What is HTTPS? A Guide to Securing the On-Site Experience for Marketers

Do you want to provide a more secure experience for your users and improve your Google ranking? One way to do both is to secure your website with HTTPS. In this article, we’ll explain what HTTPS is, why you need it, and how to get it.

The difference between HTTP and HTTPS

HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. This protocol provides the rules within the application layer for web browsers to communicate with web servers. It is the basis of communication for the Internet.

HTTP requests are sent by a user’s browser. Web servers send an HTTP response on request, loading the web page using hyperlinks.

The S over HTTPS stands for Secure. HTTPS enables secure communication between web browsers and web servers.

How HTTPS works

HTTPS works over SSL or TLS. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is the predecessor of TLS.

Transport Layer Security (TLS) ensures the confidentiality and integrity of data via encryption protocols in communications between two or more applications.

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The goal of this protocol within the application layer is to prevent eavesdropping and tampering with secure data transfer.

While most websites still refer to securing your site with HTTPS through SSL certificates, TLS is the modern version of SSL in use today. We’ll see how to get it for your website later in the post.

Why HTTPS is important

According to HTTP Archive, around 92% of desktop requests and 91% of mobile requests come from URLs with HTTPS in the prefix. W3Techs reports that HTTPS is used by 75.2% of websites. BuiltWith has found over 155 million SSL Certificates installed on websites on the Internet.

This is important for two reasons. First, when visitors go to an HTTP website, browsers such as Google Chrome tag the site as unsecure in the URL address bar.

On mobile browsers, unsecured sites appear with a warning triangle next to the domain.

Screenshot by Washington.edu, August 2021

Second, HTTPS can also impact your ranking in search results. In 2014, Google announced that HTTPS was part of the algorithm that ranks web pages in Google search engine results.

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After implementing HTTPS for Google services, Google announced the “HTTPS Everywhere” initiative to encourage Internet webmasters to do the same.

“At this point, this is only a very light signal – affecting less than 1% of global queries and carrying less weight than other signals such as high quality content – while we are leaving to webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time we might decide to strengthen it as we would like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.

How secure is HTTPS

HTTPS does not mean that a website is 100% secure or failsafe. HTTPS only secures communications between two computers, such as a user’s computer through a web browser and a web server.

HTTPS offers stronger security than HTTP, it does not protect the user’s computer or the web server itself from hacker or malware attacks.

This is why webmasters should secure their website and users should use virus and spyware protection on their computers.

How to get HTTPS for your website

To add HTTPS to your website, you might need an SSL certificate. But first, find the documentation from your current web hosting provider on how to enable or apply HTTPS. It may already be included in your current hosting plan.

Otherwise, you should be able to purchase a TLS / SSL certificate from your current host or upgrade to a new hosting plan that includes TLS / SSL.

Alternatively, you can get TLS / SSL from content delivery networks (CDNs) like Cloudflare or get TSL / SSL from Digicert.

How to redirect HTTP to HTTPS websites

How you redirect your website from HTTP to HTTPS depends on your web server. If you don’t have an option from your hosting control panel to pass or apply HTTPS, you will need to redirect or rewrite your URLs from HTTP to HTTPS.

You can search for directions specific to your hosting provider by searching on Google for your hosting company name + HTTP to HTTPS. Most companies will have specific documentation on how you can redirect based on your hosting plan and web server.

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Google also offers detailed documentation on migrating from HTTP to HTTPS in the advanced SEO section of Google Search Central. They also link to information about setting up Google Search Console for your HTTPS site.

How to Secure Your Website Beyond SSL

There are several ways to secure your website besides HTTPS. This is important because Google can determine if your website has been hacked or infected with malware.

“Pages or sites affected by a security issue may appear with a warning label in search results or an interstitial warning page in the browser when a user tries to visit them.”

Google will alert webmasters if their sites have been hacked through the Google Search Console and Security Issues Report.

To protect your website, start by updating your passwords. Any service you use for your website – domain registrar, web host, control panel, admin panel, etc. – could give the wrong person too much access to your website, making it vulnerable.

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If you use the same password on multiple services, you might want to change them to make sure that an attack against one does not turn into an attack against all.

To save your unique and secure passwords, avoid using your browser and choose a more secure app like 1Password or LastPass.

Then look at your web hosting service. Many vendors offer plans with enhanced security features. Look for plans that include a security firewall, malware scan, virus scan, DDoS protection, and automatic backups in case anything happens.

If your web host doesn’t protect you, you can try services like Sucuri. They include advanced security scans, firewall, blocklist monitoring, SSL support, and advanced DDoS mitigation.

Their plans also include website cleanup and malware removal if your website is compromised.

WordPress users can try Automattic’s Jetpack (formerly VaultPress) plugin. Their security plans include backups, security scans, downtime monitoring, brute force protection, and spam protection.

Finally, review everything you plan to add to your website.

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Plugins, add-ons and extensions can create vulnerabilities for your website and your users.

Seek out user reviews and choose only those plugins that play a vital role in your marketing or sales.

How to get HTTPS as a user

HTTPS Everywhere is an extension that works for popular web browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Opera.

Android users can install it on Firefox. Alternatively, HTTPS is included in Brave and Tor browsers for desktops and Android / iOS mobile devices.

HTTPS anywhereScreenshot of Brave, August 2021

This extension or integration with Brave and Tor browsers allows you to switch to a more secure connection when a website does not offer HTTPS or has not rewritten / redirected its URLs from HTTP to HTTPS.

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Key points to remember

HTTPS plays an important role in providing a secure experience for users and a positive ranking signal in Google’s algorithm.

Secure your website with HTTPS by obtaining a TSL / SSL certificate from your web hosting service, CDN or other provider.

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Featured Image: BestForBest / Shutterstock


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