visitors to the secure HTTPS pages.

Checking for any HTTPS Implementation Issues

The next step is to ensure that the HTTPS implementation is flawless. The most common issues include mixed content errors, which occur when secure HTTPS web pages contain a mix of secure & non-secure content.

Other problems could be due to your SSL certificate not being properly installed or not being trusted by some browsers. Use online SSL check tools like SSL Labs' SSL Server Test or JitBit's SSL Checker to diagnose and resolve these issues.

Updating Your Sitemaps

After migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, it is imperative to update your sitemaps. Sitemaps function as detailed guides that list all the URLs for your website. They also provide additional relevant information about each URL, such as when it was last updated and how frequently it changes. It assists search engines in understanding the structure of your website and allows them to discover new pages more efficiently.

You need to update all the URL references in your sitemap to HTTPS. Once you make these updates, it's recommended to resubmit the updated sitemap to Google Search Console. It allows search engines to be reacquainted with your site under its new secure protocol.

SEO Concerns for Migrating From HTTP to HTTPS

1. Site Crawling and Indexing: A mishandled migration could result in your website disappearing from search engine results entirely. Hence, updating your robots.txt and sitemap.xml files is crucial to guide search engines in properly crawling & indexing your new HTTPS site.

2. Canonicalization: Both HTTP and HTTPS versions of your site could exist simultaneously after the migration, leading to duplicate content issues. Proper canonicalization helps search engines prevent potential confusion between duplicated content on HTTP & HTTPS.

3. 301 Redirects: Poorly implemented redirects can lead to broken links or pages. It affects the overall user experience and your SERP rankings.

4. SSL Certificate and Server Configuration: A misconfigured SSL Certificate can lead to warnings or error pages that could deter users from visiting your site. Additionally, search engines may deem your site as unsafe, negatively affecting your SEO rank.

5. Update Internal and External Links: Links' inconsistency can lead to unnecessary redirects. It slows down the loading time and eventually decreases the search ranking.

Switching From HTTP to HTTPS: Best Practices

HTTP to HTTPS Migration Best Practices
HTTP to HTTPS Migration Best Practices

1. Conduct a Thorough Site Audit Before the Migration

A full site audit is necessary before you start a website migration from HTTP to HTTPS. It involves checking the present performance status of your website, current SEO rankings, website traffic, and even the content that draws traffic. This audit will reveal what is working and what isn’t, allowing you to make informed decisions for the migration.

2. Update All Internal Links

Ensure that you update all your internal links to direct users to the new HTTPS pages instead of the old HTTP ones. An internal link connects one page to a different page on the same website. They help with website navigation & establish an information hierarchy.

Updating your internal links ensures that search engines and users can find your content. Search engines could index duplicate content if your internal links point to the old HTTP pages, harming your SERP rankings.

3. Set up 301 Redirects

A 301 redirect tells web browsers & search engines that a web page or site has been permanently moved to a new location. It ensures that users who click on a link to your old site are automatically redirected to your new HTTPS site. It maintains the user experience and ensures that any "link juice" or SEO value the old page had is passed on to the new one.

To implement 301 redirects, you can use .htaccess file modifications if your website is on an Apache server or use a plugin if your site is built with WordPress. You can also utilize server configuration files for websites running on Nginix or IIS.

4. Update Your XML Sitemap and Robots.txt File

Your XML sitemap is a document that helps Google & other major search engines better understand your website while crawling it. The Robots.txt file, on the other hand, instructs search engines on which pages on your site they can or can't request from your site.

When you migrate to HTTPS, you must update your sitemap with the new HTTPS URLs and submit it to Google and other search engines. It will help them crawl & index your new pages faster, ensuring a smooth transition. It will enhance visibility & can dramatically impact your SEO performance post-migration.

5. Monitor Your Site Performance Post-Migration

When migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, you should monitor your site performance. It involves closely monitoring your traffic, rankings, and other key metrics to identify potential issues early on.

After the migration, you can compare your performance. It will help you know whether your website performance improved or declined post-migration. Various tools, like Quattr, Google Analytics, etc., are available to help you measure your website's performance. It helps ensure you don't lose your existing SEO strengths during the migration.

Correctly Migrate Your Website From HTTP to HTTPS

The choice between HTTP & HTTPS is essentially a matter of speed vs. security. While HTTP might offer a slight speed advantage, the lack of security can expose your website and its users to unnecessary risks. With its added SSL layer, HTTPS provides a secure browsing experience, protecting sensitive data from potential threats.

However, implementing HTTPS may involve costs. These include SSL certificates and technical assistance. Despite initial expenses, the increased user trust often outweighs the costs.

Therefore, for most businesses, embracing HTTPS can be seen as an expenditure and a worthy investment in offering their users a safe and secure browsing experience.

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HTTP vs HTTPS FAQs

Do HTTPS websites load slower than HTTP websites?

While HTTPS websites require additional encryption processing compared to HTTP, the impact on load times isn't significantly noticeable. Modern servers & browsers are optimized to handle this encryption efficiently.

Can HTTPS websites still be vulnerable to cyber-attacks?

Despite the encryption provided by HTTPS, websites are not immune to cyber-attacks. Advanced threats such as Man-in-the-Middle attacks, SSL stripping, or website code vulnerabilities can still pose risks. It necessitates robust security measures beyond HTTPS.

Do I need to update my website content after switching to HTTPS?

Switching to HTTPS from HTTP is primarily about website security, not content. While it's always a good practice to keep your content up-to-date, the move to HTTPS won't affect the content itself. However, remember to update your URLs and any absolute links to prevent any 'not secure' warnings for the users.

About The Author

James Gibbons

James Gibbons is the Senior Customer Success Manager at Quattr. He has 10 years of experience in SEO and has worked with multiple agencies, brands, and B2B companies. He has helped clients scale organic and paid search presence to find hidden growth opportunities. James writes about all aspects of SEO: on-page, off-page, and technical SEO.

About Quattr

Quattr is an innovative and fast-growing venture-backed company based in Palo Alto, California USA. We are a Delaware corporation that has raised over $7M in venture capital. Quattr's AI-first platform evaluates like search engines to find opportunities across content, experience, and discoverability. A team of growth concierge analyze your data and recommends the top improvements to make for faster organic traffic growth. Growth-driven brands trust Quattr and are seeing sustained traffic growth.

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