Planning a Move to HTTPS? Don’t Do It Until You Complete a SEO Audit
Google recently announced that forms on web pages over HTTP will be marked as ‘not secure’ in Chrome starting this month. Columnist Fili Wiese believes this presents a good opportunity to make the switch to HTTPS — and that webmasters can take advantage of this switch to implement other SEO improvements.
Most SEOs have heard by now that moving web pages with forms to HTTPS is necessary to avoid being shown as “not secure” in Chrome 62. Moving to HTTPS is a good step to take for a number of reasons, but there is also an unique SEO opportunity which is often overlooked — an opportunity that can significantly help your website with its SEO rankings, if done properly.
So, what is the opportunity? Moving to HTTPS will encourage Googlebot to recrawl most of your URLs. Googlebot has its own mechanism for determining and prioritizing which URLs to recrawl; however, when Googlebot detects a move to HTTPS, it tends to temporarily increase the crawl rate in an attempt to crawl as many URLs as possible within a short time frame. As such, this is a unique, one-time opportunity to improve your overall website’s signals in the Google Index.
Most sites have a certain crawl rate, based on a number of factors such as page speed, internal linking, external linking and popularity. For larger websites (i.e., those with more than 100,000 URLs), this often means that it can take a while before Googlebot picks up on new SEO signals.
Check the server log files of the last few years and see how many unique URLs Googlebot has attempted to crawl during this time frame. That is at least the number of unique URLs Googlebot knows about. And due to Googlebot’s own prioritization mechanism, the SEO’s hands can be a bit tied when it comes to making improvements, although optimizations are still certainly possible.
Any seasoned SEO would love it if they could ask Googlebot to recrawl their entire website (on the same domain/hostname) after implementing SEO improvements. And this is where the move to HTTPS comes in. If your website is large and not yet moved to HTTPS, this presents a unique opportunity to have your site recrawled — so consider implementing some major SEO improvements right before doing so.
I recommend the following steps:
- Perform an SEO audit as soon as possible. Keep in mind that it can take a few weeks to complete an SEO audit.
- Have a development team ready to implement the recommendations of the SEO auditwithout delay.
- Test your infrastructure for HTTPS and HTTP/2 (This can be done parallel during the SEO audit).
- Once the SEO audit has been completed and the recommendations implemented, then and only then, move your website to HTTPS.
Once moved to HTTPS, Googlebot will recrawl most of your website’s URLs, which at this stage will have improved SEO signals.
How about the ‘not secure’ warning after October?
It is possible that, even after taking the steps above, your website may still show the “not secure” warning on form web pages in Chrome for a while, especially if it takes a long time to complete your SEO audit and implement the recommended changes. However, your website will not be the only one. This is not the time to fret about a few months of a warning when users are not yet fully used to it and other large, well-known websites are displaying these warnings as well.
Instead, plan to complete the steps recommended above within the next few months (preferably before the end of the year or in Q1 2018), and your website will reap the benefits from moving to HTTPS: renewed and improved SEO signals in the Google index.