Everything You Need to Know About HTTP vs. HTTPS

By | October 20, 2021

What Is HTTP?

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) transfers data from a web server to your browser so that it can access and load websites. 

You’ve likely already seen it in your browser’s address bar (e.g. http://www.semrush.com)

What Is HTTPS?

HTTPS is the acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. Like HTTP, its main purpose is to transfer data from a server to your browser, so you can load websites. 

However, HTTPS uses an encrypted connection to communicate between the server and the browser. A SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate protects the transferred data from being stolen as it’s exchanged. 

HTTPS was created in 1994 but wasn’t widely used as the standard until 2019. Its popularity is mostly due to Google recommending that sites switch to HTTPS in 2014. 

You can also spot HTTPS in your browser’s address bar (e.g. https://www.semrush.com).

What Is the Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS?

Thanks to its encrypted connection, HTTPS is more secure than HTTP. 

Site security is important even if you don’t have an ecommerce site or a website that handles sensitive data. A secure site protects your customers from getting their data stolen and protects your website from security breaches that cost time and money to fix. 

Other benefits include:

  1. Users trust HTTPS: Extra security encourages users to trust your brand and website. They’ll feel more comfortable sharing sensitive data with you or making purchases on your website. 
  2. Boost to SEO Ranking: Since HTTPS makes the web safer and better for users, Google was a big advocate for the switch from HTTP to HTTPS back in 2014. They also confirmed that websites using HTTPS had the potential to rank higher than those using HTTP.
  3. Opportunity for AMP Pages: Only sites with HTTPS can use the AMP (accelerated mobile page) framework. AMPs are mobile-only pages or websites that load quickly, making them more mobile-friendly. 

How to Switch from HTTP to HTTPS

You’ll be glad to know that switching to HTTPS is a relatively straightforward process:

  1. Purchase an SSL certificate: Plenty of web hosting companies (like GoDaddy or Namecheap) sell SSL certificates. However, if you wish to purchase your certificate from a third-party vendor, ensure that you research thoroughly before making your purchase. 
  2. Install your SSL certificate via your web hosting: Each web hosting service will have different instructions on how to install your SSL certificate. 
  3. Update any internal links from HTTP to HTTPS: Not all links will transfer over neatly. If you notice any links that still point to the HTTP version of your web page, update them directly in the code.
  4. Set any redirect from HTTP to HTTPS: You can also set up manual redirects to ensure that browser point to the HTTPS version of your webpage.

If you aren’t comfortable making these technical changes, most web hosting companies can handle this for you at a price. You still need to update or redirect any remaining internal links to HTTPS.

How to Check if You Are Using HTTPS

If you’re not sure if your website uses HTTPS, it’s easy to check. Enter your site’s domain into your browser’s address bar. You should see:

  1. Your domain is prefaced with “https://”
  2. There is a lock symbol next to your domain 

Possible HTTPS Implementation Errors

Of course, even the most experienced webmaster can run into issues when setting up new protocols. Switching from HTTP to HTTPS has its benefits, but there are problems that can occur during or after the switch. Keep an eye out for:

  • Duplicate Content: Google treats the HTTP and HTTPS versions of a URL as two different pages with identical content. You’ll need to set up a redirect to indicate that they are the same page. 
  • Wrong SSL Certificate: There are multiple types of SSL certificates, so ensure you’re choosing the right one to purchase and install on your website. Use a single domain certificate if you have one domain, a multiple domain certificate if you have more than one primary domain on the same IP address, or a wildcard certificate if you have a primary domain and several subdomains. 
    An SSL certificate issue will cause the browser to block the website and display an error message. Users won’t feel encouraged to continue browsing the website. 
  • Search Engines Use HTTP Version: Google will not automatically be notified when you migrate to HTTPS, so it is your job to alert them with the Google Search Console. You can do this by manually requesting that Google crawls and indexes your website. Find out how to do this in our guide here. 

If you run into any HTTPS issues, you can use tools to help you troubleshoot. First, double-check that your web host provider hasn’t flagged any issues with your transfer. Some web hosting services will alert you if your certificate didn’t install correctly. 

The Site Audit tool can also help identify any issues with your HTTPS certificate. The tool includes over 120 website checks that tackle every aspect of your site’s technical SEO, including HTTPS protocols.

To get started with the Site Audit tool:

  1. Log into your Semrush account. 
  2. Select Projects under Management to view your project(s). (If you don’t have a project for your site, you’ll need to create one.) 
  3. Select your preferred project, then select Site Audit from the project dashboard.

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4. Configure your audit settings. You’ll be able to set the audit’s crawl scope, disallow URLs, and add additional website login information.

http vs https

5. Select Start Site Audit.

In the tool’s Overview report, you’ll receive a score for your site based on how many issues the audit found and their severity. The report also includes widgets for additional reports on your site’s crawlability, page speed and more. 

To view the HTTPS Implementation thematic report, select the HTTPS widget from the Overview: 

http vs https

This report provides further details about your HTTPS certification. Check for any HTTP errors under Website Architecture. You’ll even be able to see which links redirect to the HTTP version so that you can correct them:

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Read more about the Site Audit’s settings in its user manual.

Key Takeaways

  • HTTPS is more secure for your users and your website. Site security encourages a better user experience and can potentially boost your rankings.
  • The process of switching from HTTP to HTTPS is relatively straightforward, but keep an eye for common issues like duplicate content.
  • Check to make sure your website isn’t experiencing HTTPS or other issues with a site audit tool.

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