In 2011 the search engine giant moved its own Gmail service to a secure HTTPS connection by default.
Three years later and Google has just announced that from now on it will give preferential treatment to other pages that use HTTPS. Google decided to use this as a ranking signal after seeing positive effects during a recent testing phase.
HTTPS encryption makes websites harder to hack by scrambling data between the website servers and the user’s device. You’ll likely have noticed a little padlock icon that appears on some websites, this signifies a secure connection. The system is already used by many websites, and following this announcement we are certain to see their numbers increase.
Encryption is essential and makes total sense for many applications such as shopping and email, but what impact will this change have on other websites? Some web masters are concerned that this will mean they are forced to spend additional time and money in order to compete.
Jason Hart from SafeNet said “Previously organisations have shied away from encryption due to fears of slowing website response times, but there are now high speed encryption technologies available that mean cost and speed need no longer be an issue. So there really is no excuse for any data to be transmitted or stored in plain text.”
“Every company wants to rank favourable on Google, so it’s in their best interests to ensure web pages are encrypted.”
Putting some minds at rest, Google has stated that (at least for now) HTTPS encryption will not play a crucial role in how websites are ranked. Google’s algorithm currently looks at more than 200 signals to rank websites, these are constantly reviewed and revised in the search engine’s quest for the perfect ranking system.
“For now it’s only a very lightweight signal – affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high quality content – while we give web masters time to switch to HTTPS” Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji and Gary Illyes said in a Google blog post.
“But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone on the web safe.”
From a user perspective, more encryption is welcomed, thanks partly to the revelations of Edward Snowden and the growing rate of cyber crime in general.