Google Says Website Encryption – Or Lack Thereof – Will Now Influence Search Rankings

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Google will begin using website encryption, or HTTPS, as a ranking signal – a move which should prompt website developers who have dragged their heels on increased security measures, or who debated whether their website was “important” enough to require encryption, to make a change. Initially, HTTPS will only be a lightweight signal, affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, says Google.

That means that the new signal won’t carry as much weight as other factors, including the quality of the content, the search giant noted, as Google means to give webmasters time to make the switch to HTTPS.

Over time, however, encryption’s effect on search ranking make strengthen, as the company places more importance on website security.

Google also promises to publish a series of best practices around TLS (HTTPS, is also known as HTTP over TLS, or Transport Layer Security) so website developers can better understand what they need to do in order to implement the technology and what mistakes they should avoid. These tips will include things like what certificate type is needed, how to use relative URLs for resources on the same secure domain, best practices around allowing for site indexing, and more.

In addition, website developers can test their current HTTPS-enabled website using the Qualys Lab tool, says Google, and can direct further questions to Google’s Webmaster Help Forums where the company is already in active discussions with the broader community.

The announcement has drawn a lot of feedback from website developers and those in the SEO industry – for instance, Google’s own blog post on the matter, shared in the early morning hours on Thursday, is already nearing 1,000 comments. For the most part, the community seems to support the change, or at least acknowledge that they felt that something like this was in the works and are not surprised.

Google itself has been making moves to better securing its own traffic in recent months, which have included encrypting traffic between its own servers. Gmail now always uses an encrypted HTTPS connection which keeps mail from being snooped on as it moves from a consumer’s machine to Google’s data centers.

While HTTPS and site encryption have been a best practice in the security community for years, the revelation that the NSA has been tapping the cables, so to speak, to mine user information directly has prompted many technology companies to consider increasing their own security measures, too. Yahoo, for example, also announced in November its plans to encrypt its data center traffic.

Now Google is helping to push the rest of the web to do the same.