Full disclosure: As a content marketer, I’m still trying to round out my technological knowledge. The complex inner workings of the internet might as well be some combination of elves, gnomes, and unicorns. As long as it delivers my content (and a steady stream of memes and status updates), it doesn’t matter how the internet works, right?
But it’s time for all content marketers to get at least a little technical. There are new marching orders from our overlords at tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple, and they’re going to directly affect your content marketing strategy.
The issue is a web security protocol called HTTPS (Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol Secure). Other terms you might encounter are SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security). Or you may just know it as the little green padlock in the top corner of your web browser:
No matter what you call it, HTTPS provides a secure, encrypted channel for a website to transfer data to a browser, and vice versa. It uses digital certificates to verify that each party is who they say they are—and that no third-party is intercepting the data.
It’s easy to see why HTTPS is a good idea—you don’t want some shady character snooping on your passwords and credit card information when you’re online banking at Starbucks. And you wouldn’t want to think you’ve connected with your bank, when you’re actually on www.stealyourmoney.biz.
Beyond the safety considerations, however, the push for websites to adopt HTTPS matters for content marketers. Not having HTTPS on your site can now hurt your marketing efforts in two big ways: search engine visibility and customer trust. Here’s what you need to know.
HTTPS Is an SEO Ranking Factor
Google is one of the major supporters of HTTPS, using its considerable leverage to increase adoption of the protocol. To that end, they have added HTTPS status as a ranking factor in searches. Since Google owns well over half of the search market—and over 90% of mobile search—your site’s ranking on Google has a massive impact on your organic traffic.
If your content is just as good as a competitor’s, but they have HTTPS and you don’t, they’re likely to rank higher on the results page. Over time, the coveted top spots will all go to HTTPS-enabled sites, with unsecure sites fighting for the scraps. This graph from Smart Insights shows just how much traffic you lose by dropping even a single slot on the SERP:
The top result has a 30% click-through rate, while the second gets 12%, and the CTR declines steadily from there.
It’s easy to see why HTTPS matters for content marketers who care about organic traffic (which, let’s hope, is all of us). If you’re trying to create SEO-optimized content that gets viewed and gets results, not having HTTPS on your site can hamstring your efforts from the start.
HTTPS Is a Trust Signal
Let’s say, though, that your content is so useful and so compelling that it still gets a decent ranking, and someone actually clicks through. In the address bar right now, Google Chrome (the most popular browser, with over 60% of all browser traffic) will show a “not secure” warning before your URL:
In future builds of Chrome, that warning will get more dire, with red text and a caution sign:
These warnings may eventually escape the address bar, becoming a popup window that warns people away from your site.
It’s easy to imagine the impact these warnings will have on people’s confidence in your site. When there are plenty of secure websites in the SERP, that warning is enough for your average consumer to hit the back button and find a site with the soothing green padlock.
How to Get HTTPS
In the past, managing even a simple site’s security certificates could be a hassle. But in addition to pushing HTTPS adoption through penalties, Google and many others are also investing in making the technology easier to get. Even if you don’t have a web development team, you can likely get HTTPS up and running with minimal hiccups.
First, check with your internet provider to see if they offer automated HTTPS—many will help you get set up and manage your certificates. For example, our client Pantheon offers free, automated HTTPS to all of its clients.
If your provider doesn’t offer HTTPS management, I recommend Let’s Encrypt. They’re an open-source, free and automated HTTPS provider (or Certificate Authority), funded by contributions from the major players in the tech industry. If you have a little tech savvy, it’s pretty simple to get set up.
Is It Secret? Is It Safe?
Adopting HTTPS is the right choice for you and everyone who visits your site. But it’s more than just the right thing to do. The decision to adopt HTTPS will make it easier for consumers to find your content, and will give people more confidence in your site’s bona fides. On the other hand, not having HTTPS will hurt both your ranking and your reputation.
Looking for more ways to boost your search engine ranking? Check out these quick SEO research tips.