If you’re like most people, trying to understand the changes Google announces, particularly about secure websites, is like trying to comprehend a foreign language.
Words like algorithm, AI and ranking signals are tossed around. Yet the nitty-gritty of what Google’s updates mean for small businesses seems to get lost in translation.
Unfortunately, this too often leads to small businesses missing out on powerful online opportunities.
But you don’t have to stay in the dark.
In this blog, we’ll specifically focus on what Google is looking for from your business right now, including:
- Google’s continued push for secure websites.
- What a secure website entails, and why it matters.
- The mixed-content ban rolling out in Chrome in December 2019.
- The introduction of BERT, the new algorithm which will affect 10% of all searches.
1. Google wants your website to be secure.
Once upon a time, secure websites were a necessity only for large e-commerce or commercial websites.
Those days vanished in July 2018, when Google announced the latest update to the Chrome browser would flag all websites not encrypted with https as “Not Secure.” Even older websites like the 1996 Dole/Kemp campaign page (yes, it still exists) got flagged.
Even more damaging to many small business websites was that if the security of your site was compromised in the past, web visitors would receive a full-page alert like the one below.
These alerts are, as you can imagine, quite a deterrent to website visitors. Which meant the roughly half-million websites affected when this rolled out, as noted by researchers Troy Hunt and Scott Helme, had a lot of work to do if they didn’t want their websites to be flagged in Chrome.
2. Google will place your site higher in search results on Chrome if your site is secure.
Since as early as 2014, Google confirmed on its Webmaster Central Blog that they would use SSL certificates as a signal in their search-ranking algorithms, which decide where results show up after someone enters a search query.
An SSL, or secure sockets layer, certificate helps to develop an encrypted connection from your website to a customer’s device. This creates a secure connection that protects valuable data like a customer’s email address or address. The video below offers a quick, detailed illustration of how that connection works.
At this point you may be thinking that not every customer uses the Chrome browser. Searches on Safari, Explorer and Firefox won’t be affected.
But the truth is browsers follow Google’s lead in regard to search developments. Any non-secured websites will be flagged regardless of the browser, even though it might look slightly different based on the browser.
3. Google blocks websites with mixed content from search results in Chrome.
Come December 2019, any website with mixed content — meaning a site where some content is secure under the SSL certificate and some content still has an http address — will begin to be blocked in Google Chrome search results.
It might sound odd that your website could have an SSL certificate without every asset on it being secure. But truthfully, this is quite common.
In fact, one large-scale analysis done by industry experts found that 43% of top websites served at least one type of mixed content.
Interactive Developer Jim says this can frequently happen with images because every image online has a web address. For example, the actual image resource might be securely sitting at https://domain.com/image1.jpg. However, if the code that calls that resource is located at http://domain.com/image1.jpg, the resource falls under the mixed-content designation.
4. Google introduces BERT.
Besides enacting the mixed-content block in December 2019, Google is also currently rolling out a huge change to how it understands customers’ search queries.
It’s doing this with BERT, or bidirectional encoder representations from transformers. The gist of those big words is that this tool is better at taking into account the context of a search query, which leads to it serving up better search results.
Below is an example from Google’s Webmasters blog that illustrates the change. Before, Google was losing the context that the searcher was in need of a visa. But with BERT, Google discerned exactly what the searcher was looking for.
Google’s vice president of research, Pandu Nayak, says, “This is the single biggest … most positive change we’ve had in the last five years and perhaps one of the biggest since the beginning.”
In fact, Google projects this massive change will affect 1 in 10 English searches in the United States.
What that will mean specifically for different websites remains to be fully understood, but sites with quality content that answer customer questions will most definitely have a leg up on the competition.
It’s time to work toward a secure website.
The ever-changing developments from Google can be dizzying at best and, at worst, move many websites far away from the first page of search results.
But even despite the shifts, it’s not a hopeless cause – even for the smallest of businesses.
Take time this month to dig into the security of your website. You can start small by using a tool like JitBit, which can scan up to 400 pages of a website to look for SSL issues. Or you can go big with an in-depth website audit that identifies the issues one by one.
Whatever you do, don’t put off investing in the back-end of your website. Because without a healthy site, your customers won’t find you – they’ll find your competitors.