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Ready or Not, It’s Time to Consider HTTPS

It used to be that unless your site accepted payments for products or services, you didn’t really need to concern yourself with an SSL certificate, which allows you to encrypt and secure your site traffic using the https protocol. Those days are quickly coming to an end as web security becomes a larger issue, and giants like Google are making an aggressive push to encrypt all web traffic.

Maybe you have even already received a warning email from Google: “Beginning in January 2017, Chrome (version 56 and later) will mark pages that collect passwords or credit card details as ‘Not Secure’ unless the pages are served over HTTPS.” But what does that mean?

Right now (December, 2016) Chrome shows an “information” icon on all non-https pages (Firefox also uses a similar icon):

Which seems pretty benign, unless you click that icon and get the insecure site warning:

Starting in January of 2017 Chrome is going to take that a step further and add a text warning:

Then “eventually” – which, knowing Google, could be any time  – they are going to throw the red flag at non-https pages:

At the moment those warnings only apply to http pages containing password or credit card input fields, but Google definitely plans to extend the Chrome warnings to all http pages, regardless of whether they accept user credit card or authentication input.

Why is https important?

Using https encrypts connections to prevent anyone from tapping in to the communication between your website and your visitor’s browsers. It also prevents the bad guys from exploiting your site by injecting malicious code or unwanted advertising into your user’s browser.

The https connection lets your visitors know that they’re securely connected to your site. That what they’re seeing is legitimate information. It also prevents anyone from accumulating of a lot of user data or behavior related to your site traffic. Aggregate data like that can be used for a number of malicious purposes, so blocking access to it is a good thing.

How does it benefit me?

Right about now you may be thinking, “Okay, I get it, but I’m not really concerned about someone listening in to my site traffic.” That’s understandable. Most sites run a pretty low risk of being targeted in that way. But you probably don’t want to see every page of your site displaying a red “Not secure” warning in Chrome (and eventually in other browsers as well).

That’s reason enough to take steps now to make every page of your site available via https (and redirect http requests to https). You might even consider it a priority, since the Chrome browser currently has a 56% market share, and that percentage is increasing.

But aside from avoiding the warning label, there can be other benefits to using https. In their own words:

“Google uses HTTPS as a positive ranking signal. This signal is one amongst many others, and currently carries less weight than high-quality site content; you should not expect a major SEO advantage for moving to HTTPS in the short term. In the longer term, Google may increase the strength of the HTTPS boost.”

Google is making it pretty clear that in the future they are going to give an edge in search result rankings to sites that use https. And who doesn’t want an edge where that’s concerned?

How to make the move to https

The good news is it isn’t exactly a “move.” Your site stays on the same server, you just add an SSL certificate to your account and make the necessary changes to redirect http traffic to https. This article is already pretty long, so we won’t do a tutorial here, but other than redirecting to https, there are a few other things you’ll want to watch out for:

If you use Google Webmaster Tools, after you’ve made the switch, add the https version of your URL as a new property, set the “preferred version” of that property to https and (re)submit your sitemap. Here’s a Google-centric FAQ on transitioning to https that you may also want to take a look at.

Finally, you may have heard that you can get a free SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt. That’s true, and you can use those certs here at Winhost. But the Let’s Encrypt certificates come with some drawbacks. Make sure you’re aware of what’s involved in using such a cert before you commit to one.

We’ll have more information on this subject in the coming months. We expect that there will be a lot of questions when Google makes the changes to Chrome, and we’ll do our best to address those questions here and in our Knowledge Base.

Update: January 4th, 2017

The changes have already begun in the latest version of Chrome (55.x). They aren’t flagging insecure sites yet, but they are spelling out “Secure” now:

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