SugarRae Hoffman on switching her WordPress site to https


djbaxter

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What Happened When I Flipped a WordPress Based Site from http to https
by SugarRae Hoffman
January 15, 2016

In mid-July of 2015, I decided to flip the Sugarrae.com site to https using SSL. In the last eighteen+ months, Google has been pushing hard to ?make SSL happen.? They even said it might give you a bit of a rankings boost, no doubt knowing that tons of SEOs and business owners would begin flipping their sites hoping to gain an edge.

Switching to SSL is not as simple as grabbing a secure certificate and flipping the switch. And once you do get it active without issue, you need to make sure it?s maintained.

Do I think Sugarrae needs to be secure? No. Did I think there was a ranking boost significant enough to make the switch? No. But I think that Google isn?t backing down from this crusade. Sugarrae is a branded site within its niche with a decent backlink profile. So I figured I?d test what happens when you make the flip....

On Monday, July 13th, 2015 (2 days after the flip) I saw a 16% increase in organic traffic versus the previous Monday. But by the next Monday, organic traffic had returned to normal levels....

It?s now been six months since the flip. It would seem that organic traffic is slightly down since the switch vs. the period prior...
Read more...
 

Tim Colling

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"...It’s now been six months since the flip. It would seem that organic traffic is slightly down since the switch vs. the period prior..."

Well, that's sort of a kick in the pants. Is it that way for most sites, in everyone's experience? Sheesh!
 

djbaxter

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I'm not sure. I'm still mulling over whether or when I should attempt the switch. I'm not sure it's a big enough factor to make it worth the effort and risks involved.

I'd like to hear about the experiences of others too. I've seen many reports of people who botched the process but little from those who got it right and how it affected their rankings and traffic.


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theitsage

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Thank you for the share. It's a good read for anyone considers the switch to https. I would add another important point with the migration to https.

SugarRae missed the performance aspect. SSL adds more time to load a webpage. This can be remedied by using HTTP/2 to improve page load speed. HTTP/2 in short is a much more efficient and faster way to load a webpage, it's only supported through sites with a TLS certificate.

HTTPS/SSL/TLS is a very contradicting concept for an SEO to sell to clients. I'm trying my best explaining. If there are things which sound confusing, please let me know and I'll elaborate further.

There are 2 known ranking factors when a sites has a TLS certificate: https for security, and possible use of HTTP/2 for speed. In an ideal situation, you configure everything correctly and get points from Google for both ranking factors. Rarely is this the case.

As SugarRae mentioned, you have to have a plan to make sure all resources on every single page of your website use https. Otherwise, visitors will see the security warning popup when they load your page; this is much worse than not having https (as far as UX is concerned). Test and test some more before calling it done with a migration to https.

The second a website is on https, it is slower to load than http. The site now has to go through the SSL negotiation process, aka handshake with the Certificate Authority. This is where things can get very messy. There are ways to optimize this handshake to keep it as minimal and on as few resources as possible. One tool I use to see whether a website SSL negotiation process is optimal is SSL Lab. You want an A or A+ score on this test. Here's the result on SugarRae - ssllabs.com/ssltest/analyze.html?d=sugarrae.com

HTTP/2 brings speed improvement in the way the server loads all resources simultaneously. You need both a hosting server that supports HTTP/2 and the right configuration to make use of it. I checked sugarrae.com through spdycheck.org and while her server supports HTTP/2, she is not taking advantage of that.

The core conflict is with the use of https, you have SSL Negotiation which takes longer for a site to load and possible use of HTTP/2 to improve page load time.

More often than not though, people get content with having the green padlock and https show on their website urls then call it a day. They just made their websites slower in hope of a possible ranking benefit.

Many of us have recognized Google's motivation in everything it does - to dominate web search market share through its users' search experience. Yes, your business makes money different way than mine. At the end of the day, the commonality of user experience is what keep us in business.
 

djbaxter

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Thank you, theitsage.

Excellent post!

This is the first I have read of the https hit on page load speed. Good to know.

Honestly, for most sites, given the increasing use of mobile devices to access the net, if you have to choose I would strongly advise going for speed.

That is of course unless your site requires SSL for other reasons.


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BrendanT

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Seems to me a lot of overthinking the switch to SSL.

It's quite simple - bonus tip, use Cloudflare with your site and you'll get the speed benefits.

From what we've seen, often the SEO benefit (or problems with SSL) are related to the switchover fixing or causing duplicate URLs/canonical problems between http and https versions

Also lot of tweaking can be done to make things faster - eg forcing ssl redirect at the Cloudflare and/or at the Apache/htaccess level is much faster and better than letting the software level do it. For example php redirects are really slow and inefficient vs Apache or Cloudflare doing it
 

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