Should You Make Your Site Secure for Improved SEO Results?

Just this past month Google confirmed that in the future, its search algorithm would be giving a rankings boost to secure sites. This confirms rumors that have rippled through the search marketing industry for several months. This recent change is part of Google’s continuing efforts toward a more secure Web. Like so many pronouncements from Google, this has forced many site owners to reconsider whether to make their sites secure. Site owners need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of going secure. It may not be either prudent or cost effective at this time.

Just this past month Google confirmed that in the future, its search algorithm would be giving a rankings boost to secure sites. This confirms rumors that have rippled through the search marketing industry for several months. This recent change is part of Google’s continuing efforts toward a more secure Web. Like so many pronouncements from Google, this has forced many site owners to reconsider whether to make their sites secure. Site owners need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of going secure. It may not be either prudent or cost effective at this time.

When Google made all searches secure and stopped providing site owners the keywords used by searchers to sites, the search giant gave a clear indication of its path and direction toward a ensuring a more secure, safe, Web environment. Google reasoned that it is protecting the identity of the searcher by not providing the keyword referrer. Some find this claim a bit disingenuous, given that the keyword referrer is still available for users of paid search.

The Pros and Cons—A Short Primer
The single-largest benefit gained by making your site secure is a minor algorithmic boost in Google results. This benefit must be weighed against a number of potential negatives and some steep costs. Secure sites run slower than unsecure sites—all that encryption takes more effort than just delivering an unsecure site. Several years ago, Google announced that site speed was going to figure into the rankings formula. At this time, it is unclear whether the rankings boost from having a secure site will be larger than the penalty for slowness. Google does not reveal the valences of its ranking factors, except for declaring some minor. Unless you have made your unsecure site fast and have in place protocols for continuously monitoring and testing your site’s speed, don’t even consider going secure. It will be like adding another brake to it. Your users and your Google rankings will be negatively impacted. A perceived need to possibly go secure in the future should be the impetus to address existing site speed issues.

Then there is the potential for additional penalties for duplicate content, should redirection and canonicalization schemes prove incomplete. The task of shifting and redirecting a very large site into a secure environment is a large task and may require remapping thousands of URLs. No matter how good your team is, you should expect leaks and misses. It is practically built into such projects. If your site is well-mapped and setting redirections and canonicalization are automated, then you may be ready to go secure. If this is not the case, tap the brakes on going secure. You may be creating huge headaches with just minor payback potential.

Did I mention that there are added costs? SSL certificates must be bought and maintained. How often have you gotten a message that a site’s certificate is out of date? You can be sure that Google will take a dim view of sites with expired certificates. Another unnecessary hit! Then, there are the operating costs. Many small businesses rely on gateways and do not manage a secure environment even though they take payments. If your business already has a secure environment in place and you have fully prepared your entire operation for this change, then and only then should you implement having a completely secure site. If you are not ready, consider what steps you should take to get ready and begin the process, for we can expect others to follow Google’s lead in making the Web safer and more secure.

Is Your Content Fresh, Frequent and Unique?

Today, your content plays a much larger role in getting top search results than ever before; therefore, it may be time to adjust your SEO content. In September 2013, Google unveiled Hummingbird, the single largest revamp of its basic search algorithm in more than 10 years. The intent of this major change was to improve the speed and precision of the processing. It was also designed to address the changes in searcher behavior as search volumes continue to shift from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Today, your content plays a much larger role in getting top search results than ever before; therefore, it may be time to adjust your SEO content. In September 2013, Google unveiled Hummingbird, the single largest revamp of its basic search algorithm in more than 10 years. The intent of this major change was to improve the speed and precision of the processing. It was also designed to address the changes in searcher behavior as search volumes continue to shift from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Hummingbird uses signals derived from the query and the user’s behavior to assist in delivering a result that quickly and precisely answers what the user really wants to find. When users search on mobile devices, they are frequently asking specific questions in conversational language: “Where is the nearest flower shop?” or “How many miles to … ?” Hummingbird was designed to address these natural language questions and provide specific and precise answers. To be found relevant, your content must address the needs of searchers for real information.

Although Hummingbird is expected to impact 90 percent of searches, many marketers are unaware of its influence on their search traffic. No significant shifts in Web traffic were reported worldwide after its launch. This is because the impact on most well-optimized sites was negligible. This should not be interpreted as a license to maintain the status quo on your search efforts. As users become more accustomed to receiving quality results from their conversational search queries, they will expect content that is honed to specifically address the questions that they form into queries.

To meet these expectations, your content should present answers to the types of questions that might be posed in a search query. It should be rich in useful information that is presented clearly. If you expect your content to appear near the top of the search results, it must meet these three criteria: fresh, frequent and unique. Over time, we can expect to see steadily improving search results for sites that understand and actualize these content requirements.

Fresh content does not necessarily mean that all of your content must be new. If you previously developed, as part of your search program, evergreen pieces, such as “frequently asked questions” or how-to articles, you should revisit them and check how long they have been on your site. Would they benefit from an update or a revision, or just a reformatting? For Google, fresh content is better than stale content. Just as no one really wants to read the stale magazines in the doctor’s waiting room; they don’t want the digital equivalent delivered in response to their search queries. Google obliges this by screening for the newest, freshest content. Now is the time to refresh those evergreen content pieces, even if you have not seen a negative shift in your search volumes. You may be able to capture additional visitors who are seeking answers to those questions that you have cleverly addressed.

Because frequency is another criterion used to evaluate the value of your content, you should be sure to have a schedule for adding more content and for refreshing older pieces. Take a lesson from the success of blog sites. Those with frequent posts of fresh content are rewarded with more search traffic than those with just a few stale posts. Consider how you might apply the same principles to content additions to your website.

Your content must also be unique—not just an aging chestnut. Avoid stale recitations or rehashes of information. Ask yourself: “Does this provide something that is new, unique—or is it just content for the sake of content?” For search success in the future, you will need to pay close attention to your content strategy and deliver fresh, frequent and unique content.