08 August 2014

Official Google Webmaster Central Blog: “HTTPS as a ranking signal”


For these reasons, over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We've seen positive results, so we're starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it's only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content — while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.

Zineb Ait Bahajji & Gary Illyes

It seems like most of the online community has jumped at the chance to applaud this measure to encourage better security online, but personally I’m rather apprehensive about it. For me as regular person browsing the Internet this doesn’t bring any tangible improvement; I need privacy and strong security when doing sensitive transactions like online shopping and communicating, and, as we saw in the recent huge security breaches like Heartbleed and NSA tracking, a secure connection guarantees neither.

As mini-publisher on my blog this introduces further complications; most of my traffic comes from search engines and specifically , so ignoring this recommendation will result in reduced visibility over time, especially if this signal will get stronger, as the announcement politely threatens. On the other hand, even though I’m far from clueless when it comes to technology, I have no idea how to choose and set up a secure certificate. I don’t make money off the blog, so paying for a certificate would be just extra costs with no revenues. What’s more ironic here is that , where I write my articles currently and the solution Google itself uses, doesn’t even offer secure connections for articles! I suspect most small bloggers and businesses will find themselves in the same situation: with little to no time and resources to spare for such a questionable advantage.

  • Some people get it…
  • …others not so much. Can you say ‘censorship’?

Unfortunately, I think there are bigger concerns here. Promoting secure sites in search results introduces a dangerous bias in favor of bigger companies and publishers, the ones with the money to protect their placement and comply with Google’s ever-changing rules. This goes against the free, open and distributed nature of the Internet, marginalizing the independent voices and small companies. Over time, this will drive them away from the open web, discourage them from owning an independent site, pushing them further in the grip of fully or semi-closed platforms. It’s another worrying sign of Google’s dominant position in the search market. It almost doesn’t matter if the end-goal is objectively ‘good’ for the web; what I see here is Google using its monopoly on search discovery to dictate the future of the Internet and no company should be allowed to do that.

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