You’ve definitely seen it: a small lock icon next to the web address of your favorite website. Like this:
That lock icon symbolizes something important: an SSL Certificate.
What the heck is SSL?
SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is a secure connection. An SSL certificate encrypts all the data that passes between your visitors’ web browser and your website’s server where your website lives. This secures your website and makes it much harder for malicious parties to read the information coming to and from your site.
Websites using SSL can easily be identified by their web address:
Note the “s” in the address – it stands for Secure and signals an SSL certificate is used.
Why do I need SSL?
Trust, Ranking, Security
An SSL certificate is key for providing a visual “ok” signal to visitors. That lock icon basically tells visitors to your site:
“This website is secure, and you can trust it.”
SSL is required for any website selling a product or containing forms such as a contact form or email signup. But over the years, Google also started using SSL as a ranking factor, meaning they get ranked higher. For this reason, around 2017 it became important for ALL websites to use SSL, no matter what.
But even in 2020, three years after SSL became a ranking factor with Google, many websites still don’t have SSL enabled or properly configured.
This is what it looks like if there is no SSL present:
Making the Switch
Contact your trusted web developer or your web hosting company. Ask if there is a yearly fee and how you can properly set up SSL on your site.
After switching to SSL, your web address will change.
no SSL: http://www.myawesomewebsite.com
with SSL: https://www.myawesomesite.com
Update all listings of your website
Update your website listings — social media accounts, Google business page, email signature — to match this new address starting with https. This helps Google find your site at the new https address faster.
Watch for mixed content and Not Secure warnings
“Mixed content” happens when parts of your website such as images still originate form their old http address instead of https. This causes a warning of Not Secure to show up in the address bar, even though you have SSL!
If you see a Not Secure warning, you can identify the culprit by using the built in browser inspector tools in Firefox or Chrome. However, it’s usually best at this point to contact a web professional such as yours truly to root out and fix the issue. It often only takes a few minutes.
Keep SSL active and watch for renewals
Sometimes SSL certificates need to get renewed each year, especially if it’s a paid service. Mark your calendar for when it will renew and make sure you have an active card on file at your web host company. Your website can go down temporarily if it can’t find the certificate.
Once you have SSL, visitors will have increase trust and confidence in your website, and so will search engines like Google.