You may be wondering why you should switch your website from HTTP to HTTPS at all. The answer is simple – because Google Chrome, the world’s favorite browser, starting in July 2018, considers all sites based on the HTTP protocol insecure for users, while, say, Mozilla Firefox has been using such an approach for some time.
In other words, there comes a time when only sites with the HTTPS prefix will be considered secure. Therefore, we believe that it is important if you own a business to opt for switching your site to HTTPS, and below we bring you a detailed guide through the process of implementing SSL certificates and the transition from one protocol to the other.
What’s an SSL Certificate and Who Needs It?
SSL is, for those who do not know, an acronym for Secure Sockets Layer and indicates the fact that the existence of this certificate protects the website with an additional layer of security protection. It is a web technology that, with the help of encryption of sensitive personal data of users, enables a secure and private connection between individuals and the website, i.e. the server.
To clarify – an SSL certificate introduces encryption that makes data transmission secure and impossible to decrypt without the SSL decryption key incorporated into the HTTPS protocol. More precisely, if a third party intercepts the communication, it will not be able to see the information transmitted between the user and the server.
SSL is the most widely used security protocol in the world, and the data protected by it are user names, e-mail addresses, their residential addresses, credit card numbers, and everything that a user leaves as personal data in a private exchange with a website.
A secure connection protected by a certificate is, at the moment, most needed by those who operate in the field of e-banking and e-commerce, i.e. who have built their websites by choosing one of the two main ways for website creation for such businesses. However, even if you do not have an online store and do not collect data from visitors’ credit cards, having an SSL certificate will increase the credibility of your site and indicate that it is safe to use. And clients of your business will appreciate it. This will also contribute to the better positioning of your website in Google search results.
Whether you run a multinational corporation, sell products and services online, or have a presentation site as an individual, you will need a verified SSL certificate to switch from HTTP to HTTPS.
How to Get SSL Certificate?
First of all, you should take into account who you buy the certificate from. Namely, only for companies that carry the label of an authorized, accredited body (certificate authority – CA) you can be sure that they will not deceive you.
Almost all trading of SSL certificates in the world, along with a few more companies that are not so much appreciated, is done by four companies – Symantec (which also owns Verisign, Thawte, and GeoTrust), Comodo, GoDaddy, and GlobalSign. Note this: Two years ago, Google said it will no longer trust certificates issued by Symantec, so avoid them.
After purchasing the certificate, verification that the person or organization that downloads the certificate is actually the owner of a certain site will follow and, only after that, SSL will be issued. Depending on the type of certificate, verification can take several hours or several days. After obtaining the certificate, it is necessary to install it on the server where your site is located.
A Guide to Switching a Site From HTTP to HTTPS
Should I switch the entire site all at once or gradually? Will the transition to HTTPS negatively affect the results of SEO optimization that has already been done? Will the site need to be optimized again? Can I successfully complete the transition to HTTPS even though I am not involved in programming or web design? These are all questions that may arise when switching from HTTP to HTTPS. We will try to answer some of them within the detailed instructions we have prepared.
The whole process is certainly not easy because there are a large number of tasks that need to be completed. Just one error during the transition from one protocol to another could cause the implementation of the SSL certificate to lose its purpose and the data to remain unprotected. That is why it is important to pay enough attention to each of the individual pages.
In any case, although the process is not simple, do not neglect the fact that the HTTPS protocol has many advantages, and setting up a site on a secure protocol can bring so many positive things to the site itself and site owners.
The guidelines for migrating from HTTP to HTTPS:
- Perform a detailed analysis of the current state of the site while it is still based on HTTP.
- Begin the process of migrating to HTTPS on the test server, to provide space to test the results and to avoid errors on the online version of the site.
- Read all HTTPS documentation regarding the content delivery network (CDN), i.e. the distribution system of servers spread over the Internet.
- Buy an SSL certificate for the site and install it on the server.
- Prepare a list of all URLs from your website using the current HTTP structure, if it is a website with fewer pages.
- Replace all HTTP URLs with HTTPS addresses if it is a static version of the website.
- Redirect all traffic to one version of the site (https://www or just https://) on the server, or via a .htaccess file, with the help of permanent redirection 301.
- Update all links in the content on your site. You can do this in the database by simply finding keywords and replacing them. All internal links, therefore, should start with the HTTPS prefix.
- Update the references in the established forms on the site (templates). It is important that everything pointing to texts, images, and links is provided with the HTTPS protocol.
- Update the canonical addresses, which are displayed in HTML code under the label rel=”canonical” and which indicate to search engines that the URL is a master copy of one page. Most online content management systems (CMSs) will do this automatically, but just in case, check each tag again.
- Update so-called hreflang addresses if you have a multilingual site. In HTML code, such a label for, e.g. English, is hreflang=”en”. In this case, too, the CMS will most likely do it automatically but, still, check it yourself.
- Update all external plugins (modules, add-ons) you use on the site and check that everything works properly.
- Change the settings within the CMS itself for which you will find instructions in the internal guide and documentation for data transfer.
This is, without a doubt, the most common way of implementing HTTPS for the reason that it is easy to enable. There is also a Cloudflare implementation, and it offers a flexible SSL service, which eliminates many problems in implementing an SSL certificate directly to your website. Specifically, Cloudflare will host a cached version of your site on its servers and provide a connection to site visitors through its own SSL protection. At the same time, Cloudflare makes this process so simple. All you have to do is update your DNS records to point to the Cloudflare name servers.
The Migration Process Is Complete – What Now?
Now that you have a complete HTTPS version of your site, add it to all versions of the admin tools you use in web browsers to load a new sitemap into them. This is a very important step for SEO optimization, as it indicates to search engines that there is a new, secure version of your site, which you use to present your business. If you do not do it, Google, Bing, and other browsers will still index the old HTTP version.
- When a new version of the site is set up, the next step is to analyze that version in detail to make sure something is not missed and that all existing links now work on an HTTPS basis.
- Also, update links that were previously redirected to your site. The most common mistakes happen in this segment, which is why you should pay special attention to the old links.
- Update your sitemap to use HTTPS URL versions in the future.
- Update your robots.txt files to include the new sitemap.
- It is desirable to enable HSTS (HTTP strict transport security), i.e. the so-called strict traffic security for HTTP. It is an option specific for web applications that uses a special site header to communicate with web browsers. When the browser receives information about the existence of such a header, it will prevent any data transmission via the HTTP protocol and will only use HTTPS.
- Enable the online certificate status protocol (OCSP). This will allow the server to validate the security certificate you have in order to free the web browser from that duty and thus speed up the connection.
- Turn on HTTP/2 support.
- Take test forms to contact or order products or services.
Public Release of a New Version of the Site
If you did most of the previous steps on the test server, now is the time to publicly release a new version of the site. Then there are a few more tasks:
ü Within the web analytics platform and in the webmaster control panel, enter the new HTTPS address of your site and set it to be the default version.
ü Update the data for all paid digital marketing campaigns you have started, as well as for those you plan to launch.
ü Customize all the tools you use in SEO site optimization to use only the HTTPS protocol in this segment as well.
ü Do not forget to change the links and set the HTTPS protocol on all the profiles you have on social networks.
How HTTPS Affects Your Business
As already mentioned – Google’s Chrome web browser will soon only consider HTTPS-based sites as safe to use. In other words, if you continue to use the HTTP protocol and Google indexes your site as insecure, it can greatly negatively affect your online business.
At a time when regulations are being adopted around the world, especially in the European Union – such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – which will directly affect the increase of security and better protection of personal data of individuals on the Internet, as well as greater responsibility of companies that, for any reason, collect sensitive information, we are sure that you would not like to be among those whose sites which are characterized as insecure, unreliable.
Unfortunately, there is always the possibility of a hacker attack on a server or a complete network. There are also software vulnerabilities, and even lower SSL encryption performance is possible, depending on the certificate version. Therefore, there is no guarantee that using the HTTPS protocol will protect your site from unwanted attacks, misuse, or theft of confidential information.
However, one thing is for sure – if you go to the side of safe and secure HTTPS sites, you will have fewer worries, your visitors will also not have to worry about the security of their data, and your web pages will be recognized by browsers as reliable, credible, and of integrity. This means that your business will be recognized as credible, as well.
It is not a small thing, you will agree.