A couple of days ago, Google announced that it would favor sites that encrypt via HTTPS. Should people with websites — including smaller sites — be doing something about it? The answer is yes, and here’s why.
What is HTTPS?
You may have noticed that when you use certain sites, especially major sites like Google and Facebook, and financial and e-commerce sites, a padlock icon appears. If you’re a keen observer, you may have also noticed that the first letters of the web address (URL) changed, adding an “s” to the “http://” that precedes most website addresses.
The “s” stands for secure. It means traffic between you and the website is encrypted. If someone out there (say, at the coffeeshop or hotel whose wifi you’re using) intercepts network data, it is much less likely they can listen in.
While using HTTPS on large sites that handle financial transactions is obviously important, the Internet community would really like to see it used everywhere because the bad guys are piecing together small bits of data (such as where you live) and use it to gain greater access.
What Google is doing
Google says it will elevate search results for sites that use HTTPS. What does that mean? If someone is searching for your product and your competitor is using HTTPS and you are not, your competitor is more likely to appear higher on the page, assuming all other factors are equal.
It probably will be a small advantage at first but it’s likely to become more significant, given how Google addressed page speed. Years ago, Google announced they’d give preference to faster sites. That advantage started small but over the years, it became greater. Then, as now, Google was using its power to encourage website owners to make the web better, and to deliver better sites to their users. I’d wager that they will do the same thing for encrypted sites and increase the incentive as time goes on.
What should you do?
If you manage a commercial site of any size, add HTTPS. It’s not a do it yourself activity, for most people. Your webhost or the techies who built your site should know how.