Migrating Your Site to HTTPS: How-To, Why-To & Avoiding Pitfalls Along the Way (Part 1)

When Did HTTPS Gain SEO Traction (Google Approval)?

It started back in 2014 when Google proclaimed that all sites, ideally, should switch to secure HTTPS protocol. Why would this be a good idea for consumers, and also for site owners, and Google itself? For Google, they like to provide the best search results possible. A recent review found that 34% of Google search results are from secure sites. To grow this number, Google encourages site owners to move from HTTP to HTTPS, which is the secure version of HTTP. Currently HTTPS is mostly used to handle sensitive online transactions, such as those on ecommerce and banking websites.

Telling customers you have a more secure website can definitely help build trust in your business, but what about the SEO benefits? First of all, are there any, and second, if there are, what’s the best way to ensure you get them without potentially spawning issues that could actually derail your rankings?

Get SEO Benefits Now & In the Future

As of now Google gives a slight boost in rankings to secure sites using HTTPS. If there are only slight rankings increases provided by Google, you might wonder…why change now? Google sees HTTPS as the future, so if they are that interested in it, then you may wish to make the change now and reap current and future SEO rankings rewards.

Here’s a specific reason to switch to HTTPS now – ranking better in mobile (and especially mobile local) search. AMP pages require HTTPS to work, and Google is of course heavily invested in ensuring that people stay on their mobile browsers to see Google ads. So with Google favoring AMP pages, it’s an obvious win to move your site to HTTPS to grab those potential mobile ranking benefits.

And another key SEO benefit comes within Google Analytics – referral traffic becomes easier to pinpoint because referring sites’ security data will be saved. Instead of getting grouped in with direct traffic, (as is sometimes the case with referrers), you’ll be able to see the actual domains of all referrals – in an ideal all-HTTPS world.

How to Migrate Your Site to HTTPS

Next, while making the changeover is fairly straightforward, there are some bends in the road, so to speak, and a few pitfalls to watch out for. Without accounting for several potentially troublesome factors, a website that had good rankings before switching to HTTPS could end up with some permanent drops in rankings. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to switch your website from HTTP to HTTPS protocol:

  • Obtain a site security certificate and verify that you are the domain owner. 

(Please note:
There are many providers of security certificates; if you do a Google search for this, companies such as Comodo, Thawte, and Verisign are listed in the results. These and a few others are the most trusted certificate authorities. Getting your certificate from a highly trusted source will help eliminate the chance that your customers may see a ‘this site’s security certificate is not trusted’ message. Web browsers keep a list of the most trusted security certificate authorities and if a site does not have a certificate from that list, then the trust message may be shown to users, who may question if they should visit your website.)

  • Back up your website. This is always a good idea before making any big changes that affect your entire site.
  • Set up 301 redirects to permanently redirect your HTTP pages to HTTPS. Don’t forget this step as it’s key to ensuring your customers visit the secure version of your site and that all your backlinks point to the HTTPS version.
  • Update all your internal links to the HTTPS version (you do this if you are using absolute links; if you are using relative links, the changeover will not affect those).
  • Google Search Console: Create a separate property for your HTTPS site. Also in Google Analytics you should change the default URL to HTTPS.
  • Check with your developer about updating code libraries. Some software will have been referring to HTTP pages; they will now have to do so with HTTPS.
  • Check if you’re using any email tools or other marketing software tools and update all those with the HTTPS version of your domain.
  • Go through your main external links that you can easily update – including social media profiles – and change them from HTTP to HTTPS versions.
  • Update your xml sitemap and re-submit to Google and other agencies.

A Lot of Detail-Intensive Steps – And Lots of Potential Pitfalls

Well that all sounds like a lot of work, and it can be very detail intensive. We recommend checking out Smashing Magazine’s ‘The Complete Guide to Switching from HTTP to HTTPS‘ because there are a lot of other little details that need to be addressed, and to provide the best experience (think trust, ease of use, security) for your customers, you’ll want to be sure everything is buttoned up when completing the migration.

Next time: So you’ve transitioned your site to HTTPS, and everything’s great…or is it? Did you know that improper or incomplete migrations to HTTPS can create problems that can actually lose you rankings, not just for a short time, but longer term? Engine-IUS Marketing knows about these pitfalls and will share them with you (and show you how to avoid them) in our next post. 

Don’t want to wait? You can get your site migrated to HTTPS with our help. Keep on Google’s good side during the whole HTTPS transition process and get those rankings gains you’ve heard about! Contact us today and let’s get started on moving your website to the more secure, SEO-friendly HTTPS protocol!

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