Reminder about Google’s October 2017 HTTPS “Deadline”

Quick reminder to small business owners about Google's announcement regarding HTTPS on websites. In a nutshell, Chrome Browser is going to begin showing a “Not secure” warning in two additional situations: when users enter data on an HTTP page, and on all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode. There were discussions on this sub about it a few months ago here and here.

I have a travel tribe of 200+ bloggers and saw recently that 75% of them still don't have HTTPS on their sites. So I wrote instructions for the members on how to secure their sites and the info is relevant here too. Below is a copy of the post. If all this is greek to you, just ask your web developer to bring you up to speed. Or if you built your own website via a one-click WordPress install and a pre-built theme, and this is a bit too technical for you, use it as a rough guide and ultimately contact your host's support and they may be able to do it for you or assist you for free. Lastly you can visit r/forhire and find more than enough freelancers or agencies, including my own, to do it for you.


How to properly install a free SSL certificate on your domain, retain your SEO juice, and avoid Google’s “this site is insecure” visitor warning

Google's been moving in the “All Sites HTTPS” direction for a few years now, and they've given webmasters and business owners plenty of time to keep up. As of October 2017 though, they're taking a big step that you'll want to pay attention to. In summary, Chrome browser will display the message “This site is not secure” to your visitors if your site is not secured with HTTPS. And you don't want that. The last thing you want is a reason for a visitor to leave your website or feel uncomfortable submitting personal information through it.

Read more here about the change: https://blog.chromium.org/2017/04/next-steps-toward-more-connection.html

Aside from that announcement from Google, which adds some urgency to obtain an SSL Certificate, there are, and have been, many important reasons to secure your site with SSL. In summary those reasons are:

1) Visitor privacy. A secured website helps ensure that your visitors information, including any info they submit to your site, remains private.

2) Google search rank. Google has not been shy about the fact that HTTPS is now a factor in their search rank algorithm, although the weight of that factor has been increasing on a sliding scale for the past few years to give website owners time to catch up.

3) Website security. A site secured with HTTPS makes it more difficult for your website to be hacked, which as you know can be an expensive and messy process to cleanup.

Overall, the web is a better place for everyone if all sites are HTTPS.


Here are instructions on how to install a free SSL Certificate and secure your website with HTTPS.

NOTE: Please BACKUP your website and database before making any changes.

Step 1: Install the SSL Certificate via Let's Encrypt

This will be done through your web host admin. Most of the major web hosts now support Let's Encrypt and offer a one-click installation. For example, I'm on Dreamhost for this blog, and all I have to do is click “Add Certificate” and choose “Free from Let's Encrypt” and the certificate becomes active on my site within minutes. My important sites are hosted on WPEngine and they have a similar process. In a nutshell, Google search, “How to add SSL Certificate to _______” and insert your host name and you should find one-click instructions for most of the major hosts. You can also use your choice of SSL Certificate providers that your host will offer. I've been happy with a free certificate from Let's Encrypt for personal blogs. They are backed by huge Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Cisco, Shopify, etc and should get the job done for you.

Step 2: Search & Replace links and image file paths within your database

Every image, file, and inbound link on your website has a filepath which references the old HTTP version. For example:

OLD: http://yoursite.com/wp-content/uploads/logo-image.jpg

NEW: https://yoursite.com/wp-content/uploads/logo-image.jpg

So you'll need to update that file path to include the “s” in the “http” so that your images don't become broken. You can do this via phpmyadmin with a little bit of SQL code. But if you're reading this, you're probably not very adept with SQL code so use a WordPress Plugin instead. I recommend Velvet Blues Update URLs Plugin for the job because I've used it before (as of recently) and can vouch that it works. However, there are plenty of other “Search & Replace” plugins that'll work too. Instructions are provided on that plugin page.

Step 3: 301 Redirect (Forward) HTTP to new HTTPS URLs

For the past few years, you've been circulating your HTTP website links across the web and social media and other sites have linked to your extraordinary content, right? So you definitely don't want those links to become broken. And you also want to retain the SEO juice you've earned from those links. All you have to do is forward each respective HTTP URL to the new HTTPS version. The best ways to do this are via htaccess or Regex Apache syntax (depending on your host). I recommend that you DO NOT use a plugin for this. Either of the previous mentioned methods are faster, more reliable, and more secure because the redirect happens before the visitor ever reaches your database.

If you're going to do this via htaccess, you can copy/paste this code to the top of your htaccess file. This needs to be done via FTP or SFTP. Be sure to backup your htaccess file first so you can restore the original if you have any issues.

If you're going to do this via regex apache syntax – that's done via your host's dashboard and you'll need to find instructions specific to your host.

Which one is better? Which one should I do? Either method above is fine and typically you won't have a choice. Your host will either allow htaccess (like Dreamhost) or allow regex apache syntax (like WPEngine) but not both.

Step 4: Inform Google of the change via Search Console

So technically you've created a new “version” of your website, and there are now two versions of your website – a secure and a non-secure version. And similar to how Google looks at the HTTP-only and HTTP-WWW URLS of your website as two different versions, they also look at HTTPS and HTTP as separate sites. So the next step is to go to your Google Search Console and Bing Webmasters and add a new property to each with your HTTPS URL, resubmit your sitemaps, and force crawl your site. If you don't do this, Google will eventually catch up, but this will help them expedite the process by telling their spiders what to look for instead of having to figure it out on their own. And the more helpful you can be to Google's spiders, the faster the updates in their system will take place.

Step 5: Test your forms and API connections and update links accordingly

The last step is to test everything. Test your submission forms on your website, your e-mail sign up forms, and any widgets you use. For example, you may use a Instagram widget that displays your latest IG photos, and that widget uses the old HTTP URL to your site and needs to be updated. Many widgets will continue to work properly after you do the 301 redirects in step 3, but others may require that you login to the setup screen and update the link to your site to include the HTTPS. And now you're all set. Your search rank may temporarily be affected, as some website owners have indicated after making the switch, but your search placement should return shortly after. By performing step 4 and informing Google and Bing of the changes, that will help to expedite the transition.


Questions? Ask away and I'll try my best to troubleshoot. Keep in mind that the process will be slightly different for each host and also depending on which SSL Certificate you choose, but the order of operations will be similar for each: Backup site, Install SSL, Update image/link file paths, 301 Redirect, Inform Google, Test.

Good luck.

PAUL

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