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HTTP vs HTTPS: Differences and Effects on SEO

by Patrick D
HTTP vs HTTPS Best Practices

Web security is essential to both business owners and their users. Accessing “unsecure” web pages (HTTP) exposes users to cybercriminals and webmasters to loss of revenue and SERP rankings.

It’s common knowledge that every webpage should be HTTPS-secured. But there are special cases where having an HTTP website without an SSL certificate is enough, or even better. In this article, we examine the core differences between HTTP vs HTTPS, their qualities, and how they affect SEO.

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What is HTTP?

Hypertext Transfer Protocol or HTTP is the protocol we use to transfer data over the web. It defines the commands and services used to send webpage data.

When you go to a website, your browser sends a request to the corresponding web server, and the web server responds with an HTTP status code. If the URL is valid and the connection is established, the server will send the webpage and related files to your browser.

You might have seen these HTML statuses after entering an URL:

200: Indicates a successful request (the webpage exists)

301 –– this page has been moved permanently (often forwarded to a new URL)

401 –– Unauthorized request (401) (authorization required)

403 –– Prohibited (access is not allowed to the page or directory)

500: Internal server error 500 (often caused by an incorrect server configuration)

HTTP also defines commands like the GET and POST, used on websites to handle form submissions.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS is an acronym for HyperText Transport Protocol Secure, the same as HTTP, but it encrypts data with a secure socket layer (SSL). Banking and investment websites, e-commerce websites, and most websites that require you to log in all use HTTPS.

The data transfer between your browser and websites that use standard HTTP is unencrypted. This means that anyone can eavesdrop on the information being transferred between you and the Web server. While this is highly unlikely, it is unsettling to think that someone can intercept your credit card number or other personal information entered on a website.

Secure websites use the HTTPS protocol to encrypt data sent back and forth with SSL encryption. Therefore, data transferred via HTTPS would be unrecognizable if it were intercepted.

You can tell if a website is secure by looking at the URL in your browser’s address field. You’ll know you’re on a secure website if the address begins with HTTPS://. Most browsers will also show a lock icon somewhere along the window’s edge to indicate that the website you’re on is secure. You can view the security certificate that authenticates the website by clicking the lock icon.

Difference between HTTP and HTTPS

HTTPS uses the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol, previously known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), to encrypt sensitive data to prevent it from being altered or corrupted during transmission. It’s also used to authenticate certain users to communicate with the website.

Essentially, HTTPS secures data transfers between a user and a website server by generating short-term session keys or encryption codes. And a  certificate authority like DigiCert Inc or Symantec must certify these security keys.

HTTPS is now the industry standard for all websites. Unlike HTTP, HTTPS has been endorsed by Google and is required for many advanced features such as progressive web applications.

HTTP vs HTTPS: Which is better for SEO?

When comparing the main differences between HTTP and HTTPS, HTTPS clearly has the upper hand. Wouldn’t you want your website to be as safe as possible? But suppose you don’t have an e-commerce site and don’t require potentially sensitive information from your visitors. In that case, you might think that switching to an HTTPS site isn’t necessary and is more trouble than it’s worth.

However, the security advantage isn’t the only advantage of using HTTPS. Switching to HTTPS can help you improve your SEO efforts. Here are a few examples of how HTTPS can help you improve your SEO:

HTTPS is better for your website rankings

If you’re wondering if HTTPS is good for SEO, the answer is yes. Google ranks secure websites higher in its SERP. Websites that use HTTPS also have lower bounce rates and higher conversion rates.  Before you start cooperating with ad networks as an advertiser or a publisher, make sure they provide you with a fully-fledged security system: from SSL connection to in-house malware monitoring algorithms.


Adsterra provides its publishers a safe self-service platform to get and manage ad codes. We use secured servers and SSL data transmission.

Using HTTPS builds trust

Browsers like Chrome warn users when visiting a website using HTTP, and because they’re not secure, visitors leave immediately. This high bounce rate affects your SEO negatively because it indicates a poor user experience (UX). On the other hand, when users visit a website that uses HTTPS, search engines indicate that the website is secure. Users are more likely to interact with a website if they see these safety signals.

Referral data with HTTPS is clearer

Aside from the security benefit, HTTPS provides better insight into referral data, which HTTP does not. If your website is still using HTTP and you use Google Analytics (GA), referral traffic may appear as “direct” traffic. With HTTPS, you can see where your traffic is coming from in greater detail. As a result, you’ll be able to develop more effective marketing strategies.

HTTPS enables AMP pages

You’ll need HTTPS if you want to use AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages).

Google created AMP as a way to load content for mobile device users much more quickly. AMP is essentially a stripped-down version of HTML. AMP pages are predominantly displayed on Google’s SERPs to provide a better mobile experience for smartphone and tablet users.

Switching to HTTPS is a must if creating a mobile-friendly website is important to you. And it should be, given the growing importance of mobile search rankings.

How to convert HTTP to HTTPS

It’s finally time to make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS. Although switching to HTTPS requires a few steps, it is not tricky –– just time-consuming. Even if you lack technical expertise, the process is pretty simple. Here’s what to do:

1. Prepare for the conversion

Plan ahead of time by scheduling it when your website is less busy. Make sure your team is aware of the change, as there may be some downtime.

2. Purchase and install an SSL certificate

The next step is to purchase an SSL certificate once you’re ready to convert. You can usually purchase one from your website host. They can also set it up for you and configure it. Your web host should install and configure your SSL certificate once you’ve purchased it. If they don’t, you can quickly generate keys from the seller and paste them into the c/panel.

3. Enable HTTPS

Your website’s size determines how difficult your migration will be. If you have a large website, you may want to do it in stages, starting with subdomains that contain critical content.

4. Setup 301 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS

301 redirects inform search engines that your site has changed and index it according to the new protocols. You can automatically redirect traffic from servers to your new HTTPS protocol if you use a CMS. You’ll have to do manual 301 redirects if you don’t use a CMS.

Manually setting up 301 redirects in your root folder by editing the.htaccess file and adding:

RewriteEngine On

RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off

RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [R=301,L]

Make sure to add the new site to Google Search Console and verify it after you’ve successfully migrated it from HTTP to HTTPS.

HTTP vs HTTPS: Frequently asked questions

What is an HTTP request and response?

HTTP and all HTTP-based extended protocols use a straightforward communications model. The server transmits and submits an HTTP request; the server processes the request and then returns a response containing the request’s status information.

Use of HTTP requests to connect a client or application to a server.

What is HTTP/2?

HTTP/2 is an update to HTTP/1.1 based on SPDY, a network protocol created by Google to make the web faster.

HTTP/2 is an improvement over HTTP because it employs multiplexing. Multiplexing refers to opening a communication line only once, allowing the sending of multiple files simultaneously.

The benefits of HTTP/2 include increased efficiency, security, and speed, making it a viable alternative protocol. HTTP/2 is also more SEO-friendly than HTTP/1.

How does TLS / SSL encrypt HTTP requests and responses?

SSL/TLS certificates work by tying a cryptographic key to a company’s identifying information digitally. It enables them to encrypt data transfers in a way that prevents third parties from decrypting them.

SSL/TLS uses both a private and public key and session keys for each secure session. The browser and the web server establish a connection when visitors type an SSL-secured address into their browser or navigate a secure page.

While using public and private keys to create a session key during the initial connection, which will be used in encrypting and decrypting the transferred data, this session key will remain valid for a limited time and for that particular session.

Is HTTPS secure?

Absolutely. HTTPS is more secure than HTTP because the server is secure and encrypts your data. You can also verify a website’s legitimacy by checking its security certificate.

What are the different types of SSL/TLS certificates

1. Domain Validation: Domain validation verifies that the person requesting a certificate is the legitimate owner of the domain name. This type of validation can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

2. Organization Validation: The Certification Authority verifies the domain’s ownership and the identity of the domain’s owners. It requests an owner’s ID proof document to verify their identity.

3. Extended Validation: The highest level of validation is extended validation. It includes domain ownership verification, owner identification, and proof of business registration.

Can you use both HTTP and HTTPS?

In practice, both HTTP and HTTPS are acceptable. You can load some resources over HTTPS and others over HTTP.

Mixed content refers to the use of both HTTP and HTTPS to serve content on the same page. The communication is secure because sending the initial request is over HTTPS.

However, loading some pages over HTTP compromises security and exposes you to man-in-the-middle attacks. These occur when a malicious agent discovers a flaw and uses it to eavesdrop and steal information from your website or users.

As a result, while you can use both HTTP and HTTPS simultaneously, most browsers are starting to block websites that contain mixed content. Given Google’s support for an all-HTTPS internet, you’d be better off switching to HTTPS entirely.

Can HTTPS be hacked?

Although HTTPS adds an extra layer of security to a website, it isn’t invincible to hackers.

Conclusion

Not only will you want to safeguard potentially sensitive information, but you’ll also want to ensure that your visitors are at ease while browsing your site.

Switching from HTTP to HTTPS is a good idea for these reasons alone. When you consider the impact on your SEO, switching to HTTPS becomes a no-brainer.

If you haven’t yet switched your website to HTTPS, now is the time to do so. Yes, there are many steps to take, but the effort will be well worth it in the end.

HTTPS has already become the industry standard, which means that the longer you wait, the more you fall behind your competitors.

If you’ve already switched your website to HTTPS, keep in mind that this is just the start of improving your website’s SEO. However, HTTPS configuration is only one of the factors that affect your ranking. You should also consider how your content and website compare to the top 10 pages in the SERPs.

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