If you own a website, it is essential to secure it with an SSL certificate. Not just because it affects your security, but also because it can affect your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in a big way. Are you not convinced? Well, you may find it strange, but your SEO is also affected to a large extent by your website not having an SSL certificate. And in this article, we are going to explain to you the four reasons behind it.
What is an SSL certificate?
Before we understand how an SSL certificate affects your rankings, it’s important to understand how it works in the first place. The primary role of an SSL certificate is to protect your site and its visitors against packet sniffing and Man-in-The-Middle (MiTM) attacks. Phishing attacks are made by creating a clone copy of your site on another similar-looking domain name, and then routing your visitors to that cloned site through emails and other marketing channels. When they submit their usernames and passwords on the clone site, it’s sent to the attacker who created that site, thus compromising the login credentials of your users.
Packet sniffing attacks, on the other hand, are done by capturing the data packets being transmitted between you and your visitors. By capturing the data packets, a hacker can steal whatever information is being sent in those packets, and that information may include usernames, passwords, email addresses, and even financial information.
SSL certificates prevent it from happening by adding a unique identity to your site in the form of HTTPS padlock and instructing the browser to encrypt data packets before transmitting them. They make your site load over HTTPS instead of HTTP, which is the secure version of default HTTP protocol allowing the transfer of only encrypted data. So even if someone has captured the data packets being transmitted, they can’t extract any data from them because the private key to decrypt those data packets is available on your server only.
In addition to that, every SSL certificate is unique and issued to only one organization, and its presence is validated by the browser through the display of a padlock before your URL in the address bar. Even if anyone clones your website on a similar domain name, they’ll never be able to get that padlock before their URL because they can’t get an SSL certificate in the name of your company. And when they don’t have the padlock, a “Not Secure” label will show up on their cloned site, alerting your visitors that they’re dealing with an insecure site.
How SSL affects SEO?
Now when we know how an SSL certificate works and what its primary purpose is, let’s take a look at how it affects our SEO.
1. Google uses SSL as a ranking signal
Phishing and Packet sniffing attacks are two of the most common types of cyberattacks. And both these types of attacks become possible only in the absence of an SSL certificate. That’s why Google also found it to be a significant security issue and decided to force the website owners to install SSL certificates on their sites by making it a ranking signal and linking it to the importance of SEO.
Yep, you read it right. Google has been using HTTPS as a ranking signal since 2014, and the websites that load over HTTPS are ranked higher in search results than websites that load over HTTP. That’s the reason why you don’t see any search results starting with HTTP while searching for anything. If your site is not having an SSL certificate – and therefore loading over HTTP – it will also not have a chance of ranking on the first page of Google for any of the keywords you want it to rank for.
2. SSL affects your bounce rate
If your site loads over HTTP, you might have seen that Google and other browsers show a ‘Not Secure’ label before your URL in the address bar — just like the example, we discussed previously. That label scares more visitors away from your site than you can imagine, thus increasing your bounce rate significantly. And since the bounce rate is an important factor in search rankings, your site scores poorly on one more parameter related to search rankings. This factor combined with factor number #1 above is more than enough to spill the water on all your SEO efforts, but these are not the only ones. Let’s take a look at number #3.
3. You don’t get referral data
If your site is not loading over HTTPS due to the absence of an SSL certificate, Google Analytics does not show you referral data about your traffic. Referral data is the data that tells you about the sources of your traffic. If your website is lacking an SSL certificate, all referral traffic is shown as direct traffic in Google Analytics. And when you do not know about where your traffic is coming from, you can’t optimize your marketing strategy for maximum results. This is another way how SSL affects your SEO.
Recommendation: How to Read Google Analytics Reports for Beginners
4. Your competition can steal your visitors
Finally, your competition can also take advantage of your site, not having an SSL certificate. They can target your site through a Man-in-The-Middle (MiTM) attack, stealing user information like emails, usernames, and passwords by capturing data packets being sent between you and your visitors. Once they have built a sizable database of your visitors, they can target them with their own marketing campaigns. That is how they can snatch away whatever visitors you’re getting, which will make their brand stronger. Since Google rankings are affected by direct traffic and email marketing traffic too, this can boost their search rankings over yours.
So there you have it — 4 ways of how not having an SSL certificate can affect your search rankings badly. Hopefully, it is now evident to you that by not having this piece of cybersecurity not only affect the security of your site and visitors but also your SEO efforts. As well as how the importance of SEO is paramount in any modern marketing campaign. Therefore, we advise you to install it at the earliest.
Mariya Adams is a Digital Strategist, having 5+ years of experience in the field of Internet Marketing. She is a social media geek, a complete foodie, and enjoys trying varied cuisines. A perfect day for her consists of reading her favorite author with a hot cuppa coffee. She is also associated with the TechUntouch website.
This blog post is about:
- SSL Certificate
- HTTP protocol