Way back in August 2014 Google announced that serving your website over a secure connection – HTTPS – is now a ranking factor.
SEO companies in London essentially responded by saying “I got 99 strategies and this ain’t one”. Because at the time there was a million things you could do to improve your rankings in SERPs that were better than adding TLS to your web server.
But recently many of our clients have been interested in HTTPS and have taken the decision to implement it.
This post isn’t about whether you should do it or not. There are case studies to say it has a positive impact on search visibility, and there are cases where it has a negative effect, albeit usually short lived. But we’re not going to go into that here – this is for those who have already decided to go secure and want a simple way to tick the boxes on potential issues associated with the switch.
It’s designed to be an exhaustive list, so not all points will apply to your own websites, but please give us a shout in the comments if you think there’s something we’ve missed! Hopefully it can be a resource that keeps developing. We’d also love to hear your case studies and cock-ups too, just for fun.
Some of the points here aren’t necessarily going to have a direct impact on search visibility, but are more centred around usability and ensuring the dreaded “Insecure content warning” isn’t displayed when users navigate to your new HTTPS website. Which, by the way, Google is now warning you about in Search Console.
HTTPS Changeover Check-list
Update core website template links
If your website template/structure doesn’t use relative URLs (WordPress doesn’t for example), then you’ll need to update these to the new HTTPS version.
Redirect all HTTP traffic
You’ll need to redirect all user requests for HTTP pages to the new HTTPS version so that it’s not possible for users to navigate to an unsecured URL. Use server side 301 redirects here to preserve link equity.
Modify current .htaccess redirects
To make sure you’re not creating redirect chains or causing any other mess, you’ll want to update your .htaccess file to make sure URLs being redirected are now pointing to HTTPS versions of the final pages.
Ensure site is completely secure
Having an “Insecure content warning” presented to users when they navigate to your website can make your site seem less trustworthy and discourage them to continue. Not good. You’ll want to ensure that resources being served from external sources are secure. This could include content or ads from CDNs, third party analytics tools that don’t force SSL (most do), and embedded widgets. You might also want to update cookies to (mentioned below).
Change canonical tags
If your website uses canonical tags, you’ll need to ensure that they point to the new versions of your URLs with HTTPS included. This ensures you are not sending crawlers to redirects when it’s not necessary.
Your Robots.txt will need to be updated to include new HTTPS URLs to avoid any potential errors that may occur, such as your sitemap reference. It’s mostly unlikely there will be issues here, but you better double check.
Update your sitemap
Update your sitemap to contain new HTTPS URLs to make sure Google is able to understand your site structure.
Create a new search console property
Unfortunately you’ll need to create a new Search Console (AKA Webmaster Tools) property and account for the new HTTPS version of the site. Along with this, you’ll need to submit your new sitemap in the new account (leave the old one in the old account, and leave the old account active) and also resubmit your disavow file if you have one. You don’t need to use the ‘change of address’ tool when moving to HTTPS.
Use relative path names
Using relative link paths can be very useful here, particularly with things like images, as it makes sure that changing over to HTTPS doesn’t affect them. Some content management systems use absolute URLs as default, so just check this stuff.
Update Google Analytics
It’s important to make sure your Google Analytics account is still measuring everything correctly, otherwise you’ll lose valuable data. Filters, goals, advanced segments, tag manager tags & triggers, Analytics account domain, will all need to be updated to reflect the new HTTPS URL.
Update cookies and set secure flag to make sure cookies are sent over HTTPS only to avoid any insecure content warnings.
Once it’s all sorted, keep your eye on Search Console to see if your pages are being indexed. You can also use site search to see what’s going on, particularly inurl:https://www.yourwebsite.com which will display any indexed results with your new HTTPS version. Remember, getting your new HTTPS URLs indexed by Google can take a while, I’ve seen up to 3 weeks! So don’t panic if you see your pages haven’t yet been crawled.
Hopefully this resource has been useful for you. Of course, if you don’t know what you’re doing and just need someone to handle the process for you, or any SEO consultancy for that matter, then get in touch with us via email@example.com.