When marketers discuss Search Engine Optimization (SEO) with you, they often focus on customer-facing elements such as choosing the right keywords for a business. They will also recommend certain website design elements such as mobile responsiveness, which is a website’s ability to easily adapt to different size screens (ex. desktops, smart phones, tablets) so that all content, images, menus and Call-To-Action buttons are clearly visible and functional. These necessary SEO elements are pretty easy to explain to non-marketers but there are also some important technical SEO elements that are much more difficult to define and demonstrate to folks who don’t spend every day in the SEO world.
One of these tech-based, behind-the-scenes elements is a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate which is critical for your SEO rankings. Although an SSL certificate sounds like complex tech jargon, don’t worry! In the following article, we’ll explain what an SSL certificate is, why it’s necessary and why it’s very important for your website’s SEO.
SSL Certificates Explained
Although it’s been superseded by the updated, more secure Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificate, most folks still commonly refer to this technology as SSL. The job of the SSL/TLS is to make sure that your internet connection is secure and that the information being passed between two systems cannot be read or modified by criminals and hackers. An SSL certificate does this by encrypting and scrambling all of the data so that it is impossible for hackers and criminals to access it as it’s being sent between two systems. This is especially important for any websites that collect customer’s credit card information during purchases, process payroll, place orders and reservations, handle healthcare records or appointments, and many more instances.
Websites with a valid SSL certificate are identifiable by a Uniform Resource Locator (URL or what we commonly call a web address) that begins with HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). To see the details of the certificate, visitors can click on the lock symbol that is shown in the browser bar. Without a valid SSL certificate, not only is your customers’ personal and financial information in danger of being compromised, your website’s SEO rankings could greatly suffer.
SSL Is Crucial for SEO
These days it’s pretty obvious to most everyone that Google dominates the search engine landscape. They’re the number one resource when folks are searching for everything from product information and store hours to song lyrics and sports scores. That being the case, when Google makes a change to an existing SEO guideline or sets a new SEO standard, every website needs to follow these rules in order to maintain and grow their SEO. Failure to abide by Google standards means a website may end up in the hinterlands of SEO where no one looks.
One of Google’s main standards for SEO is a website’s ability to verify their trustworthiness. In recent years, Google’s algorithm has made HTTPS a priority in its searches. Websites and pages with HTTPS and a valid SSL certificate will be given more SEO authority by Google because they ensure visitors and customers that their privacy and information is safe and secure from hackers when they visit these validated websites. Sites without a valid SSL certificate will be deemed untrustworthy by Google and will receive very low rankings – or may not rank at all.
Free SSL Certificates vs. Paid SSL Certificates
Since having a valid SSL certificate is practically mandatory for website security and SEO rankings, it’s time to determine which type of SSL certificate, Paid or Free, is right for your business.
Many popular web hosting services like Flywheel include a Free SSL certificate in their low-cost plans. Although Free SSL certificates sound great (especially if you’re working with a limited budget) they only provide domain validation which demonstrates that the website is legitimately owned by the respective company or business. Free SSL certificates are still very useful for SEO purposes but they are not ideal for e-commerce sites or any website that handles confidential information. The good news is that if you have a Free SSL certificate you can easily upgrade to a Paid SSL certificate that offers greater security.
Other web hosting providers like GoDaddy offer tiered-pricing for their Paid SSL certificates. Prices can range from $56 a year for very basic SSL certificates to $275 a year for SSL certificates that offer much more rigorous validation checks. It’s best to review each plan’s list of benefits to determine which one, if any, match your business and website needs.
What Do I Do If I Have an Expired SSL Certificate
If you have a SSL certificate but your website says “Not Secure” in the browser window, then there’s a good chance your certificate has expired. If you’re using a Free SSL certificate with Flywheel (or another hosting provider that includes them) you never have to worry about expired certificates as it’s set up already and your hosting provider will automatically renew it quarterly. So you don’t need to do anything!
If you’re using hosting with a Paid SSL certificate via GoDaddy or a similar service, you may have unknowingly let your certificate renewal lapse. To renew your expired Paid SSL certificate, you should contact the third-party issuer to renew the expired certificate. This renewal will generate a new file that needs to be installed at a server level so this new file should be sent to your web hosting support team to be installed properly. The installation of a renewed Paid SSL certificate can take anywhere from a few days to a week, so it’s a good idea to set a reminder when your SSL certificate expires so you can stay ahead of it and prevent any down time.
Now you know what an SSL certificate is and why it’s important for SEO rankings, keeping your website secure and protecting your customers privacy. Plus, you learned the difference between Free and Paid SSL certificates, how to purchase one if necessary and how to address expired SSL certificate issues.
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