If you haven’t already heard, Google has announced a new ranking factor to its enigmatic algorithm. And as I’m sure you’re well aware, when the search giant outright announces an update to its algorithm, it is wise to take note.

The announcement discloses that Google has started applying website encryption, or their use of HTTPS, as a ranking signal for organic search. While the change is currently impacting less than one percent of queries around the globe, they may strengthen the signal in the future.

Google changes its algorithm

Why now, Google?

Google’s positioning on cyber security is not new. In November 2011, it made the decision to encrypt data for organic clicks occurring on its engine. The infamous result of their move to encrypted search was the loss of keyword referral data in all analytics platforms, only to be replaced with “Not Provided” organic referrals. At SMX West in March, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, voiced his opinion on the importance of website encryption, saying that he would love to make SLL ranking a factor in Google’s algorithm. Overall, the industry doesn’t have much cause to be shocked by Google’s announcement.

While the news does not come as a surprise, businesses and marketers around the world are still scrambling to crunch the numbers and determine how much this shift will cost their business. Many wonder how necessary the move is for their business and whether the extra layer of security is important for all websites.

While this may be a costly exercise for many businesses, Greg Bustamante, Director of Engineering at DEG, says, “It’s a common sense move for businesses to make.” He goes on to explain that, “although the secure channel requires more negotiations and CPU on the server side for encryption, consensus now appears to be that this overhead is negligible. This makes the security shift a no-brainer for both encrypted communication and site validation through certificates.”

Google is always searching for relevant ways to improve its organic ranking algorithm by combating spam and enhancing the user experience. For years, the Google spam team has been fighting unfavorable SEO tactics like buying links, cloaking, creating doorway pages, content automation…etc. The list is seemingly endless. Some businesses have even experienced short or long term gains by using experimental or black hat SEO tactics, but it is getting more difficult for these types of tactics to win.

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In most public statements that Google makes regarding SEO, they will generally discuss more ambiguous ranking factors, like high-quality content and a strong user experience. But the fact remains that there are literally hundreds of ranking factors (relatively known and unknown) that make up Google’s algorithm. The SEO industry works day and night to decode Google’s complex algorithm and determine what site enhancements will have the biggest impact on organic traffic.


Where do we go from here?

In light of Google’s recent emphasis on security, my advice to businesses and marketers would be to step back and look at the big picture. Have you audited your site and found other major barriers to search engine crawlers, like broken links, duplicate content, poor site architecture, or extremely slow site speed? Those types of issues are probably still much more important and more worthy of your time and attention.

But for those businesses operating in ultra-competitive industries that put a high degree of attention on SEO – where even the slimmest of margins can make all of the difference – well, this might be a great opportunity to get a leg-up on the competition.

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