If you are involved in running a website, from project managing, creating content, to managing the website from a technical perspective, then you are surely at least aware of SSL/ HTTPS. There has been a lot of information around lately on the benefits of having an SSL certificate on your site, but the headlines have been talking about HTTPS as a ranking factor. While the major search engines value SSLs, there are many other benefits of having a SSL Certificate that go far beyond SEO.

What is SSL/ HTTPS?

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers remains private and integral, no matter what kind of connection is established between them.

Why you should upgrade: key benefits to having a SSL Certificate

1. Improve Privacy and Security

Many people know that unencrypted traffic between your browser and a website, when carried on an open WiFi network, is broadcast and essentially available to any nefarious listeners close by. However, even many password protected WiFi networks still leak information to motivated hackers.

By choosing to use an SSL certificate, not only are you improving the security situation for your users, you’re also letting them know that you care about their security.

Security is improved by preventing plaintext passwords from being exposed on the network. Privacy is also improved by scrambling all of the rest of the traffic between the user and the website.

2. SSL is an SEO Ranking Factor

Since Google announced that SSL would become a small ranking factor in their algorithm, SSL certificates have received a lot of attention. I believe that most people should move to HTTPS, but SEO is the least important reason. There are more than 200 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm.

3. Better Referral Data in Google Analytics

For the fellow data lovers out there, this will be the biggest reason why you will switch to https for all pages on your site. When a visitor comes to a page on your site that does not have SSL enabled, via a referral from a page that does have SSL enabled, the visit is tracked as ‘direct’ rather than ‘referral’. So, if and when you make the switch, you are likely to see your direct traffic  decline and your referral traffic increase.

What type of SSL certificate should you get?

There are two primary types of SSL certificates to consider:

Standard Validation SSL

Cost: ~$100

Extended Validation SSL

Cost: $100 – $500

The standard SV certificate is sufficient for ensuring that web traffic is encrypted. The EV certificate shows that the certifying authority has done additional work to ensure that you are who you say you are. Most web browsers (like Chrome, Firefox, etc.) will show the user that you have been subjected to that additional scrutiny.

How to get an SSL certificate

If you are prepared and able to install your own SSL certificate, you can buy one directly from a Certificate Authority (CA), like Verisign or Geotrust. Otherwise, it’s common to purchase one directly through your hosting provider, who may do the install for you. For example, Zenutech (full disclosure: often recommended by North Studio) describes their offering on their website. Other examples include GoDaddy, Rackspace, and Network Solutions.

The fact that the world’s leading search engine is encouraging webmasters to move in this direction suggests that it may become a standard in the future. Improved data and, most importantly, the increased privacy and security for your visitors leads us to conclude that getting an SSL certification for your website is something you should strongly consider.