Examining the Move to HTTPS: The Guardian Migration

“Should we move to HTTPS?” is a question we hear from clients all the time. More and more sites are moving to their sites to HTTPS in hopes of increasing security and slight bump in SEO ranking factors. As an SEO team, we’ve been recommending the migration to HTTPS for quite some time. While many think of the switch to HTTPS centered on credit card security and encrypting private information, content sites are also pushing forward with this transition.
In fact, in a recently publicized move, The Guardian announced its move to HTTPS. This major publishing site is one of the first of its kind to make an announcement on this subject.

What Does This Mean For Users and Webmasters Across the Web?

As Guardian explains its reasoning behind the change, we took a look at some of the main benefits they named when deciding to migrate.

  • Privacy-Protecting readers’ security and information, specifically ISPs are not able to track the pages that users are looking at. This is performed by encrypting the data to keep it secure from potential hackers or eavesdroppers.
  • Security- HTTPS proves that the user is communicating with the intended website. This helps prevent data modification and man in the middle attacks, which would secretly send users from their intended website.
  • SEO- It’s great to see SEO directly mentioned within The Guardian blog post. Google announced it favors HTTPS websites over HTTP, by giving a slight ranking boost to websites that utilize HTTPS.This ranking change is an extra step Google is taking to show the benefits of a secured web and its push to have the web entirely secured. You know what they say, what Google wants, Google gets. In addition, referral traffic from HTTPS to HTTP sites often appears as “Direct” traffic in Google Analytics. The switch to HTTPS helps reveal the referral traffic information within Google Analytics.

It is apparent that there are many benefits to moving to HTTPS. The Guardian also harps on a key delay behind the change: revenue. Many ad agencies and ad exchange networks have not jumped on the HTTPS bandwagon. The Guardian’s fear was that their move to HTTPS would negatively affect their ability to make money to support their site. After all, public publishers rely on online advertising to succeed. A valid fear, of course.

Why Aren’t Ad Agencies and Ad Exchange Networks Migrating to HTTPS?

This brings up an even bigger point: why aren’t ad agencies and ad exchange networks on board for HTTPS? Isn’t a secured web a stronger web? The problem lies within the ad exchange network as there is little control in the format of the advertising the exchange serves up.

In actuality, there is little to no control what ads or creative will be served to your site. Likewise, the ads are not created with your site in mind— they are mass produced for thousands of sites out there. Security is an after-thought, as the focus is the creative and the ability to track impressions and clicks. An ad that breaks security rules or has non-HTTPS elements essentially creates a security exception, mitigating the HTTPS and secure site features you worked so hard for.
Pushing for more ad publishers to move their ad networks to a HTTPS setup could result in more online publishers moving to a secured site. Google has taken many of its ad features to a secure setup, a great first step. But until more ad publishers are on board, the likelihood of seeing more HTTPS content sites that rely on lucrative advertising dollars is slim.

Beyond revenue, why don’t more content sites migrate to HTTPS? One key area that comes to mind: resources. It takes a team of experts to help lead the charge and ensure that the migration to HTTPS is done smoothly and correctly. In The Guardian’s 806 word explanation of “How They Did It,” you definitely get the feeling that this wasn’t an overnight process. It was months in the making with testing and tweaking to result in a true HTTPS experience for users.

So we get to the moral of story: is it worth it? Is it ever worth moving to HTTPS? Without insight into The Guardian’s Google Analytics or keyword rankings, it is hard to know from a SEO perspective. However, from a user perspective, I always feel better knowing my data is encrypted and there’s not some creepy middle man trying to get involved with my information. After all, safety first.

Interested in learning more about SEO? Find out how Knowledge Graphs helped TravelStore become an online entity and thus benefitting from the “billboard effect”.

Sara Leaf
About the Author

Sara Leaf

Sara joined the Elite SEM Atlanta office as one of the founding team members of the SEO division. She is Google Analytics certified and along with her accounts, also manages content creation and production for the division. Sara is an avid college football fan (go Dawgs) and a self-diagnosed television addict.

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