HTTPS Should I Go All-In? Does encryption help my search rank?
There was a lot of noise some time ago (August 2014) about how Google would use https as a ranking signal. SERoundTable had this article out shortly thereafter. We finally decided it was time to test this signal.
We tested this very website over several weeks to see if Google treats websites that use HTTPS (SSL encryption) any different. We used forced and unforced https from WordPress and using htaccess (apache).
We saw the greatest drop in traffic using forced https by way of htaccess redirection for all URLs. This caused Google Mobile Friendly test to choke for some reason. We checked all our settings to see if we screwed up some where. But no other service reported issues. Everything worked fine except we saw our queries in Google Webmaster Tools drop to almost zero. Obviously Google does not seem to like this method very much.
The spot of good news was the drop in unwanted bots in logs and other noise from “those” referrers in our Google Analytics – not really worth if we also loose legit traffic.
We then switched to WordPress to do the same all-URLs redirection from within the settings menu. This worked better for Google Mobile Friendly test, but our traffic remained at the lows we experienced using htaccess and our queries as seen in GWM did not rebound.
We then rolled back to only forcing https using htaccess for only those pages requiring SSL encryption. The entire website can be accessed using both http and https. This seemed to be the best solution as our traffic began to return as queries seem to be rising back to normal levels.
Its not expensive to buy a SSL certificate. But considering how difficult it can be to setup SSL on a website – something requiring a bit of experience to get right – there is no reason to switch unless you need encryption. And then only force https on those pages that really need it.
After a few weeks and with no further modifications, we noticed that Google Search Console prefers the https property over the others. That means we followed Google’s instructions to setup all possible URLs as properties with https one of them – as seen in this screenshot. As it turns out, Google has chosen to use the https property under which all all dashboard data is displayed. What does it mean? We have seen no significant change in search rank – if even a slight drop in placed.
We’ll report more as we learn more.