The real winners of SSL as an SEO ranking signal
When Google announced that HTTPS (HTTP protocol oder SSL) is a ranking signal, many people in and outside the SEO industry where amazed. Google explained it’s step mainly as a high priority regarding security. HTTPS shall be everywhere. This signal from Google will enforce all websites towards switching to HTTPS. Of course not all websites, but every website that wants to have better rankings.
HTTPS = Secure?
We heard about the Open SSL problems and Heartbleed. This might not be the last severe security problem with HTTPS. And it is possible that SSL and other internet security technologies have already been compromised by the NSA. Big companies like Google should try to invent something new and more secure instead of forcing many websites to use SSL.
Is HTTPS really needed?
Next, there are many reasons why HTTPS is not needed, even for websites that want to have better rankings. There are many, many websites out there with worthy information and true value for the users. HTTPS does not tell you anything about the information or the value of a page on a website. Additionally, an SSL certificate that is needed for HTTPS costs money.
We must add here that SSL encryption will also make every website using it a little bit slower. Since speed matters, and Google invented this claim, this decision is to some degree against their own proposition.
Update: As SEO by the SEA reported, Google acquired a patent for speeding up SSL connection. Google is aware of that, but the risk, that faster SSL connections rely on a Google patent could also be alarming.
Google’s boost for SSL certificate sales: The Symoogle decision
One thing is sure. In the long term the market for SSL certificates will grow. Let us take a view at the actual market share of SSL certificate authorities:
The absolute market share can be seen in green.
Source: W3 Techs
Symantec is the leading authority in that market. In the last years Symantec bought several certificate authorities like Thawte (2000), Verisign (2010), and GeoTrust (2010) which also owns RapidSSL.
In 2011 Symantec stated that they control more than 70% of the SSL certificates of the world’s top 1,000 domains. This means that Symantec is dominating the SSL market and especially for bigger websites.
The long Google & Symantec Partnership, call it Goomantec
In 2002 Symantec’s board member George Reyes became Google’s CFO until 2007.
The relationship between Google and Symantec was growing and led to many joint activities. Here are some examples:
In 2013 Symantec’s SSL product evangelist Jeff Barto talked with Stephen McHenry from Google about SSL.
In the past, Symantec stated that SSL and SEO work very well together. For a long time in the SEO industry, many people thought that mixing HTTP and HTTPS on one website could be a problem. Also encrypting a complete website with HTTPS was something that SEO experts where not sure if it could hurt rankings. In this forum post a Symantec employee explains that using SSL doesn’t have a negative impact on SEO.
With HTTPS as a ranking signal, nobody in the SEO industry will have any more doubts about SSL.
And the winner is…
The biggest winner is the certificate authorities industry, which mainly means Symantec. As Google and Symantec have a long traditional relationship, we must ask the question if the decision to give SSL a ranking boost was mainly decided for security reasons. SSL makes sense, no question. For many websites. And this post is speculation. But to me, SSL as a ranking signal is a strategic decision and not a comprehensible decision in the SEO business.
Today, about 53% of all websites have no SSL and 12% use a self-signed SSL certificate that does not fulfill the requirements that Google has for an SSL certificate (see W3 Tech report). Combined with unrecognized authorities that are used by 1.2%, there are at least two-thirds of all websites that will get no ranking boost from Google. Mainly, bigger websites will all switch to SSL, and as Symantec is dominating this market, their revenue will grow because of Google’s decision. Right – we all do no evil. Never