Google has over 200 search engine ranking factors that it actively looks at before ranking any website in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Despite this knowledge, however, SEO experts rarely know how certain algorithms actually operate. Google has very carefully safeguarded this information to avoid SEO manipulation and overtaking search engine rankings in unfair ways.

In short, Google rarely says “if you do this, you will improve your site’s rankings in the SERPs”. What it mostly offers — at best — is vague and generic statements, such as “create high-quality content” or “get relevant and powerful links.”

However, on August 6, 2014, Google did say something very interesting.

On this date, Google confirmed that websites with an SSL certificate (https://) would get an added advantage in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

To be exact, Google said that if there are two similar websites — with everything being equal — the website with an SSL certificate will have a slight advantage over the other version of the site that does not have an SSL certificate.

We still do not have a lot of concrete information about how much a SSL certificate positively affects and improves a site’s search engine rankings. But we are going to take a more detailed look in this post, with whatever information we have, at how it affects SEO and rankings and why.

Let’s start with explaining what an SSL certificate is and how it works.

What is a SSL certificate?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. As the name suggests, it creates an additional layer of safety that protects the information visitors choose to share with a website.

CyberAlpha defines SSL as:
“SSL is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browser remains private.”

When a visitor visits an https:// website, the SSL certificate ensures that whatever information is shared, it will not be leaked to anyone. The encrypted connection protects the information.

How does SSL affect search engine rankings?

Now that you understand what SSL is and how it works, let’s discuss its impact on a website’s search engine ranking.

An SSL certificate affects a website’s search engine rankings in the following ways:

1. A boost in search engine rankings

As we mentioned at the start of this post, Google has confirmed that a secure website with an SSL certificate will have an advantage over other websites that are not as secure and encrypted — provided other search engine optimization (SEO) factors remain the same.

Calculating the precise impact of the SSL certificate on a site’s SEO rankings can be difficult. Website owners should understand that having an SSL certificate won’t just magically propel your site to the top of the search engine results page. However, if they are taking care of the other search engine ranking factors and doing all the other important things right, having an SSL certificate will give them the much-needed boost to overtake other websites in a tough and competitive niche.

These are some of the direct effects of HTTPS on a site’s search engine rankings. Apart from these, an SSL certificate also indirectly affects a site’s rankings and improves its bottom line.

2. Improving SEO by improving the user experience

There is no doubt that an SSL certificate (a safe and secure website) significantly improves the user experience.

If a person lands on an unsafe website, they would see visible indicators that the site is not secure, and that he should quit browsing it. Google Chrome indicates this.

By explicitly shaming unencrypted websites, Google Chrome is creating the much-needed awareness about internet security among general internet users. They are now much more aware and hesitant in visiting unencrypted websites. Acquiring personal information on http:// websites (sites without SSL certificates) is getting even more difficult.

The point here is that websites which offer a poor user experience can never consistently rank on top positions in the SERPs. Unencrypted websites without SSL certificates fail to deliver a good user experience.

Let’s consider the case of an online user who searches for a particular keyword and finds your website via Google. He clicks on it, lands on your homepage where he intends to fill a form and is instantly greeted with a Google Chrome indicator that the website is not secure. The visitor will leave your website almost immediately.

Google notices this behavior. If too many website visitors do exactly this — which it would be in this particular case — Google will most certainly demote your website in the SERPs. Because so many people are quitting the website so soon after landing on it, it would appear that your website is not worthy of being ranked that high for that keyword.

The indirect effect of having an unsafe and unencrypted website eventually leads to a demotion in the search engine results pages. The domino effect further pushes the ranking down.

Less traffic views mean fewer opportunities for creating backlinks, viral traffic and a higher engagement rate.

Installing a SSL certificate

If you want to be successful in today’s digital landscape, you need to have an encrypted website.

Make sure that you have an SSL certificate for your site and that it is 100% encrypted and safe for your site visitors.

CyberAlpha has partnered with the Let’s Encrypt initiative to offers a free SSL certificate for each domain for it’s users as part of it’s comprehensive managed website security and monitoring platform. By simply activating CyberAlpha on your website, the SSL certificate is issued and renewed automatically every 90 days, free of charge.

The CyberAlpha platform combines a free SSL certificate with a cloud web application firewall and comprehensive monitoring to immediately block cyber attacks and alert you of any problems with your website such as being blacklisted by Google or your website going down.

If you have any questions about CyberAlpha, feel free to reach out to us: contact@cyberalpha.io or +44 (0)20 8144 3288.