The million dollar question. Google has already announced that website security is one of their more than 200 ranking factors, but adding an SSL certificate isn’t for every site owner. While there are some benefits to adding https:// to the beginning of your web address, they don’t always outweigh the cons.
If consumers are able to complete transactions while on your site, it’s a no brainer. But it’s not always that simple, and it’s definitely not a quick and easy change. Doing a little research, and fully understanding the impact adding an SSL certificate to your site can have is really important. You deserve a big high five for going about this right.
So, let’s start by discussing the benefits of making the switch:
- Referral data in Google Analytics will be more accurate with an SSL certificate. It’s common knowledge in the SEO world that, whenever a referral passes from a secure site to an insecure site, the referral data gets stripped away. Meaning, it is no longer identified as a referral and instead gets lumped in with direct traffic. But, when the opposite happens (traffic passes from an unsecure to a secure site) the referral data stays intact.
- It MIGHT help to increase your site’s rankings. We already mentioned above that Google has confirmed that HTTPS contributes to a rankings boost, but with more than 200 contributing factors, the influence is probably not very dramatic. If increasing rankings are your main concern, there are several other things you can do that will have a more significant impact.
- The most obvious benefit: improved privacy and security for site users (and yourself). Not only does it help to protect passwords and sensitive information, an SSL certificate also helps to ensure that the server is communicating to the right website, prevents third-party attacks, and encrypts all communication to protect things like browsing history and credit card numbers.
But, as with every potential improvement to your site, there are some downsides. Let’s dig into those:
- It can go wrong, fast. This transition requires several moving parts, making it very easy to overlook important details. Are you blocking important URLS? Did you forget to update your canonical tags? Are browsers and search engines displaying warnings that are actually scaring visitors away from your site? If this process isn’t completed properly, it can have an adverse effect on rankings, and that’s not really what we’re going for here.
- Because an SSL certificate requires more communication with servers and prevents caching, there’s a chance it could slow down your site. And, since site speed is also a ranking factor, you might just be shooting yourself in the foot. If speed wasn’t an issue for you before making the switch, you shouldn’t see too much of an impact, but if your site was already on the slow side or very media-heavy, you should reconsider making the switch.
- Adding an SSL certificate is not free. In most cases, it’ll cost you $100-200 a year to keep your certification valid. Though, if preventing spammers from trying to attack your site is everything to you, it might be worth it.
- HTTPS might not be 100% compatible with your site or platforms you rely on to operate, and some older applications can have a hard time communicating with the secured URLs.
Just like with any big change, deciding to add an SSL certificate to your site isn’t cut and dry – and the factors that impact the final decision will be different for everyone. Make sure you fully understand the pros and cons when it comes to your site before making the switch, and have a team of experts on your side that can ensure that the process will run smoothly.