Neglected by many for a long time over fears of slow response times that could impede on their search engine rankings, SSL certificates are now making their way from something that is only applied to the busiest of websites to something that is in use on all websites all over the web.
This change in direction is down to a change in policy at Google – the search engine has started to alter its ranking algorithm ever so slightly to give a boost to websites that are using SSLs to deliver an HTTPS connection to visitors. Google is chasing a policy that envisages HTTPS on pretty much every website – though this may sound far fetched, it’s all for the benefit of Internet users whose data will be protected to a much greater extent.
What is an SSL Certificate?
An SSL certificate is an add-on to your web hosting account and is used to encrypt the connection between your website and the visitors accessing your content.
The purpose of an SSL certificate is to prevent hackers from eavesdropping on connections with the intention of stealing data. When eavesdropping on an HTTP connection where data isn’t encrypted and is sent in plain text, a hacker could potentially pick up any piece of personal information ranging from credit card numbers to account passwords.
If a hacker was to eavesdrop on an HTTPS connection then they would find that any data being sent over the connection is unreadable because it is encrypted; only the server hosting the website or the client computer accessing it are able to decrypt that information.
A standard SSL certificate is issued for one domain only and can only be issued with one domain at a time, this often being ‘domain.com’ and ‘www.domain.com’ as an example and therefore can’t be applied to any subdomains other than ‘www’. If you change the domain that your website operates under then most SSL vendors provide the facility to reissue certificates at a later date.
Certificates that can be used across multiple subdomains under a single domain, known as Wildcard SSLs, are available for widespread use; these provide a cost effective option for companies operating a large number of subdomains as the cost of a Wildcard SSL is likely to be lower than the cost of purchasing individual SSLs of the same strength for each subdomain. For an SSL certificate to work, each subdomain must lie on a dedicated IP address.
What can an SSL Certificate do for me?
SSL certificates provide benefits for both you as the vendor and for your customers.
For you as the vendor, an SSL certificate adds an extra dimension of security to your website. It is always important to hold the security of your website in high regard and an SSL certificate should be just one element of a number of measures that you are taking. PCI (Payment Card Industry) certification is a standard that many online retailer seek to gain, citing the value that it can add by demonstrating that a website possesses robust security measures.
SSLs are marketed at the general public as being one way in which you can verify the authenticity of a vendor and their website. Your customers are more likely to trust you if an SSL is applied to your website; that universal padlock symbol that appears in their web browser is a mark of trust that is now widely accepted. When customers are more trusting, you can expect them to place more orders with you – this of course means more income!
What has Google been doing to appreciate SSL certificates more?
Although it will only affect less than 1% of global search queries, Google has taken to giving preference to sites where an HTTPS connection is being used. A HTTPS connection is a secure HTTP connection and means that the information being transferred through it is secure, often encrypted by an SSL certificate; SSLs are probably one of the simplest yet fundamental ways of protecting users on the Internet.
If you have an SSL certificate on your website that all visitors are sent to as standard, then the chances are that this will help to boost your ranking within Google’s search engine results. As a webmaster you should always be looking to seek out new ways in which you can boost your placement in results for the keywords that are most suiting to your business, since organic traffic is often the biggest money maker for most.
Webmasters in the past have turned their nose up at the idea of having their website hosted under HTTPS as standard, citing exorbitant deployment costs and the impact that the process of encrypting all information will have on server performance; however, attitudes should hopefully change now if there are marketing benefits that will arise from making the switch.