Over the last year we have heard a lot more combined usage of the terms HTTPS and SEO. HTTPS is an acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. This is basically HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) + Secure which notes the usage of SSL or Secure Sockets Layer. This encryption protocol is used to aid in the ability to have a secure internet connection. This becomes a need in the ecommerce arena when one is submitting credit card information in a purchase.
The bridge between HTTPS and SEO began a little more than a year ago as Google announced HTTPS as a ranking signal. This perked the interest of many SEOs as Google was providing insight into how one might rank better by utilizing this secure connection. The even larger interest was how significant the signal boost was. Many in the SEO industry took the advice from Google and made the move to HTTPS. What was found in several tests were that the HTTPS transition didn’t make that much of a difference for organic Google search rankings.
While many have made this move knowingly, chasing Google organic ranking perfection, what I have encountered over the last few months is that many sites have an HTTPS site version alongside their HTTP standard version of site pages. Great, right? The have unknowingly taken advantage of HTTPS site page versions. Wrong. The move to HTTPS must be a conscious and planned move. Falling victim to simple mistakes can leave your data marred as well as your ability to rank.
Taking the below steps can help you understand where you stand in the HTTP to HTTPS site presentation and if you may be held back by duplication on both fronts.
- Do you have an HTTPS duplication of pages on your site? Go to your website, then move to your address bar and attempt to load your homepage and a sample internal page with the HTTPS protocol (assuming you loaded your page from the HTTP version originally). If it loads/renders without redirecting then you have both HTTP and HTTPS versions of your site. If it renders a 404 or redirects to the HTTP version then you are fine. Go take a break and pass this article on to anyone you feel may need it! J If it did render in HTTP and HTTPS then you need to stick around for the next points of review.
- First things first, if you have both then you are going to want to create an additional HTTPS version of Google Search Console. I assume you are a responsible webmaster who already has a profile for your HTTP site version. Why do we need this? This is needed as there are several sections that we need to monitor such as Search Queries and Impressions by Page data, which unknowingly, you have only been seeing just the HTTP data for this. The below shows the disparity of having mutual presence in search results of both HTTP and HTTPS site versions. This is a prime example of HTTP/HTTPS mistakes being made to where Google is confused on what images to rank.
- We can see that Google is possibly becoming confused with the duplicated versions. The next step we will take is to understand if Google prefers to rank the HTTP version of pages, HTTPS or both. For this we will look to SEMrush. What you are likely going to see is that if you have an HTTPS version this is likely what is ranking in Google. To review this we will enter our domain name and traverse to the Organic keywords section. From there we will click on the Export button to create a spreadsheet for review.
Now that we have an easy to view layout of keyword, search volume, and ranking page we can better understand if there is a mix of HTTP page type rankings and which page versions are ranking for very highly valuable terms.
- We understand that we have an issue of mutual rankings by protocol type. While the best case scenario would be to simply just redirect all pages on the site from HTTP to HTTPS, we have to remember that in many organizations, a move such as this can take months before it is completed. In this time period, it helps to understand what other mistakes you may be making here and how you can remedy while you wait for the redirected transition. The chances are likely that the most important terms or brunt of visibility is going to be ranking the HTTPS page version. However, if it is still HTTP then you want to point reference to this page type until you can have all pages render as HTTPS.
We have to consider that there are primarily three things that we want to review as we help Google understand our current HTTP/HTTPS situation.
a. Review the canonical tags (if used) across the site. We want to ensure that on both HTTP pages as well as HTTPS they are referencing one specific protocol type. If each are referencing their respective page then we are providing rather confusing information to Google. Depending on what page version is ranking you will need to canonically reference this protocol type.
b. The second item we are going to want to review is your XML sitemaps. If we are setting canonical tags to HTTPS and then providing XML sitemap information pointing to the HTTP version then we are doing a good job of confusing search engines. Revise these sitemaps to your intended protocol of importance.
c. Internal linking is a very important component of SEO as it is your way of portraying to search engines which of your site pages are the most important. How you link to these pages is also important. For those of you who appropriately link to site pages in an “absolute link” type (as you should) you will be linking to all site pages in either HTTP or HTTPS protocol. You will want to ensure that the version of the page that you are linking to across your site is in-line with the protocol version you are linking to in your XML sitemaps as well as what you reference in canonical tagging.
In a perfect world you would have recognized the HTTP/HTTPS duplication, addressed the one protocol type, and have a rollout fix in the next few days. However, we all know how the world works. While you wait for the solution you have to make sure that the above points are reviewed and you ensure that you are pointing reference and eliminating search engine confusion with focus given to only one type of hypertext transfer protocol across the mentioned SEO areas of importance.