What to consider when migrating a domain from HTTP to HTTPS


Why move to HTTPS?

HTTP is an acronym that means Hypertext Transfer Protocol – a protocol that allows for the transfer of information between different systems. HTTPS means almost the same thing except for the added “s”, which indicates “SSL”.

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer – a technology that encrypts a website’s connection and prevents hackers from intercepting communication or data that is being transferred. The added security feature that comes with the “s” is something HTTP severely lacks.

Data or information communicated via HTTPS is secured with these three levels of protection:
Authentication – Ensure your site’s users communicate only with the intended website without interference from third parties.
Data integrity – Data sent over HTTPS can’t be corrupted or modified during transfer without being detected.
Encryption – Exchanged data is encrypted and secured against uninvited third parties accessing it.

Other benefits of switching to HTTPS include;
1. HTTPS helps with SEO: According to SEMrush’s Twitter handle, the security of your site affects your SEO ranking. Matt Cutts also described HTTPS as a lightweight ranking signal which will over time strengthen and boost your SEO rankings.

This means if my site and another site are vying for top ranking, adding HTTPS to my domain can give me the edge to rank over my competitor’s regular HTTP site.

2. It provides better security for your website: Kayce Basques, a Google technical writer recommends all websites use HTTPS for protection.
JordanCommunications’ Twitter handle also described the value of HTTPS’ security feature by saying, if you are an entrepreneur with your own website, protecting sensitive data such as your clients’ credit card is very important.

A common misconception about HTTPS is that only websites handling sensitive communications need HTTPS. I disagree because unprotected HTTP requests eventually have the potential to reveal sensitive data concerning your users.

The security protocol of HTTPS shields a website’s integrity by preventing intruders from interfering with a site and its visitor communications. An example of this is by securing communication and preventing the insertion of malware.
While your site becomes safer with HTTPS, you’d still be prone to more advanced attacks, such as; Downgrade attacks, Brute force attacks, DDOS attacks, software vulnerabilities, Heartbleed, Poodle, Logjam, etc.

3. HTTPS is AMP friendly: For website owners hoping to be found online by more people, going mobile is the best way forward. This is something I can attest to because I perform most of my online research on my tablet, not my laptop. The keyword here is mobility. And even though a lot has already been said about the need to make websites more mobile responsive and friendly. Not everyone is listening.
AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) was developed by Google to ensure faster loading of content on mobile devices. Google has accomplished this by having AMP content appear prominently in their search results.

4. HTTPS pages load faster: Because HTTPS allows the adoption of HTTP/2, HTTPS pages load faster than HTTP. So if page speed is as important to you as it is to me, you should upgrade to HTTPS.

How to change from HTTP to HTTPS

Changing from HTTP to HTTPS is more or less straightforward:
1. Firstly you purchase an SSL certificate from SSL2BUY

2. Then you install the SSL certificate on your website’s hosting account

3. After that, you ensure all your website links are edited from HTTP to HTTPS. This is to ensure you have no broken links after your site becomes HTTPS entirely.

4. And lastly, you put in place 301 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS. This will notify search engines that your website’s address has been changed and will make sure anyone that’s bookmarked any of your pages automatically gets redirected to your new HTTPS address.

A Web Development or Digital Agency, or web hosting company can usually manage the entire process for you
While migrating to HTTPS might seem pretty straightforward, there are certain aspects you might find daunting and even a little confusing. Especially when it comes to picking the right SSL certificate. I would prefer engaging the services of a professional web hosting company to handle the more intricate aspects of upgrading to HTTPS.

Other services a professional would offer are;
1. Take the new HTTPS site for a test run: It’s important to do this because it lets you get everything right and work out the kinks before your site becomes fully functional, thus avoiding errors in real time.

2. Crawl the new domain to ascertain the current state and to make sure there aren’t any missing or broken links.

3. The professionals have a better understanding of all documentation concerning your server or CDN for HTTPS. Any CDN issue will be easily dealt with by an expert without you being hassled.

4. Get a security certificate and install on the server.

5. Update references in your content, references in templates (using Git or Notepad++). Also, update canonical tags, update hreflang tags or OG tags, and update any plugins /add-ons/modules to ensure nothing is broken or contains insecure content.

6. CMS-specific settings might require changing.

7. Monitor every aspect during migration and double-check to ensure everything is working smoothly.

8. Update sitemaps to apply HTTPS versions of the URLs and update robots.txt file to include a new sitemap.

Common problems with HTTPS migrations

Problems can be avoided if migration is handled by a professional web development company or digital marketing agency. If migration to HTTPS isn’t properly managed, the following might go wrong:
1. Google might be unable to crawl both the HTTP and HTTPS version of the site because of a failure to update the test server to allow bots.

2. On-page HTTP URLs may not be replaced with their HTTPS counterpart.

3. Duplicated content showing on both HTTPS and HTTP.
Most problems with HTTPS migrations are because those initiating the process lack the know-how to correctly implement redirects. Sometimes, the entire structure of a site might change while switching to HTTPS.