In short, SSL (which stands for Secure Sockets Layer) is a mechanism to encrypt website data between the server which hosts your web page and the end user. By securing the data, it prevents anyone else being able to snoop on the communication by intercepting it. This is naturally of importance if you are sending your credit card details or logging on to a site. Secured websites start with HTTPS instead of HTTP.
However, Google is now encouraging website owners to always encrypt their sites with SSL. They even give a slight SEO ranking boost for websites that use an SSL certificate on their website over competitors. However, they have indicated that in due course, the SSL status of a website may have a greater impact on SEO and search results, favouring sites using HTTPS in search results over insecure HTTP counterparts.
Potentially backing this theory up is reflected in recent updates to Google’s Chrome Browser, which in itself accounts for over 50% of the market share of web browsers used. Google Chrome has started to warn users when sites are insecure and they are pushing for websites to protect users by having the site secured with SSL regardless of whether or not sensitive data is transmitted. Google firmly believes that by having HTTPS as the defacto standard that it will ultimately protect end users from potential hacks.
One of the most common questions from website owners though is “isn’t this going to be expensive?”. Historically, the answer would have been yes, not to mention the amount of work needed to implement an SSL certificate. However, with more of us using cloud hosting platforms, or virtual machines in the cloud (such as Digital Ocean), implementing SSL certificates is neither expensive or cumbersome. Indeed, many hosting companies offer SSL certificates for free using companies like LetsEncrypt. Third party “control panel” sites like ServerPilot even make securing your website as easy as flipping a switch.
So, in summary, there is no reason not to secure your website with SSL, in fact, I personally encourage it. Every website I design will automatically be encrypted with a free SSL as part of the design. This means that if you have me design your site, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re already at the front of the queue where Google is concerned, and will ultimately benefit from any future changes to their SEO policy regarding HTTP vs HTTPS websites.