Google to begin factoring HTTPS encryption in search rankings

In a move to promote better online security practices, Google has announced that it will start using website encryption as a ranking signal. While encryption will be a lightweight signal at first – affecting less than 1% of global queries initially – the move by the search giant likely forecasts lower search rankings for sites that fail to make the security update.

Website encryption is normally depicted with a padlock in the URL bar and https://at the beginning of a URL. This step by Google is designed to motivate developers to employ HTTPS – or TLS (Transport Layer Security) which uses digital certificates to encrypt traffic and secure information shared over the domain. Google hopes to have everyone   on the web using HTTPS on their website.

How does Google rank?Security

Google scans web pages with its spiders. These spiders take into account certain aspects of each website – such as user engagement, quality of content and density of ads per page — to determine where it will appear in its search rankings. Encryption characteristics have been added to its list, but for now it is a soft implementation, according to Zineb Ait Bahajji and Gary Illyes, both Webmaster Trends Analysts at Google. The soft implementation is designed to give webmasters time to switch their sites over to HTTPS.

All reputable websites that deal in sensitive, personal data use encryption already. However, some of these same websites downgrade to an unencrypted connection after the initial access, creating a hole for a middle man to attack. Adding this attribute to rank scores should help patch those holes up.

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What do I need to do?

For small businesses, rolling out encrypted connections will be a fairly easy task for your web developer and Google’s Webmaster Tools provides the  steps for a site move. For larger businesses whose websites run on multiple servers, the task will be more involved. LinkedIn and Instagram have both discovered middle man issues and are still working to upgrade their entire network.

Webmasters can test their HTTPS websites using the Qualys Lab tool. You can also stay up-to-date with Google web trends here.