What the heck is HTTPS and why content marketers need to learn more
On August 6th, Google mentioned in this blog post that https is a ranking factor.
If your site isn’t https (secure, as evidenced by the lock closing in the browser), then you’re not going to show up as often in search results and you’ll lose track of referral traffic sources.
Rewind 10 years ago and we had all agreed that putting https site-wide was a dumb thing. It slowed down load times by 3-4 seconds on each page, creating a terrible user experience. And Google wasn’t able to crawl the page, causing you to not even show up. We recommended then that you make secure only pages that collected sensitive information, such as credit cards, birth dates, or other transactional information.
Today, SSL adds only a second to page load times. Google, Facebook, twitter, and all major networks recommend you put https everywhere, as shown in this video:
WHY THE CHANGE?
We used to live in the public web, where anyone could browse anonymously. Some people call this the open web, and there are still some sites that don’t require a login to participate.
But now you can’t get around the web without a login. oAuth (open authentication), where you log in with your Facebook, Google, or other credentials, means you aren’t creating new usernames and passwords at every site you visit.
Now all sites are tied together.
So if you have SSL only on the checkout pages of your site (a common trend), you drop that continuous experience. Try visiting Facebook, for example, when you’re logged out. You miss the richness that comes from them knowing who you are.
It also, as cynics will point out, paves the way for frictionless e-commerce. Single sign on and full-time https means one-click payments. And we know that our data is worth more to the social networks (which I’m loosely including Google in) than any monthly fee you pay.
HOW TO RESPOND?
You can grab SSL certificates from nearly any hosting or domain provider.
You probably already have one, but may need to upgrade to a wildcard or multi-site certificate. Just make sure it covers all the stuff you own.
Your web guy can explain this all to you. It’s not a big deal and can cost you under $100 normally, minus the 30 minutes of labor for your web guy to get it going.
Small investment. Significant results.
GOOGLE ANALYTICS PLAYING HIDE AND SEEK?
Once implemented, go check your Google Analytics, and you’ll see a lot more of your data showing up.
People have been hammering Google for hiding keyword referrals from organic search (the “not provided” issue), as well as showing most referral traffic as “direct/none”. Guilty as charged on the former, but the latter is partially your fault.
When users move from a secure site to a non-secure site, the http protocol drops any secure information, which includes the referral. This is not a Google issue.
So that traffic will show up as “direct/none”, which means type-in or bookmark traffic. We’ve seen sites show 60% in this bucket, which is obviously not possible. It’s usually because their homepage is not secure.
Ten years ago, I worked at a search engine. My take is Google doesn’t play well with referrals from social networks. Even with their failed attempt at Google+, Google still doesn’t want to share data with Facebook. And the reverse is true. Each of these major networks wants to hog their data to drive their own advertising platform revenues.
But you, as a marketer in the middle, should still be implementing https (site-wide SSLs) to be capturing first party data (your own site data). Use a tag manager such as the free one that Google offers. It’s called Google Tag Manager and integrates with Google Analytics (not a surprise, right).
And you’ll see that your search traffic increases, user experience improves, and analytics gets a boost. All from some seemingly small technical change.
And as a social marketer, the impact of https will likely only increase. We know Google mentioned that they take SSL into account for search rankings. Facebook and Twitter are focused on showing higher quality content in the social stream.
Take into account Facebook’s Bing partnership, and they have the resources and motivation to also look to https as a content metric. Facebook is also now heavy into retargeting, so being able to track their users smoothly offsite could be aided by encouraging more SSL use.
Digital marketers need to seriously consider making this change to their sites. Let us know what you think and the results you are seeing from this tweak!