What is SSL and is it Important to SEO?

Emma Grant

Head of SEO

Results-driven Emma heads up our SEO team. A champion of best-practice SEO strategies for search engine success that lasts and delivers best value, Emma’s work focuses on boosting clients’ online visibility with the ultimate goal of increasing sales. Emma applies her extensive skill and experience to create strategies that pay off quickly for faster results. She knows precisely what to do to reduce clients’ paid ad spends for greater profits, and how to boost organic leads for better long term return on investment. After close of business, when she’s not organising exciting travel adventures, you may hear Emma strumming classical guitar tunes or working on her jazz riffs.

On 6 August 2014, Google made a statement that websites with an SSL certificate would be given an added advantage in the search engine results pages (SERPs). To be precise, in answer to the question, does SSL improve SEO, Google said that if there were two websites of equal standing, the one with the SSL certificate would have a slight advantage over the one without. But have recent comments by Google debunked this claim? And just how important is SSL for SEO?

How important is SSL for SEO

What is an SSL certificate?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It’s a way of creating an additional layer of safety when browsing online, protecting the information that visitors share with a website.

When you visit an https:// website, the SSL certificate ensures that whatever you share will be encrypted so that others cannot see it. SSL certifies a website’s identity showing that a browser is connecting to the correct server.

How important is SSL for SEO?

Whilst Google outwardly confirmed that websites with an SSL certificate would have a ‘slight advantage’ over those without one, calculating the precise impact of the SSL certificate on a site’s SEO rankings has always been tricky.

For example, how do you compare the true impact of an SSL certificate on the search rankings of a website compared to another in a similar niche but with thousands more backlinks? The site with more backlinks will have a significant advantage, even if it doesn’t have an SSL certificate.

It is important to bear in mind, therefore, when considering does SSL improve SEO, that the presence of an SSL certificate alone is not going to miraculously propel a site to the top of the search results. However, if other search engine ranking factors have been attended to, then an SSL certificate could give the site a boost over others with the same SEO standing, but that don’t have a certificate.

This was all brought to bear very recently as Google’s John Mueller made a sweeping statement, debunking the widely held belief that SSL boosts SEO.

SSL boosts SEO – claim debunked?

Very recently, Google’s John Mueller quashed the suggestion that an SSL certificate would provide a boost to a website’s SEO, clearly stating that ‘an SSL certificate does not boost your SEO’.

The statement came about following an online post that said:

 “Boost your website’s SEO and reputation with a must-have security measure: SSL Certificate. Don’t miss out on the benefits! Get an SSL certificate today and keep your website safe.”

 Google’s senior search analyst and search relations lead, John Mueller, responded to the post by saying:

“This does not ‘Boost your website’s SEO’, sorry.”

It did come as quite a surprise to many in the SEO world as, back in 2014, Google had said it had been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in its search ranking algorithms.

They said:

“We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it’s only a very lightweight signal – affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content – while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS.

 “But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”

In response to this statement, webmasters worldwide immediately adopted the HTTPs protocol, taking the search engine at its word.

So, does SSL improve SEO, or not?

John Mueller’s recent statement has left the SEO world in a state of confusion. However, all told, the process of making sure your website secure has to be of benefit to users. And this, we believe, translates as SSL being important for SEO.

If someone lands on an unsafe website, they would see visible indicators that the site is not secure. Google Chrome, for example, issues a stark warning to visitors that they are on unsafe territory when there is no SSL certificate present, or when the certificate has expired.

The important point in question really is that websites that offer a poor user experience will never outrank those that offer a positive user experience. Unencrypted websites that lack SSL certificates will not offer a positive user experience.

Say for example someone finds your website via Google. They go to complete your enquiry form, potentially creating you a new lead. But as soon as they are poised to share their personal information, they are instantly met with a Google Chrome notification that your website is not secure, because its SSL certificate is out of date. The will for sure react by leaving the site instantly, meaning you lose out on an enquiry.

Does SSL improve SEO

Unencrypted websites that lack SSL certificates will not offer a positive user experience.

The important thing is that Google sees this behaviour. And if lots of website visitors are doing the same thing, then inevitably Google will demote the site in the SERPs. Fewer visitors also means less opportunities for creating backlinks, as the site is less likely to be trusted and shared.

Therefore, it is fairly safe to say that, in answer to the question, how important is SSL for SEO, yes, it is important. Because the lack of a certificate is likely to turn visitors away, which is something Google looks down on.

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