Case Study: The Impact of SSL on Search Results Your Business Should Pay Attention
Summary: SSL Certificates on a website have become increasingly important. 83.33% of first page Google Search Results have an SSL certificate installed. This study determines if there is a direct impact on your SEO plan and search results by having an unsecured site.
What this SEO Case Study Found:
- 83.33% of Google’s First Page Search Results have a secured website
- 95% of generic, one-word search queries that appear on the first page of Google have SSL installed.
- When performing hyperlocal searches using town and state in the query the number drops to 74%
- Overall searches using town and state are minimal to non-existent
- Local businesses can rank for one-word keywords, locally.
- Having an SSL certificate on your website does improve your search ranking on Google for high volume keywords.
There’s been so much said about the impact of having an SSL certificate for your website. It used to be that only sites that handled financial or sensitive information required this extra layer of security. For the last few years, Google has been indicating SSL will become increasingly important for ALL websites.
Some SEOs and business owners believe there is no need for an SSL certificate. Others believe it weighs heavy on their search rankings. Still, other SEOs believe there is more of a correlation rather than a causation as it relates to search rankings on the SERP.
I decided to test search results to determine who was right and how having an SSL certificate on your website can impact your search results.
What is SSL?
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. The short answer is it encrypts data. When you visit a website, you may notice that some websites have HTTP or HTTPS in front of the web address. The “s” in HTTPS stands for secure. You may also notice a lock icon or other icon indicating a site is secure. In Google Chrome you will see small “I” in a circle. This indicates the site is not secure. Clicking on the lock/secure or i will provide more information.
We technically don’t use SSL anymore. We now use TLS (Transport Layer Security). However most still refer to the extra layer of encryption as an SSL Certificate.
Results May Vary
To understand the results of my case study you will also need to understand how Google Search works now. When you search for something using Google it will pull results based on multiple factors. This is determined by the Google Search Algorithm. Those factors can be:
- Your Geolocation
- Relevancy to your query
- Quality of the website
- The device you are using
- Previous search query results (if you are logged in to Google)
- Age of the site
There are more factors, but we will just use those for this case study for now. Your search results will not look exactly like mine because of some of these factors. This helps insure the relevancy of your search results. A dentist in Meriden CT may not be relevant to you.
The Results of SSL Certification’s Impact on SEO
I performed numerous searches. Most of the searchers were service related businesses but a few were product based. I did not include restaurants in my research. The first page of Google almost always has 10 organic results. Since most people do not go past the first page my results are based on Google’s first page results. I did not include Ads or Google 3 Pack results. The results are the percentage of first page results that had an SSL Certificate installed on their website. You will see where this gets interesting in a little bit. Here are the overall results:
- Generic (1-word search query)-95%
- Searches with the state included (CT)-80%
- Searchers with town included (Hyperlocal)-74%
As you can see from my results the majority of first page results have an SSL certificate installed on their website. As you drill down based on the location the number gets a little lower. That kind of makes sense since you’re more likely to uncover local businesses who have not adopted an SSL Certificate.
Or Does It?
But Scott, you said geolocation was a factor in your search results. Why should I add (mytown mystate) to my search if Google is doing that for me?
And Scott, so far all you have proved is a correlation, not causation. Isn’t it possible that the reason such a high number of first page results have SSL certificate is that those site owners understand the importance of it?
Good questions, I am glad you asked them. For this, I am going to use some specific results to show you why SSL is important. My case study proves there is an impact.
The first result that blew my mind was:
Dentist in Meriden CT
Only 40% of the first page results had an SSL certificate installed on their website. That seemed like a really low number to me based on the other results. Most queries were somewhere between 80-100%.
It got me to thinking. Is this because Meriden is a smaller city compared to say New Haven CT?
Dentist in New Haven CT
80% of the results of this search query had SSL installed. Now it seems to make sense. Bigger city, more options for Google to return.
Wait for it!!
Let’s do some more hyperlocal searches and see what percentage of first page results have SSL installed on their websites.
Roofers in Meriden CT – 100%
Doctors in Meriden CT – 100%
Taxi in Meriden CT – 80%
Food Delivery Meriden CT – 80%
Lawyer in Meriden CT – 50%
Whoa! I guess roofers and doctors have good SEOs and site owners. That last one blew my mind though. Before you ask, yes Attorney in Meriden CT returned the same result as far as percentage of sites utilizing SSL. I don’t count Food Delivery as a restaurant. There are services that offer to pick up and deliver food for you. Some of them were restaurants. Kudos to their SEO. Interesting that Uber Eats was not on the first page.
Here’s Where it Gets Interesting
Based on the information I have provided so far you would think that searching Lawyer in Meriden CT and just searching Lawyer would return the same results. Right?
You would be hugely mistaken.
Same search, same computer, same connection to the internet.
If I just search using the following queries I get much different results:
Lawyer – 90%
Attorney – 90%
Dentist – 100%
Those are huge discrepancies.
Why is this so important?
Google recognizes where you are searching from and returns results based on your location. In theory Lawyer and Lawyer in Meriden CT should return the same results. If we analyze search volume according to Moz’s Keyword Explorer Tool, we find that the number of searches per month for each keyword (phrase) is:
Lawyer in Meriden – no data (meaning no search queries)
Attorney in Meriden — no data (meaning no search queries)
Dentist in Meriden — no data (meaning no search queries)
Lawyer – 70.8k-118k per month
Attorney — 30.3k-70.8k per month
Dentist – 118k-300k per month
I am certainly happy to see more people search for Dentist than Lawyers. These numbers are for nationwide searches (US). I don’t need to analyze in Meriden results any further because there are none. Let’s go to the Google Keyword Planner and drill down some more.
If you recall from my Keyword Research blog post I talked about using Google Keyword Planner to research keywords. I also talked about Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool.
In Meriden CT
Lawyer – 20 per month
Attorney – 20 per month
Dentist – 70 per month
If you’re a lawyer, you have 40 chances to show up on the first page of Google in Meriden per month. If you’re a dentist, you have 70.
We know that Google’s Search Results are returned based on your location. It used to be trying to rank for a single keyword like Lawyer or Dentist was mission impossible because there was so much competition. Now you’re only competing locally for these coveted keywords. Your SEO should absolutely be optimizing for these one-word keywords as well as long tail/LSI keywords.
I noticed while doing the research that Dentist Near Me (90) gets more searchers locally than Dentist (70). I checked the first page results for Dentist Near Me results and 60% of the results had SSL on their websites.
What We Learned
The results returned for the more powerful single word keywords had a very high percentage of SSL certificates installed on their sites (90-100%). While seldom or never used keyword phrases returned different results including a lot of results without SSL certificates.
The seldom or never used keyword phrases should not be part of any SEO strategy as it will not yield any results. If your content is written for your audience and not for Google (as Google recommends) then those keywords will naturally be a part of the search results. That means the more competitive keywords that do yield results should be your focus. If the return on these keywords shows that a higher percentage of the websites returned have SSL installed, then that would indicate Google is using security as a ranking factor. Google may be using ranking as more of a ranking factor then most believe.
The results of this case study prove that SSL Certificates need to be a part of your SEO strategy.
Final thought. In July Google Chrome will start warning users of ANY site that does not have SSL installed. The message will warn users that the site is not secure. This further indicates Google’s desire for a secure internet and the importance they place on having an SSL Certificate.
This warning will likely scare users off your website increasing your bounce rate. A high bounce rate is an indication to Google that your content is not relevant to the search query used. This will mean your search rankings may take a hit because you did not install an SSL certificate. This is an indirect correlation to not having an SSL certificate installed on your site. While there has been no official word you may also see a negative impact on your search rankings as a direct result of you not having SSL installed on your website.
OK, time for me to go talk to some lawyers and dentists!