Ecommerce SEO | HTTPS as a Ranking Factor

In August 2014, Google announced that https was now a ranking factor. When this was announced, many SEO’s performed tests and research which yielded no clear link between organic performance and whether a site uses https site-wide.

Shortly after Google’s announcement and no clear evidence of https impacting organic search results, Google’s John Mueller said “I wouldn’t expect any visible change when you move from http to https”.

As of now, there is no evidence that Google uses https as a ranking factor, but this may change in the future. For ecommerce sites, https as a ranking factor should be thought of like the site speed ranking factor: not a powerful (at least now) ranking factor, but is still very beneficial for users and conversion.

https as a ranking factor

HTTPS as a universal ranking factor doesn’t really make a lot of sense. If a site doesn’t collect any personal information, there is no real need or advantage for a site to be secure. For this reason, it isn’t logical that https would be rolled out as a universal ranking factor.

We already know that Google treats different types of sites and pages differently, it would make sense that https as a ranking factor would be applied to some pages, but not others. When one of the goals of a page is for a user to give a company personal information, for instance any page where there is a buy button or submit form, it would arguably be beneficial for Google to make https a ranking factor.

For ecommerce sites, this means that it would likely be a good strategy to get ahead of the curve and migrate the entire site to https rather than only use https for checkout pages.

In addition to the hypothetical future ranking factor benefit, https has the potential to impact conversion. There have been numerous case studies that show security badges improve conversion rates for some sites. As consumers become more tech savvy and more security minded, it is not a huge leap to project that having your entire site in https would increase consumer confidence in your store and your conversion rate from the zero moment of truth.

 

Considerations for Migrating to HTTPS

Though Google recommends migrating your site to https, this is no small project and there are several factors that should be considered before migrating your ecommerce site to https.

 

Internal Linking

When you switch your site over to https, you will need to make sure all of your internal linking reflects this change. If your internal linking structures leverage the non-secure version of the website, then all of your pages will be flowing link equity to the non-canonical version of your site. This will likely lead to a decrease in organic performance if it is not corrected.

May sites leverage relative URL structures to avoid creating linking problems when moving from a staging server to the live server. If this is how your site is set up, then you’re automatically good to go on this front.

Make sure to review not only your main navigation, but also your related products/categories widgets and your content.

 

Canonical Tag & Href Lang Markup

As with your internal linking, you’ll want to verify that your canonical tags point to the secure version of all your URLs. If the canonical tag continues to point to the non-secure version of your URLs, you could end up with indexation problems if Google doesn’t ignore your canonical tag.

Similarly, you should verify your HREF Lang code references the secure URLs. While getting this wrong won’t lead to indexation problems, it will likely hinder the right URLs from showing up in international searches.

 

301 Redirects

As you are inherently changing all of your URLs (though you are “only” moving from http to https), your pages will need to be re-discovered and won’t have any link equity associated with them. To solve these problems, we need to implement 301 redirects that point from your old URLs to your new, secure, URLs.

When you implement a 301 redirect, a portion of the link equity is not passed. Typically this is about 10%. As such, it is common to see a loss in traffic (about 10%) due to the reduced amount of link equity associated with the page.

 

XML Sitemaps

It is also important to verify that your XML sitemaps list the secure version of your URLs. If your XML sitemaps continue to list the old, non-secure, URLs, the integrity of the XML sitemaps will eventually be degraded and search engines will likely start to ignore them.

While you will want to upgrade your sitemaps, it would also be beneficial to replicate all of your XML sitemaps and submit them in Webmaster Tools to help Google discover the 301 redirects pointing to the new version of your pages.

 

Action Items

If you are going to migrate your entire site to https:

  • Review links used in site navigation
  • Review links used in content
  • Review links used in related products/categories widgets
  • Establish 301 redirects the new version of the site
  • Update XML sitemaps
  • Create XML sitemaps with the old URLs to re-submit to WMT
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