Data security joins visual design as one of Google's preferred methods for ranking content, and brands may need to switch over to HTTPS sites.

Google has made it clear that it cares about users’ privacy and safety online, and it just announced that it’s looking at site security and encryption as ‘light-weight’ ranking signals. The Google Webmaster Blog reported that HTTPS encryption is only expected to impact 1 percent or less of web pages, but it’s still something marketers should work toward with their SEO strategies.

Matt Cutts had hinted data encryption would eventually be a ranking factor, and it seems that day has come. Google is now performing tests when it crawls websites to see if they’re using HTTPS encryption, which ensures data users share with a page can’t be intercepted by malicious forces.

So what exactly is HTTPS encryption – and how can brands guarantee adopting it will protect their SEO campaigns from ranking hits? While it’s the work for an experienced webmaster, Google recommends testing a web domain with a rating tool like Qualys Labs if you already have a secure site. This can help businesses figure out if their sites are at risk of leaking sensitive customer information.  

The announcement promises to provide best practices for unsecured sites soon, but gives a number of first steps, like:

 Assessing the necessarily qualification level (single, multi-domain or wildcard)

 Moving HTTP pages to HTTPS without blocking crawlers

 Using relative URLs to connect pages on secure sites, and protocol relative URLs to link to other pages

Security is increasingly a UX issue

Why would Google add security to its ranking signals? It’s a way to improve user experience. Searchers probably don’t want to be directed to pages where their credit card data, location information and search behaviors are vulnerable, even if there is great web content there. Would you want to visit a page that was susceptible to security breaches? Looking at it from the searcher’s perspective, it makes sense that Google would make security a priority in rankings.  

SEOs should take the hint and think comprehensively about the overall experience they’re offering users who come across their content. If security is such an important issue, web design, information architecture and other UX factors are surely essential elements to consider when designing a content marketing strategy.

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Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.