Is your website encrypted? If not, now is the time to take action.
According to a recent announcement from Google, it will be rewarding secure websites with better search engine rankings. The company has made changes to their secret algorithm that will place websites using HTTPS in higher regard. This comes on the heels of accusations that Google is promoting its own content far more than others.
The good-old Google algorithm. Google’s search engine algorithm changes have long been a worry for website owners and content publishers. With just one change, search engine rankings can drop out of existence. There’s been a flurry of difficult algorithm changes for websites in the past few years – but the latest may come as welcome news.
The new rule is one of the most significant steps Google has taken to make the Internet more secure for searchers, all of which has come as a result of the National Security Agency’s disclosure of web snooping on the American public. Google hopes that this latest algorithm change will motivate website owners to use encryption.
What is website encryption? When websites take steps to encrypt their websites, they place a barrier between their website users and hackers who want to take their data. Encryption on a website will work even if the website users are connecting through an unsecured Wi-Fi network – like those in airports or coffee shops. Without this encryption personal information, which may include credit card information, is free to grab for anyone with the tech skills.
Over the past few months, Google has begun favoring encrypted sites and will continue to do so. Up until now, a site’s security has been considered a “lightweight” signal in terms of website rankings. But the ranking power of a secure website will increase overtime.
Google uses more than 200 “signals” in order to determine search engine rankings, and those signals are (for the most part) kept under lock and key. This secrecy has some websites questioning the search engines motives, and accusations of favoritism with Google properties.
Is Google working for the good of the Internet – or its own good? While Google once claimed that it wanted to get search engine users “out of Google and to the right place as soon as possible” it no longer appears to be that way. When someone uses Google to search for a hotel in the local area, they see reviews, photos of the hotel in question and an offer to book a room right from the search engine results page. Years ago, a similar search would produce 10 text links to hotel operators or travel agencies.
It’s a difficult place for Google to be in – particularly with their advertising programs. During 2014, they will pay more than $50 billion to the search engine in order to be displayed at the top of the results. But by putting so much information on the first page of results and circumventing the need to click through, Google may be alienating some of those advertisers – particularly travel agencies and other services.
Not Google’s first controversy. All of this led to anti-trust investigations prompted by inquiries from online publishers. Ultimately, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) case was closed over a year ago in Google’s favor. Google claims that the shifts in their displays are due to customer interest – especially their tendency to look for information on their smartphones. The smaller screens and mobile usage mean users want information now and not a click away.
For this reason, Google claims that when it promotes its own content, it is ultimately benefitting users. Without the focus on users, the search engine might be losing traffic to Bing or other search engines. Google has been able to hold around 67% of the U.S. search market for the past four years.
For now, websites will need to be encrypted and pay extra for top of the page advertising if they want to get the best exposure.