What is an SSL certificate and do you need one?

In 2014, Google announced that having an SSL certificate would contribute towards a site’s ranking. Out of fear of being penalised by Google, the SSL certificate has become a much sought after feature.

But before you go navigating obscure websites searching for one of those precious certificates or worst splurging money on one, it might be worth finding out what an SSL certificate exactly is, why you need to have one on your site, how much it should cost you and why Google is so keen on you having one.

You’ve probably already seen an SSL certificate before although you might not have realised you were looking at one. Most websites have it, but it is, admittedly, pretty unnoticeable.

An SSL certificate is essentially that ‘s’ at the end of ‘HTTP’. Yep, that’s it. Visually at least. In the back end, this little ‘s’ is doing a lot more than that.

 

To understand what it does, we have to start with ‘HTTP’ first.

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. And it’s the most used protocol for viewing pages on the internet. This is why you’ll notice that when typing certain web addresses in the search bar, ‘HTTP’ or ‘HTTPS’ is added automatically.

HTTP has become a standard over the years because it is a simple and effective way of retrieving webpages across the vast web that is the internet.

But HTTP has one big flaw.

It sends information from one machine to another in plain text.

Why is that a problem?

Well, imagine going on a washing machine site and deciding to buy a washing machine. You add the said object to your cart and check out. You are required to put in your address and your bank details for this purchase to be successful, and you decide to do so.

Now, those details need to be sent to another server a.k.a the washing machine website, so that they can receive the details of your purchase. The issue with this is that, when your information is in transit from one machine to another, a hacker can easily intercept it. And because none of that data was encrypted, the hacker is now in possession of your bank details.

Comparatively, adding an SSL certificate to your website (yes, that mundane ‘s’), means that your information is now being encrypted.

Even if a person with nefarious intentions were to break in and try to intercept your information, they would end up with a bunch of letters and numbers (a.k.a gibberish for humans), and they wouldn’t be able to decode your personal information. If fact, only the server that the information is intended for, will be able to decode it.

SSL certificates also ensure authenticity. Some hackers and identity thieves will trick your machine into believing they’re the website that you’re trying to send information to. This could happen when you’re making a purchase or when you’re entering your email address for a newsletter subscription, for example. If that website has an SSL certificate, your machine will ask the website for that SSL certificate and will verify whether that website is truly whom they say they are. You could say that it’s a lot like a traffic officer asking for your driving licence or any form of identity check that we ourselves go through in our daily lives.

As a business, protecting your customers’ data is important. It consolidates a trustworthy reputation which in turn translates into a loyal customer base.

On top of that, Google’s currently algorithm takes SSL certificates very seriously. It will go to the extent of visibly flagging your site as NOT SECURE to every single user who visits your site if you do not have an SSL certificate.

That’s right, even if your website is in full working order, Google will flag it as ‘not secure’ because it presents a risk to the user.

Google is becoming increasingly aware of the importance that people accord to their privacy which is why it considers the SSL certificate an imperative. 

It’s fair to say that anyone who stumbles on a site that flags red and says ‘not secure’ would most likely click off that website straightaway.

Would you stay on a page like this?

In terms of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), having an SSL certificate is actually a ranking factor. This means that your website is less likely to rank in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) if you don’t have one.

Imagine the number of potential customers who might be looking for your service, but are unable to because of a certificate (or lack thereof).

As service providers ourselves, the thought is not pleasant. 

So, now that you understand the implications, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that you do indeed need an SSL certificate, but how do you go about getting one and how much should it cost you?

SSL certificates can range anywhere between £0 – £2000. While they’re not all costly, they do, however, require a lot of manual work and tech expertise. We wouldn’t recommend you trying to put an SSL certificate on your site if you don’t know your way around a server.

All of our sites come with a free SSL certificate as standard with options for additional encryption methods and combined encryption insurance.

So we can ensure that your site will be well-viewed by search engines like Google right off the bat.