HTTPS vs. HTTP – analysis: Do secure sites really get higher rankings?

August 29th, 2014 | Analysis 116 comments

Google recently announced that it would use https as a ranking signal. Reason enough for us to look at our data and analyze whether there are any current effects – and whether it is already evident that https sits could have a ranking advantage over http-URLs.

The news was not entirely unexpected as Google has for some time being doing a lot of high profile work for more security in the web. I do not want to comment on what may lay behind this. I have my own opinion on this issue. In any case, we have not only compared a few data points, but also performed a time series analysis to set the PR-effective statement by Google in context with historical data.

Searchmetrics Analysis: https vs http

Actually, we had already considered https as feature for this year’s ranking factors study, but we eventually left it out due to the not especially informative results and for reasons of space. And even if Google now says that https is a rather lightweight signal, which currently affects just around 1% of worldwide search queries, we have taken this opportunity to conduct a couple of more fundamental analyses of our data.

If you would like to read a short introduction to the area and some tips on changing over to SSL/HTTPS for website operators, please follow this link: HTTPS as ranking factor – how to handle it.

Yes, no, maybe? On the way to the right data

We have looked at the average rankings of http and https – on a URL basis, directories respectively. Ultimately, only certain domain areas can be encrypted and others not. From these rankings, we have calculated cumulative SEO visibilities and compared the two curves with each other over time.

Initially it looked as if there was indeed a boost for encrypted URLs at a certain point in time – although this was not at the time of Google’s announcement but somewhat earlier – in the last week of June and even once in May 2013. The basis for the following graphics are rankings of hundreds of thousands of keywords:

https vs http - searchmetrics1

Some outliers – care required with interpretation

However, it is clear that a handful of domains or individual directories, respectively, were responsible for these outliers (for example play.google.com/ or games.yahoo.com/). If these are discounted, the following picture is obtained:

https vs http - searchmetrics2

In this case, the – previously very prominent – outliers have disappeared. The curves follow each other very smoothly.

Focus on differences between HTTPS and HTTP

In this graphic, everything has been reduced to the differences between the two curves:

Differences: https vs http - searchmetrics

A difference in the vicinity of the value “2” on the Y axis could be considered as significant, however the actual fluctuations rarely exceed a value of 0.2.

Clear conclusion: HTTPS – to date no relation with rankings

In a nutshell: No relationships have been discernible to date from the data analyzed by us between HTTPS and rankings nor are there any differences between HTTP and HTTPS. In my opinion therefore, Google has not yet rolled out this ranking factor – and/or this factor only affects such a small section of the index to date that it was not possible to identify it with our data.

On the subject of ranking factors! This year’s study is just about ready for release. Those who just can’t wait, can preregister here.

This year’s study is twice as big as last year’s, because we have included several important new factors in the analysis. How SEO develops depends on the interplay of many factors and we want to make this clear.

Have you recently conducted your own analyses or a migration to HTTPS and already have results?  Perhaps some of our subscribers have been using HTTPS for some time and have noticed recent changes in rankings? I am always happy to get your feedback and hear about your experience – and of course your opinion of our analyses. Subjectively speaking, I consider https as important and believe that much will change in this area in the future. Objectively speaking, there is no evidence for this trend yet.

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Who’s writing this stuff? My name is Marcus Tober and I’m the founder of Searchmetrics. Because we really love to analyze every kind of online data, we can give you more insights than any other company in SEO, SEM and Social Media. It’s not a job, it’s passion. You can find me also on Google+ .
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Comments (11)

Comments (116)

  1. 2015/10/20

    Very interesting! I cannot see any big difference in ranking between HTTP and HTTPS neither this year. Do anyone else has any other conclusions?

  2. 2015/12/11

    A fascinating discussion iis definitely worth
    comment. I believe that you should write more about this issue, it may not bbe a taboo matter but typically people do not talk about these topics.
    To the next! All the best!!

  3. 2015/12/24

    That is a good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.
    Short but very accurate information… Appreciate your sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  4. 2015/12/28

    Wonderful, what a website it is! This weblog presents useful data to us, keep it up.

  5. 2016/01/04

    I think that is one of the such a lot important
    information for me. And i’m satisfied studying your article.
    However want to commentary on some basic things, The site taste is wonderful,
    the articles is really nice : D. Good task,
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  6. 2016/01/14

    Good analysis. i have switched two of my main web sites from non ssl to SSL but I do not feel any difference in rankings.

  7. 2016/01/19

    Great article and professional analysis. As you mentioned above, the difference between HTTP and HTTPS is not significant at all for Google and doesn’t appear to be a ranking factor. Thanks for nice reading!

  8. 2016/07/21

    I realize the original post is old, but I just recently updated my site from http to https, and the rankings in the SERPs dropped off a cliff. Apparently it will take some time to Google to understand the switch I made. Webmasters beware.

  9. 2016/07/22

    Hi Michael, actually I don’t see a recent big drop in your SEO Visibility. Some ranking volatility is not unusual when moving a domain to https. Just give it some time. Would like to hear back from a in a few weeks!

  10. 2016/09/07

    This is what I like to see! Data and results. Most people just like to come up with theories without testing them out. Great post 🙂

  11. 2016/09/23

    Personally, I am not going to touch my sites that are already http however, my new sites that I build I will begin to use https from scratch and when it becomes mandatory I might consider switching my older sites to https but as they say if its not broke don’t fix it.

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