HTTP vs. HTTPS: have you ever wondered whether you should migrate your business website from HTTP to HTTPS? Do you know what the difference is between HTTP and HTTPS and why it is important to your brand? This article will attempt to answer these questions, and explain why in almost all cases you should make the change to HTTPS.
Table of Contents
HTTP vs. HTTPS
HTTPS is the secured version of HTTP, the protocol that is used to communicate over the internet. You may think that because you do not transact e-commerce on your website that it is not worth the time and effort to make the change. However, there are many benefits other than just security for choosing HTTPS over HTTP.
At a time when we continue to learn about how big tech companies often read and sometimes sell our personal private data, credibility and trustworthiness has become a key concern of online consumers. In 2014, Google began giving a search results ranking boost to websites that use HTTPS. Today, the most popular web browsers label whether a website is secure. Google’s decision to favor secured websites in its search results ranking and on its web browser is a reflection of how serious consumers have become about protecting their data and their privacy. As a result, secured websites are more relevant to users who search the internet.
What is HTTP?
HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and it is the basic protocol that was first developed for the transmission of data between web servers and computers over the internet. HTTP was first developed in the late 1980s. What began as a simple protocol to search and retrieve documents from a remote server to a local computer has become the pillar of communication over the internet.
What is HTTP Used For?
Today, HTTP is often used over layers of encryption. It utilizes a request-response or client-server protocol to communicate over the internet. Under this protocol, the user of a connected web browser is the client. When the user enters a web address in the address bar or clicks on a link, it sends a request to the remote server. The server then sends its response in the form of data to your web browser. Often this data is presented as a text document with links to other websites that are encoded as hyperlink addresses.
When the client requests something from a server, it specifies a special action such as “get, post or delete.” For example, “get” is an action that requests information from the server. The information that is transmitted, such as an HTML file, is essentially read only. “Post” creates information or objects on the server. Delete, of course, deletes information or objects on the server. The only special action available on the first version of HTTP was “get,” which simply retrieved a web page.
HTTP is also an application layer protocol, meaning it determines the content of what the user sees in their web browser, but it does not necessarily determine how that data is transmitted. This means that HTTP can be layered over other protocols. This is how HTTPS was created.
HTTPS is the Secured Version of HTTP
It is no understatement to claim that the proliferation of modern e-commerce was sparked by the creation of HTTPS. In the early years of the internet, credit card transactions could not easily be conducted online due to the lack of encryption. In the mid-1990s, Netscape built a protocol called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) upon which HTTP could run. It uses port number 443 for data communication instead of port 80. This secured version of HTTP was called HTTPS. Importantly, this enabled users to safely communicate credit card, banking and email information over the internet.
The SSL protocol provides for the encryption of data, the authentication of the website and the protection of the integrity of the data being transmitted. The SSL protocol has been updated several times and is now called Transport Layer Security (TLS). SSL is no longer in use, but TLS is still often commonly referred to as SSL.
In 2014, Google announced that it would begin factoring whether a website uses HTTPS in its search results ranking. In July of 2018 Google Chrome began identifying all HTTP websites as “not secure.” Most web browsers have since followed suit. Today, the majority of the most visited websites on the internet use either HTTPS or redirect from HTTP to HTTPS.
What is the Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS?
HTTPS is nothing more than the transmission of the HTTP application protocol over an encrypted TLS transmission protocol. So while your website may still look and function the same, now it is being transmitted to you under lock and key. Therefore, instead of saying that HTTPS is different from HTTP, it may be more accurate to characterize HTTPS as HTTP plus TLS.
The way TLS works is upon accessing the secured website, the server sends a TLS certificate to the user which contains a public encryption key. The encryption key is typically 40 or 128 bits. If the public encryption key matches the private encryption key, then the identity of the server will be verified. This verification is carried out by an independent entity. The user’s computer and the server then perform a TLS “handshake” before opening a secure connection.
Advantages of HTTP vs. HTTPS
There are of course some advantages to HTTP vs HTTPS. HTTP can be layered over protocols other than TLS which makes it more widely compatible. Because there is no encryption, HTTP can be used over firewalls. Websites can also be cached on a local computer, meaning data from previous transactions are stored on the users computer so it can load more quickly. Additionally, users do not need to install or use any runtime support, which is additional software needed to convert certain computer languages into machine language in order to run. Due to both its stateless nature and the lack of encryption, HTTP uses less data and places fewer demands on processing power.
Finally, HTTPS is not perfect. HTTPS only encrypts the transmission of data. The decrypted websites and browsing history can remain locally on the user’s computer in its cache. Many weaknesses in HTTPS security have also been exposed over the years. That being, TLS is continuously being improved upon and has become the standard for business websites.
Why You Should Choose HTTPS v. HTTP
Besides the obvious benefit of protecting your business and your customers data from third parties, HTTPS is also better at preventing data from being corrupted in transmission. Just switching from HTTP to HTTPS will improve your SEO rankings. In addition, because of the security features of HTTPS, it can track information on its referral source. As a result, HTTPS provides much better data on Google Analytics. This data can in turn be used to develop a more targeted digital marketing plan.
Google Chrome and other browsers also label websites as secure or not. When consumers know their personal data and browsing activity are being protected from third parties, they will feel more comfortable and confident doing business with your company.
Whether you are selling goods, transmitting credit card numbers or just trying to protect the confidential nature of your communications with your current or future clients, switching to HTTPS is absolutely vital for your business website.
Migrating from HTTP to HTTPS
It is strongly recommended that your business migrate from HTTP to HTTPS. However, when doing so, there are a few steps and pitfalls to keep in mind. In particular, it is key that you carry out the conversion properly. This prevents any potential problems with your SEO.
First, you should inform Google of the new HTTPS website. This helps you receive the SEO benefits as quickly as possible. You will also need to make sure that search engines can index your website in order to maintain your existing SEO rankings.
You will also need to make sure to implement all 301 redirects, to update the robots.txt file and to update all of the links and sitemaps. Even after all of this is done, you should monitor your Google Analytics to make sure no issues arise in the migration.
There are many positives and only a few negatives for making the change from HTTP to HTTPS. Doing so will give you a boost to your digital marketing and SEO. It will also improve your branding. If you want to send a message to your customers that you care about protecting their data and their privacy, there is no question that you should make the switch. Contact us at SEO Design Chicago to help you migrate your business website today!
FAQs about HTTP vs. HTTPS:
- Is HTTP or HTTPS safe?
- What is HTTPS?
- How do I make my website secure?
- Does SSL slow down your website?
- Does HTTP use TLS or SSL?