Google introduces rule to reward HTTPS sites, but does it work?

15 Sep

If there’s one thing you can count on it’s that a Google algorithm update is never too far away. That’s something any website owner who values search engine position will know. And so we weren’t too surprised when last month Google announced that it was about to make algorithm tweaks to reward sites using encrypted HTTPS connections to exchange data. The reward? A shot in the arm for your search rankings!

The move was created with the idea of bettering online security by giving web developers encouragement to encrypt traffic with SSL/TLS, as Gary Illyes and Zineb Ait Bahajji, two of Google’s prominent webmaster trend analysts, happily explained in an August blog post.

“For now it’s only a very lightweight signal – affecting fewer than 1 percent of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content – while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS,”Illyes and Bahajji explained. “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.”

But as is so very often the case with Google changes, it didn’t take long for the claims to come under scrutiny, with many experts running reports and finding that rather than being a lightweight signal, HTTPS doesn’t presently seem to be a signal at all.

SearchMetrics, one of the most respected search analysers in the sector, claim that their data shows absolutely no HTTPS impact on Google’s rankings.

“In a nutshell: No relationships have been discernible to date from the data analysed by us between HTTPS and rankings, nor are there any differences between HTTP and HTTPS. In my opinion therefore, Google has not yet rolled out this ranking factor – and/or this factor only affects such a small section of the index to date that it was not possible to identify with our data.”

There’s no doubt that from a security standpoint, encrypting traffic with SSL/TLS is best practice and should be used with new websites but whether transitioning a site to HTTPS is too much of a risk is still very much open to debate.

What do you think? Have you switched a site to HTTPS? If so, have you seen any measurable benefits?

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Gareth Owen