What is HTTPS? The A-Z of Encrypted Web Connections

Adam Steele
Jan 15, 2024
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As concern around online security has grown, the adoption of HTTPS among website owners has seen a remarkable surge. As a result, 51.8 percent of the one million most visited websites worldwide now actively redirect to HTTPS—a significant increase compared to 2018, when only 38.4 percent of the top million sites used encrypted connections.

But what is HTTPS, and why has there been such a rapid transition toward this security protocol?

To answer these questions, we’ve created a comprehensive guide that

  1. demystifies the concept of HTTPS,
  2. breaks down why HTTPS is so important,
  3. and details how to implement HTTPS on a website.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS—Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure—is the secure version of its predecessor, HTTP, the protocol web browsers use to communicate with websites. In a nutshell, HTTPS ensures that the data exchanged between a user’s browser and the website they’re visiting is encrypted, safeguarding internet users’ sensitive information and maintaining privacy.

Learn more: 250+ SEO terms explained.

Why is HTTPS Important?

So why is HTTPS so important? The answer to this question lies in the benefits it offers both website owners and users:

  1. Data security. HTTPS encrypts the data between a user’s browser and a website, protecting sensitive details such as login information, personal data, and payment specifics against cybercriminals and nefarious actors.
  2. Privacy. HTTPS minimizes unauthorized eavesdropping by third parties, preserving the privacy of users.
  3. Compliance with regulations. Adopting HTTPS allows website owners to fulfill the security criteria set by data protection regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
  4. User trust. A secure connection fosters trust among users. As a result, website visitors are more likely to engage with content and make transactions on a website they perceive as safe.
  5. Compatibility. With internet users demanding a safer browsing experience, HTTP is becoming increasingly incompatible. Mozilla Firefox has introduced an optional HTTPS-only mode, and Google Chrome is progressively blocking mixed content (HTTP resources on HTTPS pages).
  6. SEO. Google has explicitly earmarked HTTPS as a ranking signal, meaning websites that have embraced HTTPS will likely enjoy a boost on the search engine result pages (SERPs).

Learn more: HTTP vs. HTTPS SEO.

How HTTPS Works

HTTPS relies on two key components: encryption and SSL/TLS certificates:

  • Data encryption ensures that only authorized recipients can access information between a user’s browser and a visited website. This level of security is achieved by HTTPS employing a mix of symmetric and asymmetric encryption techniques, rendering any nefariously intercepted data unreadable.
  • SSL/TLS certificates are cryptographic protocols designed to enable secure communication across computer networks and play a vital role in the deployment of HTTPS. Websites employing HTTPS must possess an SSL/TLS certificate issued by a reliable Certificate Authority (CA). These certificates confirm the website’s identity and facilitate a safe, encrypted connection between the user’s browser and the website.

To help you understand how both encryption and SSL/TLS certificates provide a secure browsing experience, here’s a brief look at what it all looks like in action:

  1. First, when a user clicks on a website from Search or an external link, the website requests a secure connection by sending its SSL/TLS certificate and public key to the browser.
  2. The browser then verifies the certificate’s authenticity and validity, ensuring a trusted CA has been issued.
  3. If the certificate is valid, the browser creates a unique session key that encrypts with a public key and sends it back to the website.
  4. The website decrypts the session key using its private key, a secure connection is established, and encrypted data can now be exchanged between the browser and the website.

Learn more: Google SSL requirements for SEO.

Identifying HTTPS Websites

Modern browsers display security indicators that allow internet users to identify secure websites. These indicators include:

  • URL Scheme. URLs starting with “https://” instead of “http://” is a clear indication that a website is secure—the “s” denotes a secure, encrypted connection.
  • Padlock Icon. A padlock in the address bar before a site’s URL signifies a valid SSL/TLS certificate and encrypted data exchange.
  • Green Address Bar (EV Certificates). Alongside the padlock, websites with Extended Validation (EV) SSL/TLS certificates display the company’s name in green.
  • Browser Warnings. Using messaging such as “Not Secure” or “Your connection is not private,” Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge explicitly warn users about websites with security issues or invalid certificates.

Enabling HTTPS on Your Website

Enabling HTTPS on a website is crucial to ensure the security and privacy of browsing for users. Implementing HTTPS involves the following steps and considerations:

1. Obtain an SSL/TLS Certificate

As mentioned above, enabling HTTPS requires acquiring an SSL/TLS certificate. Website owners can choose between three types of SSL/TLS certificates:

  1. Domain Validation (DV) is the most basic level of SSL/TLS certificate, which only verifies domain ownership—ideal for small websites and blogs where user trust isn’t a primary concern.
  2. Organization Validation (OV) certificate level requires the CA to verify your organization’s details, providing users with a higher level of trust, suitable for businesses and organizations that handle sensitive data.
  3. Extended Validation (EV) is the highest SSL/TLS certificate level, requiring the most extensive verification process, including checks on the organization’s legal, operational, and physical existence, a certificate recommended for e-commerce websites, banks, and other organizations that handle highly sensitive information.

2. Install the SSL/TLS Certificate

Once an SSL/TLS certificate is obtained, installing it on your web server is next. Some hosting providers offer automated tools or support for SSL/TLS certificate installation. If you’re unsure how to handle this part of the process, simply check your provider’s instructions or hit up their support team for some help with the installation process.

3. Update Your Website’s Internal Links and Resources

Ensure all internal links and resources (such as images, scripts, and stylesheets) use HTTPS URLs to avoid potential content warnings. To do so, you may need to update your website’s code, content management system (CMS), or database to reflect the changes.

4. Configure HTTP to HTTPS Redirects

To ensure that users can access your website securely, configure your web server to redirect HTTP requests to HTTPS automatically. This process can differ based on your web server software, so consult your server’s documentation or seek assistance from your hosting provider.

5. Update External Links and Marketing Materials

Use HTTPS URLs to update any external links or marketing materials that reference your website, including social media profiles, email signatures, and business cards.

Learn more: how to fix redirect chains.

Conclusion

If you need assistance implementing HTTPS or optimizing your website’s security and SEO, our experts at Loganix are here to help. We offer comprehensive services to meet your online needs, ensuring your website remains secure, trustworthy, and competitive in today’s digital landscape.

Explore our SEO service offerings today, or let us help you migrate to HTTPS with our SSL migration service.

Written by Adam Steele on January 15, 2024

COO and Product Director at Loganix. Recovering SEO, now focused on the understanding how Loganix can make the work-lives of SEO and agency folks more enjoyable, and profitable. Writing from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.