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In the simplest terms, the ‘s’ in a https:// URL indicates an additional layer of website security. Often used for banking and ecommerce sites where extra security measures are required, this level of encryption helps to keep users safe on the web. It means that when you’re exchanging any kind of confidential information with a website, a hijacker cannot eavesdrop and read any of your personal details. But what is HTTPS and why is it important as a ranking factor? Can other, non-ecommerce businesses also benefit from switching to HTTPS?

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol with Secure Sockets Layer. Got all that? Basically, the http (hyper text transfer protocol) refers to the technological protocol that allows linking and browsing, while the s (secure sockets layer, or SSL) describes that which enables transactions to go ahead safely and securely.

When you make a purchase online, whether this is through a shopping cart or an external payment site like PayPal, you enter a “secure session”, as indicated by the change to the URL in the browser bar. On Firefox and Chrome, a padlock symbol also appears to the left of the bar. This means that the session is encrypted, making it extremely difficult for third parties to monitor your activities and collect your data.

It’s not just ecommerce, payment and banking sites that use HTTPS. It is also used for websites that require logins, such as social media platforms and member pages. All Google’s products, services and tools, including Search, Gmail and Drive, are on a secure connection.

And here’s the crux. A couple of months ago at Google I/O (Google’s annual conference for software developers), webmasters were urged to start taking a “HTTPS-everywhere” approach in order to help make the internet a safer place.

So what does this mean for your business website? Should you make the switch? And if so, how does HTTPS affect Google ranking?

The Growing Importance of HTTPS for SEO

Following on from their I/O conference, Google announced earlier this month that HTTPS is now a minor ranking signal. While it might not be as important as other factors just yet, such as high quality content, Google hinted that HTTPS might become increasingly so as they continue to tighten their stance on security:

“…over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”

So switching to HTTPS is likely to have a positive impact on your rankings – especially in the long term. Logically, this also means that those websites that remain on HTTP will experience a drop. In other words, whether you’re an ecommerce merchant or not, you should probably think about making the switch sooner rather than later.