Explainer: How Google’s New SSL / HTTPS Ranking Factor Works


Last Thursday, Google launched a new ranking signal to give HTTPS sites a ranking boost, a small ranking boost, to encourage webmasters to migrate their sites from HTTP to HTTPS.

In our story from Thursday, we covered why Google is doing this and the concerns some SEOs had with the migration, as well as the process one should take when doing the migration. We also covered the industry reaction to the new ranking signal.

Over the past week, we’ve learned a great deal about the new ranking signal. We wanted to share those new findings with you here.

Google Runs HTTPS Ranking Signal In Real Time

Unlike Penguin or Panda algorithms, this is a ranking signal that is run in real time. As soon as Google indexes your new HTTPS URL, that URL will immediately see a tiny ranking boost because of the HTTPS URL. That doesn’t mean you will see your rankings jump from result number 5 to 4, but it will, behind the scenes, have a small, tiny, boost in the overall ranking algorithm.

Google’s John Mueller said this in a Google hangout video, which you can watch here at 29 minutes and 6 seconds in.

Google’s HTTPS Ranking Signal Is On A Per-URL Basis

If you have some parts of your site migrated to HTTPS and some parts not, Google will give the boost to the ones on the HTTPS URLs and not to the others. The signal is on a per-URL basis, and not on a sitewide basis. Of course, Google wants you to migrate your whole site to HTTPS but if you want to do it in stages or test it out, technically you can do it on a URL by URL basis.

Google’s John Mueller also said this in the same Google hangout video, which you can watch here at 29 minutes and 6 seconds in.

Google’s Change Of Address Tool Not Supported

Google recommends that when you do a site move, i.e. HTTP to HTTPS, you use the change of address tool within Google Webmaster Tools. But with HTTP to HTTPS, you cannot. The change of address tool does not support HTTPS migrations, yet.

There is no estimate time for when Google will support it. Google’s John Mueller said if you are doing the migration, a 301 redirect is enough of a signal to communicate the change, even without using the change of address tool.

Google News Publishers Can Switch To HTTPS

A major concern is how the Google News index differs from the normal Google web index. But Google told us that migrating sites included in the Google News index will have no issue. Just go through the normal migration process and Google News will pick up on the change as well.

Google’s John Mueller said:

I checked with the News folks — HTTPS is fine for Google News, no need to even tell them about it. If you do end up noticing anything, that would (most likely) be a bug and something worth letting the Google News team know about. A bunch of sites are on HTTPS in Google News, it would be great to have more.

I migrated the Search Engine Roundtable, a Google News site, last night and it seems it indeed was picked up correctly by Google News. Here is a screen shot of Google News showing a story I wrote after the migration, this morning:


HTTPS Ranking Signal Is Unrelated To Google Panda Or Other Algorithms

For some reason, some webmasters felt that the new HTTPS ranking signal was part of Google’s Panda algorithm. That is not the case; the HTTPS ranking signal is a standalone signal that is independent from any other ranking signal or algorithms.

Google’s John Mueller also said this in the same Google hangout video, which you can watch here at 29 minutes and 6 seconds in.

SSL Errors Via Google Webmaster Tools Since HTTPS Signal Launched

Some are reporting that since the HTTPS ranking signal launched, Google has been sending out security certificate errors via Google Webmaster Tools. Google’s John Mueller said on Twitter they are unrelated, and in many cases, were sent back months ago.

If you received SSL errors in Webmaster Tools or see bugs in the search results, Google says that has nothing to do with the latest changes. Google blames the error on misconfigured certificates, but the webmasters say with CDNs and shared hosting that it is out of their control.

I documented the troubles over here if you want to see more details and Dave Naylor and Jennifer Slegg also go through the issues.

Case Studies On HTTP To HTTPS Migrations

Last Thursday, after I heard the news, I immediately migrated my corporate site; and last night, I migrated my Google News indexed site. I am tracking the results very carefully by watching Google Analytics, the search results and Google Webmaster Tools data.

I hope to post a short case study next week with my findings and we also are planning on adding a new panel at SMX East with speakers from Google and then companies that have done the migration. This way, those looking to wait and see how others handle the migration, can learn from our mistakes and go through the process with a bit more security and comfort.

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