I’ve been resisting the move to SSL for a long time for my own sites as well as my clients and right now, the SEO community is all up in arms about the October update coming from Google. They are now all saying that you need SSL in order to rank your website.
However, let me debunk a few things.
Who am I?
First – who am I and how in the heck do I know anything about all this stuff? My name is Chris Hunter and I’ve been ranking websites since 1998. The first time I looked at ranking a site was a tutorials site that I owned and got it ranked on Yahoo. Around the 1999 – 2000 time frame, I started concentrating on Google as it seemed like the superior search engine.
I think I was right.
In 2003, I opened a web design firm and one of my first goals was to outrank my competitors and steal all their potential clients. It took about six months and I still outrank them today.
By 2005, I caved into my clients requests to start helping them rank and haven’t really looked back. In 2014, I sold the hosting and web design portion of my business and doubled down on SEO and Marketing for my clients.
So, here's my point. I’ve been ranking sites for nearly 20 years for me and my clients. I keep up with trends daily and have seen the SEO industry mature quite a bit.
However, the SEO industry tends to have knee jerk reactions when it comes to Google.
What is SSL?
For those of you who don’t have a clue about SSL, it stands for Secure Socket Language. Basically, it’s encrypts the data that flows from one place to another. It’s needed when you have something secure like a credit card or social security number that you collect on your website.
Why is that needed? Mainly because your computer at home connects to other computers all along the way to that website and if it’s not encrypted, anyone along the way can view that information.
Think of it as a postcard in the postal mail. Everyone who picks it up can read it.
Five to ten years ago, a website without e-commerce or some need to secure the data wanting an SSL certificate was a very foreign concept to webmasters. It was wasteful on many levels and the server administrators would deny your request.
So Why is Google Saying We Need SSL Now?
That is a very good question. I honestly don’t understand why they are pushing SSL so much other than the fact that they want to secure their own data, i.e. the searches people make. When people type in a keyword, that data used to flow into analytic programs.
However, because the searches are now mostly secured, that data is no longer available to marketers, at least for the most part. About 5% of the searches are not completely secured from Google to your website and it causes an issue for Google to lock that down.
I think that is why Google is pushing SSL so much lately. They want to lock their data up and keep it from anyone else.
Myth #1 - You Need SSL to Rank Right Now
No, no, and no. You don’t need SSL to rank a website. I’m seeing this across multiple industries and multiple markets. You flat out do not need an SSL certificate to rank your website.
You need quality on-site content and quality back links. Yet Google has said that secured websites will be given preference in the immediate future.
Yes, I realize that just contradicted what I said above – but that’s what Google does. Contradicts itself and keeps you guessing. After all, they don’t want anyone to figure out their secret sauce, right?
Myth #2 – You Need to Move to SSL Now
Do we need to do it today - right now? Unless you have a need such as collecting sensitive information – no.
My Recommendation? I think that yes, in the future we will all need to move to SSL because that’s what the Big G wants. However, I don’t think we need to drop absolutely everything right now and do it.
As I said earlier, the SEO industry tends to have knee jerk reactions and this is one of them right now.
The October update that Google is pushing out is for Chrome only and doesn’t affect rankings. It simply adds a warning inside of Chrome that your website isn’t secure. It’s not doing it on any of my or my client’s websites as of right now.
I think the warning will only include websites that collect sensitive information such as social security, credit cards, or passwords.
Rankings and the Move to SSL – Expect Rankings to Drop
There’s another reason and the biggest one to me not to move just yet – rankings.
Rankings will drop, even if just for a little while. If you depend on your website for the rankings, traffic, and leads it produces, just know going in that it’s possible that your SEO rankings will drop like a rock for a week, two weeks, a month, possibly up to six months.
Please be sure you’re prepared for this to happen both financially and emotionally.
So What Should You Do?
Be patient. We are currently testing a few of our own sites in multiple industries and markets on how long to expect ranking drops to last. I expect the results to be available by the end of this quarter and I’ll share the results then.
I say to wait and see. If your rankings start to drop before you move to SSL, make sure that’s the reason and not others. Don’t feed into the knee jerk reactions in the SEO industry.
Do You Oversee SEO?
If you’re reading this and oversee SEO at your company, I’ll be releasing a comprehensive checklist soon that will help you understand everything you need to do when you do move to SSL for SEO purposes.
Do You Need SEO?
Are you a company owner and don’t currently have anyone working on SEO? We’d love to help. We’ve ranked websites since 2005 for clients in small to large markets as well as very competitive industries.
Start with the SEO Score Tool below or to the right side if you’re on desktop. Let it determine how your website matches up to your competition!