I’m going to tell you one weird trick (no, really) to improve your website's position in Google®, but first I’m going to tell you a story of two young men in a college town out for drinks one night. There's a correlation there, I promise.
During the third beer we shouldn’t have been having on a school night, a friend of mine (a philosophy major) and I were talking jobs. The typical collegiate speculation: opportunities, locations, and pay. Suddenly, though, our IPA-hued repartee turned a what-could-have-been-an-ugly corner and we were discussing “economic signaling.”
Best never to mix friendship, alcohol, and amateur discussions of economic policy.
Internally, I groaned because this friend’s opinions were fashioned to be contrary for the sake of appearing interesting and not because of the position's tenability. In bristling, I prepared myself to defend the importance of signaling...only for him to open with, “If it’s not working, you’re not signaling hard enough!”
Though my mouth was open to retort, I was just nodding—confused that we were in agreement. Then I realized that signaling is simply a part of an economic relationship and not a debatable principle (my friend did still, though, find a way to shoe-horn his Rube Goldberg-inspired economic theories into the discussion). In short, this is to say that signaling is unilaterally important. It’s simply how things work.
Giving Google the signal
For proof, let me submit this to you: the cerebral juggernaut that is Google agrees with my friend and me. Google grants the throne atop the unpaid search results to the site that’s giving it the most positive signals. Linkbacks. XML valid pages. Proper meta tags and headers. But according to the-usually-opaque search engine, there’s a new ranking signal they’re considering: HTTPS.
Deciphering the meaning
See, having an HTTPS connection means you have an SSL certificate, which signals to Google that your website is more likely to be more legitimate. You’ve invested more time and money into it. You care about your visitors’ security. You’ve had your domain ownership verified by a third party. (That’s part of the registration process.) By simply slapping an SSL certificate on your site, you’re edging out the competition. You become the Nobel winner to the other guy’s tenure at MIT.
SSL certificates also serve to protect your visitors’ information when they submit forms or log in to your site (that's their actual purpose). Without an HTTPS connection, anyone can “snoop” this information, potentially revealing anything they send to you — including passwords, credit card information, etc.
That protection is obviously SSL’s prescribed use — but even if your site is just displaying information that anyone can access, having an HTTPS connection isn’t going to hurt anything, including your website’s speed. Back in the day, transferring secure information was a little slower, but now, there’s no difference.
If you’re interested in getting an SSL certificate for your site — whether to protect visitors’ information or to improve your site’s ranking in Google (or both) — you can purchase an SSL certificate here.
When you’re on that page, you’ll see there are a few options for types of SSL certificate you can purchase. If you’re primarily interested in getting an SSL for the search engine optimization (SEO), pick up a “Protect One Website” certificate, and select Standard as your Plan Type. If you’re looking to do more with the SSL certificate, check out this article: Which SSL do I need?
The fine print
There's always a catch, right? Right.
After setting up the SSL certificate on your account, you’ll need to submit a “Move Request” through Google Webmaster Tools™ to tell them to index the site over HTTPS. Google’s got those instructions for you here.
If you’re somewhat technically inclined and want to do honors-thesis-level work, you can also implement Google’s HTTPS Best Practices on your site.
Learn about the four types of SSL certificates available.