In an increasingly competitive and challenging market, an online presence is vital for any business, big or small. While the big ones have dedicated IT and online marketing staff to handle the technicalities and logistics of an online presence, the situation is very different for smaller organizations. The success of a website is judged by the amount of traffic it generates. That success is based on a wide range of technical factors. Without the luxury of a dedicated online market department, the management of a small business cannot deal with-an example is that of data security.
Over the years, the amount of user/personal data being stored online has grown exponentially. The security of this information is a major issue, and 2 out of 3 internet users feel that the current levels of security are not good enough. It was for this reason that HTTPS came into existence. A user may be connected to a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) web page, which is not secure. To address the security issues, Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) was developed. HTTPS uses Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate to keep traffic between a web server and a browser secure. SSL is like a padlock - even if data is intercepted, the hacker will not be able to read it without the SSL key.
On the surface, HTTPS is the way to go. It seems evident that anything that increases online data security is good. So why do so few websites use it? Should you move your website from HTTP to HTTPS?
The Debate Goes On
In 2014, Google announced that HTTPS would be a factor in rankings. When Google pushes a technical feature, it is usually enough to get everyone on board. However, in this case, it has not been so. Today, just under 2% of the top 1 million websites redirect users to a default HTTPS/SSL page. Overall, under 0.1% of all websites offer users the increased security of HTTPS. Furthermore, surveys of webmasters show that over half of them do not have any plans of switching over to HTTPS in the foreseeable future. The argument appears that even with Google backing, 99% of global searches do not take HTTPS into account so it is not that important.
A look at some of the positives and negatives of moving to HTTPS will highlight a few of the pros and cons.
- Leading browsers like Chrome and Firefox warn users when they visit an HTTP site. For example, Chrome uses an "i" icon on the top left corner to replace the padlock, and it signifies a secure page. However, tapping on the icon causes a "Not Secure" warning to appear. This may cause users to hesitate before revealing any personal information.
- An SSL certificate is just one of the factors that go into SEO. However, that does not mean that it can be ignored.
- The internet is a dynamic entity that is open to sudden and rapid change. The increasing focus on data security for businesses, customers, and other stakeholders drives a shift towards HTTPS. A sudden surge in data breaches could trigger an avalanche of change towards HTTPS, and those who are not in a position to switch quickly could get left behind.
- Although Google has said that it will prefer the HTTPS version of a webpage, that does not mean the HTTP pages will be ignored.
- With both HTTP and HTTPS versions of a page available, there could be duplication issues with different versions coming up in search engine results, leading to visitor confusion and a negative user experience. The web developer needs to take away all HTTP versions and leave only the HTTPS versions. It is a bit time-consuming for large websites.
- An SSL certificate is needed for HTTPS. While getting one for free, if it is obtained from a leading provider, the costs start from $30 to $75 per annum.
There are many more factors that must be taken into account when deciding to switch to HTTPS.
Should You Switch to HTTPS?
There are 2 key factors to consider.
- Making the switch from HTTP to HTTPS only for SEO does not make sense right now. In addition, HTTPS is a resource-intensive process and may strain the managing of a small business.
- However, if you are a start-up, then it makes sense to go with HTTPS from the get-go. This way, you will start with the latest technology and will not have to worry about change or upgrading soon.
The decision to switch to HTTPS or not involves several complex operational, technical, and financial issues. The only way to make the right decision is to have the guidance of an organization specializing in setting up and maintaining websites of all types, from simple one-page sites to the most complex eCommerce portals. Suppose this company is focused and has experience in working with small businesses. In that case, it will have the hands-on experience to give you the advice and guidance you need to make the right decisions and, once that is done, provide the support required to make the online presence an ongoing success.