HTTP Vs. HTTPS : SEO Issues, Pros And Cons

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HTTP vs. HTTPS : SEO Issues, Pros and Cons

9th October 2014AnnabelleAnnabelle

Remember there was a lot of buzz around HTTPS in the SEO industry this summer, after Google officially announced that using HTTPS was a favorable ranking factor? Albeit one that is much less important than other ranking factors, and affects less than 1% of all queries.
As a result there was much discussion about using HTTPS for all content – not just pages for which a secure connection is mandatory, such as transactional or user-account pages.

Much ado for nothing?

So far, we haven’t seen any discernible effect on ranking. A Searchmetrics study published at the end of August concluded that there is no relation between HTTPS and ranking:

But of course, we don’t know what the future holds. SEO Roundtable reported that Google hinted at a possible heavier influence of HTTPS on ranking in the future. Here is what the article says:
“Google did say they may ‘decide to strengthen’ the HTTPS ranking signal ‘over time’ to ‘give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS'”. There is a lot of caution in the statement, but that said, that Google has consistently, strongly recommended using HTTPS, and has been encouraging people to switch to HTTPS for some time.

HTTPS vs HTTP

Pros of HTTPS:

  • Taking security seriously (and showing it to users) is of course a good idea
  • Extending HTTPS to all pages can make sense for some websites.
  • It preserves Web Analytics data accuracy: traffic switching from HTTPS to HTTP loses referrer information. So if your page uses HTTP, and receives a visit from a user who is coming from another website which uses HTTPS, your Web Analytics reports will count this as direct traffic (and not as traffic coming from that other website). Today that may not be the #1 argument to go for HTTPS, but it will gain traction when HTTPS becomes more common (today, HTTPS represents 10% of pages discovered and crawled by Google, according to Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, quoted here).
  • There could be some light SEO benefits, perhaps now, perhaps in the future.

Cons:

HTTPS and SEO

Whether you already have a full HTTPS website, are using HTTPS for some content only, or are planning to do so, you’ll need to check that the use of HTTPS does not introduce any negative signals for SEO, such as duplicates or unnecessary redirections.

  • When starting a crawl on Botify Analytics: if you are using HTTPS site-wide, don’t forget to provide the HTTPS URL for your homepage – not HTTP. Otherwise, all pages will appear to be one level deeper than they really are, due to the initial redirection of the homepage from HTTP to HTTPS.

  • Check your internal redirections: your website shouldn’t include any link to an HTTP page that is redirected to HTTPS.
    To do so, go to the URL Explorer, select URLs that use HTTPS (in the filters list, you will find the protocol field listed under URL Scheme) and are the target of a redirection; display the URL and the URL(s) it is redirected from:

Click on “Apply” and check in the results table that there are no HTTP URLs in the “redirected from” column. If there are some, you can click on these HTTP URLs to get details such as incoming links (“Inlinks”), which indicate pages they are linked from, where the link needs to be updated to HTTPS.

  • Check your canonicals: for instance, make sure that canonicals tags on HTTPS pages, if any, point to other HTTPS pages.
    In the URL Explorer, select URLs that use HTTPS and have a canonical tag to an URL other than themselves; display the URL and the URL its canonical tag points to:

In addition to the checks above in Botify Analytics:

  • Check that your social links use your HTTPS pages, if applicable (they should not appear in Botify Analytics as they should not be crawlable links, it’s a simple manual check on a sample pages).
  • In Google Webmaster Tools:
    Don’t forget to add a “new website” with HTTPS for every domain and subdomain that includes HTTPS content pages (as opposed to transactional pages and user-account pages): https://www.mywebsite.com, https://blog.mywebsite.com, etc.
    Information such as indexed pages volume, search traffic statistics and external links samples are related to the protocol version of an URL. If 100% of your website uses HTTPS, then all you’ll get for http://www.mywebsite.com is a “no data” message.

If you are about to migrate pages from HTTP to HTTPS, don’t bother trying to use Google Webmaster Tools’ change of address tool:

1) Google says there is no need:

2) The change of address tool does not support HTTP to HTTPS migrations yet. John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, said that it’s coming (see exchange below), but we don’t know when.

HTTPS is still very much a hot topic. A Moz poll says that 1 Moz blog reader out of 4 plans on making the move to HTTPS.

What about you?

What about you?
Are you considering moving to HTTPS? Definitely planning to do it? What are your motivations and concerns?

Did you migrate to HTTP recently? How did it go?

Or perhaps you launched a new website built on HTTPS from the ground up?

Let us know!

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