What exactly is the difference between HTTP vs HTTPS?
HTTP has been used by websites since the inception of the public Internet. However, in 2014, Google put out a strong recommendation that all websites switch from HTTP to HTTPS.
Up until that point, it was mostly only e-commerce businesses that were employing HTTPS on their sites.
To incentivize as many website owners as possible to make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS, Google announced that it would give sites using HTTPS a bump up in search engine rankings. This ultimately worked to punish websites that didn’t make the switch, by giving a competitive edge in search results to sites that did.
But why exactly was it so important to Google that website owners make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS? Is it actually worth the trouble to do it?
What are the differences between HTTP vs HTTPS? Will using HTTPS positively impact the SEO efforts on your site?
In this guide, you’ll learn the answers to all of these questions. You’ll also walk away with a much greater understanding of the differences between HTTP vs HTTPS.
Let’s take a look.
The Basics of HTTP vs HTTPS
Obviously, the first thing to understand is what HTTP and HTTPS are. It would be difficult to know the impact of switching from HTTP to HTTPS, or how to best choose between using one or the other, without first having a general understanding of each.
What is HTTP?
HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. At its core, HTTP allows different systems to communicate with each other. HTTP is mostly used to transfer data packets from web servers to web browsers so that end users are able to view websites and web pages.
HTTP is the data protocol that was used for almost every known website in the early days of the Internet.
What Is HTTPS?
HTTPS is the acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. The biggest issue with the standard HTTP Internet protocol is that all information that goes from a web server to a web browser is unencrypted.
Unencrypted data can easily be stolen.
The HTTPS protocol works to remedy this security issue by using what’s called an SSL (security sockets layer) certificate. The SSL certificate’s job is to create secure and encrypted connections between web servers and web browsers. This helps protect sensitive information from being stolen by hackers as the information gets transferred between servers and browsers.
The Main Difference Between HTTP vs HTTPS
The key difference between HTTP vs HTTPS is the use of an SSL certificate. HTTPS is really the same exact protocol as HTTP, but with the added security of the SSL certificate.
And the added layer of security is extremely important for website owners. This is especially true if your site takes sensitive user data, such as passwords, credit card information, bank account info, phone numbers, or email addresses.
But how exactly does HTTPS work?
When you employ an SSL certificate on your website, it immediately begins to encrypt all of the information that your users provide on your site. Basically, it translates the data into code. And even if a hacker or malicious attacker managed to steal the data that’s being communicated between the user’s browser and your web server, all they’d see would be the encrypted code.
They wouldn’t have access to the sensitive data your users share on your site.
What’s more, beyond adding this much-needed layer of security on your site, HTTPS is also fully secured with TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol. This helps to maintain the integrity of data, which prevents transferred data from being corrupted or modified.
TLS also provides website authentication, which allows your users to know that they are communicating with the website they intended on.
For users, it’s easy to determine if a website is secured by HTTPS or not. All they need to do is look at the first part of a web address (before www) and see if the site is using HTTPS or HTTP protocols.
Remember, the biggest difference between HTTP and HTTPS is that HTTPS is employing the use of an SSL certificate for encrypted data exchanges. HTTP is not secured with an SSL certificate and is much more open to hackers stealing sensitive information.
And with the additional TLS protocol that HTTP doesn’t have, it’s obvious that HTTPS is the much more secure option.
HTTP vs HTTPS: Which One Is Better?
Once you have an understanding of the biggest difference between HTTP and HTTPS, it becomes obvious that the secure option is the better option of the two. After all, every responsible WordPress site owner wants to run as secure of a site as possible. Not only will it help keep your users safe, but it can help you avoid the devastation that a data hack will have on your website and business.
But what if you’re running a site that doesn’t include e-commerce sales? What if your site doesn’t have any functions or activities that ask for and accept sensitive information from your site visitors?
Maybe you’re just running a WordPress blog and you never ask your users to put in any information at all?
If this is you, you may be thinking that making the switch from HTTP to HTTPS isn’t really necessary. It may seem like more hassle than it’s worth to go through the steps of becoming an HTTPS site.
But remember, the advantages in security protocols aren’t the only benefits of running an HTTPS site. When you make the switch, you’ll end up immediately boosting your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts as well.
Here are several key ways that making the switch to HTTPS can improve SEO and drive more qualified users to your site:
Increased Site Rankings
Successful website owners know that to improve site traffic, they need to improve their SEO. And if you’re wondering if HTTPS will help or hurt your SEO rankings, the answer is that it is absolutely needed if you want to improve your SEO.
In fact, changing your site from HTTP to HTTPS is the very first step you should take.
The fact of the matter is that Google very rarely promotes HTTP sites to the front page of search results anymore. And if a site doesn’t land on the front page of keyword search results, the chances are that not a lot of people will find it and click on it.
In 2021 and beyond, it’s nearly impossible to do SEO the right way if you’re running an HTTP site. Google simply won’t promote your content ahead of sites running HTTPS.
What’s more, today’s Internet users are savvier than ever before. Most now pay attention to whether or not a site is secured with HTTPS or not. This is especially true on sites where users provide sensitive information.
Thus, by running an HTTPS site, you’ll immediately gain the confidence of your users that you’re running a secure and encrypted site. This makes them more likely to click on your links, which drives up your click-through rates.
Over time, higher click-through rate sites are more heavily promoted by Google’s search engine results pages.
If you’re just starting your WordPress site, the first thing you should do is commit to running it as an HTTPS site. It will be difficult to compete with the competition if you don’t.
Preserved Referrer Data
To improve your site SEO, it’s important to understand who’s using your site and where they’re coming from. When you use HTTPS, immediately Google Analytics becomes more effective.
This happens because the SSL security data of every website that directly refers to yours (via a click-thru) is saved when you’re using HTTPS. With an HTTP site, this data isn’t saved and all of your referral sources in Google Analytics will appear as “direct traffic.”
This added feature alone gives using HTTPS over HTTP a huge advantage when it comes to understanding your site traffic and perfecting SEO.
Builds Trust From Your Users
When you use HTTPS, all of your site communication is completely encrypted. Your site users will have built-in protection of their sensitive information, such as credit card info and passwords.
Even their browsing history on your site is encrypted.
When your users know that their information is safe on your site, it’ll be much easier for you to capture new leads and close sales.
Using HTTPS also helps to protect your site against security breaches that can damage your reputation and cost you thousands of dollars to repair.
And while HTTPS does do a lot for site security by encrypting data, it won’t protect against other types of vulnerabilities. To fully lock down your site security, you’ll also want to download and install a WordPress security plugin like iThemes Security Pro.
Create AMP Pages
If you want to take advantage of the popularity of mobile, you’ll want to use Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). And to do that, you’ll need to run an HTTPS site.
Created by Google, AMP is a way to have your content loaded onto mobile devices at an incredibly fast rate. You can think of AMP as a stripped-down version of HTML. Content on AMP is prominently featured on Google search engine result pages to help create a better experience for users on tablets and smartphones.
If it’s important to you to have a mobile-friendly website, switching to HTTPS and using AMP is a must.
How To Avoid Potential SEO Issues When You Switch To HTTPS
As you can see, there are a lot of benefits to switching from HTTP to HTTPS. However, there are a couple of problems that you might run into.
To prevent any issues related to your SEO when switching over, make sure that you:
1. Let Google Know That You’ve Made the Switch
There isn’t any kind of auto-notification that goes out to Google when you switch from HTTP to HTTPS. Because of this, you likely won’t see any rankings boost until they crawl your site again.
If you don’t notify Google right away that you’ve made the change, it may take a while before a crawler crawls your site.
2. Pay Attention to the Type of Certificate You Use
There are several different kinds of certificates you can use when you secure your site with HTTPS. These are known as Single Domain, Multiple Domain, and Wildcard SSL certificates.
Single Domain certificates are used for only one subdomain or domain. Multiple Domain certificates, also known as Unified Communications certificates, will allow you to secure your primary domain and up to 99 more Subject Alternative Names.
A Wildcard certificate will allow you to secure your URL as well as as many subdomains as you’d like.
3. Don’t Prevent Google From Crawling Your Site
If Google can’t access your robots.txt file to receive clear instructions on how to crawl your site, it will hurt your ability to improve SEO and drop your SEO ranking.
In most instances, this happens when a site owner forgets to update a test server to allow for bots.
4. Allow Search Engines To Index Your Site Pages
All site owners have an option to discourage search engines from indexing pages. But doing so will damage your SEO efforts because all of your page rankings will be wiped clean as soon as Google isn’t able to properly index the pages.
And it will take quite some time to regain those rankings.
5. Remain Vigilant When Tracking Your HTTP to HTTPS Migration
The best way to do this is by utilizing Google Webmaster Tools to ensure that your migration goes smoothly and that there isn’t any unexplained lost traffic.
It’s best to catch any hiccups early in the process before they impact your site’s SEO.
How To Change From HTTP to HTTPS In WordPress
The first thing you’ll need to do is secure an SSL certificate for your site. You’ll find that the requirements for owning an SSL certificate for your WordPress site aren’t very high. All you’ll need to do is buy one if you don’t already have one available for free.
The fact is that most of the best WordPress site hosts offer SSL certificates to their customers for free.
After you’ve enabled the SSL certificate on your chosen domain, you’ll need to set WordPress up for using SSL and HTTPS protocols on your site.
While there are manual ways that you can do this, the simplest way is by using a WordPress plugin that will walk you through the process.
One of the best plugin options for this is called Really Simple SSL. To begin, simply download and install the plugin. Once you activate it, navigate within the plugin to Settings > SSL page.
At this point, the plugin is smart enough to automatically detect the presence of your SSL certificate. It then works to set your WordPress site up to use HTTPS.
It will take care of the entire process, including dealing with mixed content errors which can be difficult to find when you manually perform the migration.
Here’s what the Really Simple SSL plugin will do:
- Check and verify your SSL certificate
- Set up WordPress to use HTTPS rather than HTTP on all your site’s URLs
- Set up redirects of HTTP links to HTTPS
- Seek out site URLs that still load from HTTP sources and fix them
The Really Simple SSL plugin works to fix your mixed content errors by employing a unique output buffering technique. This can, potentially, negatively impact site performance as it replaces content on your site during page loads. But the negative impact will only be seen on the initial page load and will be minimal if you have a caching plugin running on your site.
It’s important to note that the plugin advises that you can safely continue to run HTTPS on your site even if you decide to deactivate the plugin.
But that’s not 100% accurate.
If you should decide to deactivate the plugin, your mixed content errors will immediately reappear.
HTTPS Is the Best Way To Go
There are a number of reasons why you want to run HTTPS on your site rather than HTTP.
One of the most important reasons is that you want to protect the sensitive information of yourself and your site users. But you also want to make sure that your site users are confident about security and authenticity when they land on your site.
And while those reasons alone are enough to run HTTPS on your site, it becomes a no-brainer once you understand how making the switch will positively impact your SEO.
If you’ve yet to make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS, there’s no better time than now to get the ball rolling. It’s not that difficult to do, and you’ll be glad that you did it.
Kathryn Lang believes it is simple, and as an award-winning author and natural-born hopesmith, she shares tips on how to find your why, pursue your purpose, and live a bold, intentional life – always with a dash of twisted encouragement.