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HostPapa Blog / Security  / The Importance of SSL Certificates to Search Engines
22 Nov

The Importance of SSL Certificates to Search Engines
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(Last Updated On: March 9, 2022)

SSL certificates have become more common as internet security is a constant concern, especially giant internet companies like Google. Every day, Google blacklists over 10,000 websites, removing them from search results and removing the majority of visitors that go to those websites. This can hurt not only your sales but also bruise your reputation.

Nobody, except for Google, really knows what goes into their search rankings or what causes a website to be blacklisted. However, according to a recent Sucuri study, some factors used in search ranking include domain name age, keywords, links, and most interestingly, the importance of SSL certificates. 

But what is SSL? This article will tell you everything about it and how it can be the best security option for your websites.

What is an SSL Certificate?

SSL Certificates will appear as a green padlock next to a URL and the green https at the URL’s start.

An SSL certificate encrypts data sent and received between servers and computers. SSL certificates often secure credit card information during online transactions, login information, and data transfers.

SSL certificates don’t secure a website but secure visitors’ information. There are some obvious indicators that a website has an SSL certificate enabled: the green padlock to the left of the URL and the HTTPS at the beginning of the URL.

What Does SSL Mean?

SSL stands for “Secure Sockets Layer.” It’s a certificate issued to a website from a relevant, authoritative source that ensures the website is empowered by standard security technology.

The issuance of the certificate establishes an encrypted link between the client and the webserver or browser, so all information exchanged on the webserver remains secure and free from the risk of theft or hacking.

What is SSL Encryption?

SSL encryption refers to the public concealment of all information and data transited on a website from a visitor to the website owner. This data could include login credentials (including passwords), social security number, credit card number, medical records, property information, and financial information.

Since all of these details are sensitive and highly personal, the website owes it to the visitor to protect it at all costs from being stolen, leaked, or hacked into.

To make sure that this information stays only between the website owner and user, SSL encryption is obtained. This encryption, denoted by the padlock icon and HTTPS on the address bar, assures users that the information they share will remain confidential.

But how do certificates work? Learn below.

How Does SSL Work?

In simplest terms, SSL certificates work by ensuring that data and information exchanged between the user and the website remains hidden from the public view. SSL uses encryption algorithms to scramble the data in the transition – it reaches the website safe and secure, but it becomes impossible to be read by a third party.

The whole process works in the following steps.

  1. A browser attempts to connect to the website secured with SSL.
  2. The browser demands identification from the website.
  3. The web server sends a copy of its SSL as a response.
  4. The browser checks the information. If the information is correct, it gives the green light to the webserver.
  5. The web server returns a signed acknowledgment to begin the SSL encrypted process.
  6. Encrypted data is shared between the browser and the webserver.

This process is also known as “SSL handshake.” This process takes seconds.

When done, the website displays HTTPS in the URL. A padlock icon also starts showing on the address bar, a secure connection symbol.

  • A user can click on this padlock icon to find the following information
  • The domain name of the certificate holder
  • The person, organization, or device the certificate was issued to
  • Certificate Authority name and digital sign
  • Sub-domains associated with SSL
  • Date of issuance
  •  Expiration date
  •  Public key

Types of SSL Certificates

While an SSL certificate mainly fulfills the purpose of security and encryption, it’s further divided into six types. A website owner needs to be familiar with every type of certificate to know what kind of certificate would be the right choice to obtain that will fit the website right and be cost-effective.

1. Extended Validation Certificate (EV SSL)

This is the most expensive and highest-ranked type of SSL certificate, which tends to be used by large-scale and high-profile websites that collect sensitive consumer information and use online payment methods.

This SSL certificate shows a padlock, HTTPS, business name, and country name on the browser when it’s installed. When the website owner’s information is displayed on the address bar, it becomes easier for the user to distinguish it from the shady websites.

The website owner must sign up for standardized identity verification to be authorized legally for exclusive domain rights to get the EV SSL.

2. Organization Validated Certificate (OV SSL)

Commercial and public-facing sites mainly ensure that their personal information is confidential. This type is similar to EV SSL but has the same validation process and shows the website owner’s information on the address bar. It’s the second-most expensive SSL certificate.

3. Domain Validated Certificate (DV SSL)

The address bar displays a padlock and HTTPS only. They’re usually used by blogs and informational sites that don’t collect payment information. This type of certification requires only a confirmation from a domain owner through an email or phone call, providing lower assurance and encryption.

4. Multi-Domain SSL Certificate (MDC)

A multi-domain SSL certificate simultaneously secures several domains and subdomains, including unique domains and subdomains with different TLDs.

For example,

  • www.example.com
  •  www.example.org
  • example.anything.com.au
  • checkout.example.com
  • secure.example.org

That being said, multi-domain certificates don’t support subdomains by default. You’d need to specify all domains when obtaining the certificate.

5. Wildcard SSL Certificates

Wildcard SSL certificates secure the base domain and unlimited subdomains on a single obtainment of a certificate. If you have many subdomains that need to be encrypted, buying a wildcard SSL is a more cost-effective option than buying individual SSL certificates for each one.

Wildcard SSL certificates have an asterisk (*) as part of the name, representing the subdomains with the same main domain. For instance, a single Wildcard SSL for *website can secure:

  • payments.yourdomain.com
  • login.yourdomain.com
  • mail.yourdomain.com
  • download.yourdomain.com

6. Unified Communications Certificate (UCC)

UCCs are also considered multi-domain certificates. They were initially designed to secure Microsoft Exchange and Live Communications servers. However, now they can be used by any website that wants multiple domain names secured on a single SSL certificate.

UCCs are validated organizationally and display a padlock on a browser. They can also be used as EV SSL certificates to provide the visitors with the highest level of encryption through the green address bar.

Can an SSL Certificate Be Used on Multiple Servers?

Yes, it’s possible to use a single SSL certificate on multiple servers, depending on the vendor, just like one SSL certificate can be used for multiple domains on one server. This is possible thanks to multi-domain SSL certificates.

As the name suggests, multi-domain SSL works with multiple domains, unlike single domain SSL that works with a single domain per certificate. Multi-domain SSL certificates are also referred to as SAN certificates. SAN (Subject Alternative Name) is an additional field of multi-domain SSL that can list other domains that can be covered under one certificate.

Unified Communications Certificates (UCCs) and Wildcard SSL Certificates also allow coverage for multiple domains and even an unlimited number of domains. Depending on the vendor, the number of servers can also be covered under these certificates.

What Do SSL Certificates Have to Do With Google?

With mounting threats against online security, Google has moved to make the Internet a safer place by removing harmful websites from their search results and displaying warnings to anyone visiting a potentially dangerous website. Any website on which malware is detected will be blacklisted by Google, removed from the search engine, and a warning will be displayed to users accessing it through Chrome, letting them know that their information could be at risk.

Sucuri is an internet security company that sends out many blacklist review requests after cleaning a client’s website. In one recent study, Sucuri found that Google’s deceptive content warning would only be removed once an SSL certificate was activated on a website. Most websites with a warning that appeared were either new or had information inputs for customers, such as login or credit card prompts, without using an SSL certificate.

If you’re still wondering, “do I need an SSL certificate for my website?”, read the reasons why having an SSL certificate is critical.

Why You Need an SSL Certificate

For new website owners, SSL certificates might seem optional. But if you’re planning on ever going big, you should get an SSL certificate right after establishing your site, so users trust you from the very beginning. Here are some of the reasons why your website should use a Secure Sockets Layer certificate for your website.

1. Secured Date

SSL certificate’s main purpose is to secure your website’s data and users. It prevents attacks on your website’s security and authenticity. It wouldn’t allow anyone to create a fake website in your name or use your information to commit a felony.

2. Encrypted Information

Many websites ask you to sign in through your email or phone number and add your personal details to make a purchase, like credit card numbers. Some service-based sites also ask about issues related to your health, property, or personal finances to provide consultation. This data is entirely personal and shouldn’t be shared with anyone. The SSL certificate on the website encrypts this information between the user and the website owner. If anyone tries to get your information from the site, they wouldn’t be able to.

3. Displays Security

Often, a user turns back from the website because the browser labels it “not secure.” That happens because a website is not SSL-certified and doesn’t display the HTTPS tag, the secure form of HTTP. Most browsers label such websites as “unknown sources” and “insecure connections.”

This automatically triggers the user to go back from the site without downloading or buying anything. SSL certificate displays a “secure connection” and a padlock on the address bar, which assures users that their surfing on the web is entirely secure and safe.

There are multiple other reasons your website needs an SSL certificate – the main one is to make sure that your visitor feels safe, and that should be enough of an explanation.

What Do SSL Certificates Cost?

As we learned above, there are different types of SSL certificates. Some are top-ranked and expensive; others are low-ranked and cheaper. So, the cost of the SSL certificate depends on the kind of SSL certificate you opt for.

You can minimize the costs of SSL certification depending on the kind of website you have and how many domains you need to get SSL certified. For instance, you can get a single domain SSL certificate if you have one domain. However, if you have multiple domains and the sub-domains on a single server, you can get a multi-domain SSL certificate as a more cost-effective option than getting a single domain SSL for each domain.

If you’re curious to know the exact numbers, the pricing of an SSL certificate is about $60 per year on average. That being said, since the prices vary widely, it can go from $5 per year to $1,000 per year, depending on how much security your site needs.

How to Get an SSL Certificate

Now that you know the types of SSL certificates, why they are important, and what benefits they offer, you should know where to get them.

Obtaining an SSL certificate is pretty straightforward. There are many vendors in the market that can get your site certified by SSL. Choose your SSL certificate vendor carefully because you’ll be using them forever to renew the SSL certificate(s) every two years or more.  

Once you choose the vendor to purchase an SSL certificate from, they’ll guide you about the whole process and know when the procedure is completed and your site is legally SSL-certified. The entire process takes around a day or two.

How to Tell if a Site Has an SSL Certificate

As explained above, there are a few indicators of SSL-certified websites. The easiest way to identify such a site is to look at the address bar and find the following:

  • The URL begins with HTTPS instead of HTTP (HTTPS means the site is SSL-secured)
  • A padlock symbol can be clicked to see the security details of the website
  • When the connection isn’t secure, meaning not SSL-certified, browsers show warning signs, such as “connection is not secure” and “unknown source.” It offers a red padlock and a warning triangle on top of the padlock emblem. These factors are more than enough to scare a user away from your website.

What Happens When an SSL Certificate Expires?

SSL certificates don’t last forever; they have an expiration date. The regulatory body of the SSL industry, Certificate Authority/Browser Forum, has stated every SSL certificate’s life can’t be more than 27 months. That means two years, with the option to carry over three months if you renew your SSL with time remaining on the expiration date.

There’s a reason why SSL certificates have expiration dates. Like any other document, information on the SSL needs to be revalidated periodically to ensure it’s still accurate. Things on the internet change. Websites are bought, sold, and merged. The information changes, some of it might be relevant to SSL certificates. Therefore, the purpose of the SSL expiration and renewal is to ensure that the information remains authentic and accurate and the user surfs through secure connections.

When the SSL expires and isn’t renewed in time, the site in question becomes unsecure. When the user arrives at the site, the “SSL handshake” checks the site’s SSL certificate validity within seconds, and if the validity has expired, it gives a warning sign to the user – “This site is not secure. Potential risk ahead.”

The users still have the option to proceed, but it’s advised that they shouldn’t – their cybersecurity would be at stake. This will significantly impact the bounce rates of websites as users would rapidly turn back from the website, knowing it’s insecure.

While small and medium-scale businesses might have to care only for one or a few certificates to manage, enterprise-level organizations that transact data across the markets using a vast, expanded network have many more certificates. At this level, if the SSL certificate expires and you’re not on top of it, it’s usually a result of oversight and not incompetence.   

The best way to stay on top of the expiration of SSL is through a certificate management platform. On these platforms, you can find them through an online search and manage your digital certificates across a vast digital infrastructure. You must log in to these platforms regularly to see when the expiration is due.

If you allow the certificates to expire, the certificates become invalid, disabling you from performing any transaction on the website. You’ll get prompted by the Certification Authority to renew the SSL certificate before the expiration date.

Your SSL certificate vendor will send you notifications at regular intervals. Make sure that these reminders are sent to relevant people in your company.

How to Ensure Your Online Session is Safe

There are multiple ways to make sure your online session remains safe and secure for the users. Some of the obvious ones are listed below.

  • Only submit your personal information, like payment details, to websites with EV or OV SSL certificates. DV websites are not entirely suitable to be eCommerce websites. Check out types of SSL certificates to know what EV and OV SSL certified sites look like.  
  • Read the website’s privacy policy to ensure how the company will use your data. Not all companies are completely transparent, but legitimate ones are.
  • Look out for indicators for safety on websites. These indicators can be the kind of ads a website displays, the kind of prices it charges, some reputable badges and logos, contact information, physical address, and more.
  • Stay alert to phishing scams, where hackers and scammers create fake websites to trick people into purchasing or logging in using their personal information. Many HTTPS sites are involved, as they deceive users with a padlock icon and then take their information to run scams.

To avoid these scams and hacks and prevent the leaking or theft of your data, follow the guidelines below.

  • Always examine the domain name – is it spelled correctly? The fake URLs can differ by only one character.
  • Never enter your credentials and personal or financial details on a site unless you know its authenticity.
  • Always consider what the site is offering – is it suspicious? Do you need to sign up for it?
  • Always make sure that your devices are protected and secured.

While the cybersecurity risks are increasing day by day, understanding the SSL certificates has become even more critical. It’s critical to know everything to know safe and secure online sessions to distinguish a legitimate site from a scam one.

Key Takeaways

It used to be that having your website appear on Google would make or break its success. Now more than ever, it seems that having an SSL certificate plays a big part in it. This all began in 2014 when Google announced that having HTTPS would help your website rank higher in their search results.

Google’s stance on protecting visitors’ security went further in January 2017. At the start of the year, Google started placing the “Not Secure” label whenever an http website would ask for passwords or credit card information.

It seems Google is trying to make webmasters more accountable for visitor information by making SSL certificates necessary to running a successful website. Without an SSL certificate, your website runs the risk of disappearing from Google’s search results and of appearing as an unsafe option for people who visit it through the Chrome web browser.

SSL certificates are crucial, especially if you handle sensitive customer information such as passwords and credit cards. Not only does an SSL certificate encrypt your visitors’ information and keep it safe, but it now also helps your website rank higher in Google.

SSL certificates are easy to set up and add to your website. You can see what HostPapa offers here, and you can learn how to install your SSL Certificate with this HostPapa knowledge base article. If you run into any issues, you can contact our support team day and night. For more helpful tips and tricks on running a successful website, make sure you keep coming back to the HostPapa blog.

Ryan Juraschka

Ryan is a self-described geek. He's an avid gamer, a fan of science-fiction literature and an aspiring author and journalist. At HostPapa, he focuses on creating content to help small business owners make the most of their entrepreneurship experience.

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