Securing Your Web Space With SSL (Part 1)
by Michael Van Houten
Congratulations! You’re about to launch your new website. After months (or maybe even years) of meetings, design tweaks, content wrangling, and testing, you’re finally ready to point your domain name to a web hosting server, purchase and install an SSL certificate, publish your web files, and tell the world about your new, shiny home on the web.
Hold up (you might be thinking)…a WHAT certificate?! What the SSL are you talking about?
When it comes to website planning, purchasing an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate might be the one detail that gets overlooked more than any other. And that’s not just conjecture—research shows that as recent as 2018, more than half of the world’s websites were not considered “secure.” So what’s the big deal? If millions of websites out there don’t have an SSL certificate, why is it so important? And what the heck is SSL anyway?
First off, let’s get the jargon out of the way. Technically speaking, SSL is the standard security technology for creating an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. In other words, it’s a mechanism to ensure that any data that travels between people’s browsers and your web server will remain private and secure.
I could (and will!) write another blog about the technical details of what that means and how to set up SSL, but here are four reasons you should care about securing your website with SSL in the first place.
1. The Trust Factor
If you use your website to sell goods or services, the need for SSL is obvious. Your customers are entrusting you with their financial information, and they expect you to keep that information secure.
Oh, you’re not using your website to sell anything? Then SSL is nothing to worry about, right? Wrong. Consider that “Contact Us” form you hope potential customers will fill out. What are you asking them to provide? Their name? An email address? That kind of information might seem pretty basic, but it is like currency to hackers, telemarketers, and anyone else looking to spam people with a barrage of emails and texts trying to sell THEIR stuff (not yours). Taking the extra step to make your site more secure with SSL will help protect your website visitors from any such breach, but it will also make them FEEL more secure. As a result, they’ll feel more comfortable from the very beginning entrusting you with their sensitive information.
2. User Experience
If keeping your website visitors secure isn’t enough to get you thinking about the importance of SSL, perhaps this screenshot will:
Look familiar? That’s the type of screen most modern browsers display when you first visit a site that has no SSL certificate. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing you’d rather not have a big warning that says “GO BACK!” when potential customers first visit your website. Especially when you can’t just call up a “browser tech support person” and have them turn that message off. On the other hand, when you have a valid SSL certificate installed, your visitors will immediately get to experience the content that YOU want them to see; and hopefully they’ll return to it again and again.
3. Search Ranking
Perhaps the most important reason to install an SSL certificate on your website is to help people find your site in the first place. In other words, Google cares a lot about SSL. As far back as 2014, the search giant actually began to give higher search rankings to websites with a valid SSL certificate. If your site is NOT secured, that might be one answer as to why you’re not showing up until the second or third page of search results. And guess what? Most people have stopped searching by then.
Think about all the time and money you’ve spent marketing, designing, developing, and deploying your website. What good is ANY of it if people can’t easily find it or are met with “non-secure website” error messages? By comparison, SSL certificates are cheap. Most standard certificates cost less than $200 per year, and some web hosting companies even offer them for free. That’s a very small price to pay for establishing the all-important first connection with your customers, especially when you’re probably spending a lot more than that on all of your other marketing endeavors.
Think about the many things you do to make your business a success. If your website is one of them, then you owe it to yourselves and your customers to make web security a priority by purchasing and installing an SSL certificate. We will cover that process in an upcoming blog, so stay tuned!