Google’s recent announcement that it will start giving page-ranking priority to sites that offer HTTPS is being lauded for its support of end users’ online security, and rightly so. But switching to HTTPS in the hopes that rankings as a whole will automatically increase may prove to be detrimental to your site. Before you or your webmaster rush to adopt this encryption, keep in mind what else may change when you do:
- Costs. While they’re not exorbitant, there are monthly or annual costs associated with having a domain with transport layer encryption. Fees for SSL services vary, and some website hosts include SSL services in hosting packages.
- Site speed. HTTPS has a somewhat higher overhead to serve pages than HTTP, so some sites could load more slowly. Site speed is not only important to users — it’s also a ranking signal. Verify your server resources and determine your site’s particular trade-off between the benefits of HTTPS and potential loss of speed. Google is also investing in limiting the overhead that HTTPS requires.
- Link juice. If HTTPS isn’t correctly set up, you could lose the link juice of links that currently point to the HTTP version of your site.
- Social signals. Also make sure that social proof signals flow through to the new corresponding HTTPS URLs.
Google said in its announcement that it may decide to increase the weight of this signal in the future, which is a strong statement coming from them. All webmasters should do their research on how to implement SSL on their sites and to gauge whether it’s a worthwhile move. I think it’s likely that we’ll see a net loss in rankings for some webmasters who don’t take the time to consider the ramifications.