Updated: May 24, 2023
Author: Crystal Carter
Website security is important for search engine optimization and search rankings because “Google's core ranking systems look to reward content that provides a good page experience” and because security optimizations can have a holistic impact on your SEO performance. Improvements in this area tend to provide domain-wide SEO gains (rather than page by page), and can support your overall SEO efforts in five important ways:
What is website security in SEO?
Speaking broadly, website security can cover many specialisms, including server configuration and managing hacking attacks. For the purposes of SEO, one should focus on website security elements that impact the connections to a website, the links within a website, and transactions taking place on a website. Taking this approach helps keep users safe and sends signals to Google that can influence rankings.
How proper website security can improve SEO
In addition to keeping your site’s data secure, robust website security can benefit your search engine visibility in the following ways:
01. Better alignment with Google ranking systems
In 2014, Google announced that it wanted to bring in “HTTPS Everywhere” to help users access the internet safely via more trustworthy websites. In line with that, it also introduced security as a search ranking factor. Google then incorporated site security into its overall Page Experience ranking system and created the HTTPs Report in Google Search Console to help users monitor performance.
Secure websites are part of the Helpful Content Ranking System
In 2023, Google updated its guidance, designating security as a consideration for the Helpful Content Ranking System. Within its Page Experience guidance, Google explains that secure websites “generally align with success in search ranking“ and those creating and maintaining websites should ask if “pages [are] served in a secure fashion”.
When it comes to ranking on Bing, a poor level of security on your website may even block your site from being crawled and thus eligible for indexing. The Bing webmaster guidelines explain that “Bingbot has stopped crawling sites that only support RC4 cipher suites since Autumn 2015, as it has multiple vulnerabilities and [sic] deemed insecure.”
So, when you make an improvement to your website security, you are adding signals that may be beneficial for ranking for every single page on your website. If you have a site with significant security issues, then improvements here may fall into the category of “quick wins” in that you may see some ranking improvements almost immediately after the updates have been made.
02. Faster connection time between websites
Top websites have top security. Teams at Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other high-profile websites have adopted and prioritized website security frameworks that help them reduce data transfer latency and vulnerability across their infrastructure. Using modern website security protocols like TLS 1.3, QUIC, and HTTP/3 allows them to deliver safe, secure experiences for their users.
If a user clicks a link on a high-security site to navigate to another site, when the servers make the connection, they will first try to do so via the same, high level of security. If this is not possible, they will try to connect via the next best option, and so on until they find the best connection. This means that if you have better security then connections can be made more quickly with more websites.
This speed advantage can contribute to shorter page loading times between websites for organic traffic, social, and PPC as part of well-balanced digital marketing activity. For instance, I have observed that (for an average website) clicks from Facebook ads can load two to six times slower than the site average. This can be a real challenge for people who are trying to use Facebook as an advertising method or as a regular stream of traffic to their site and can have a knock-on effect for brand visibility and, thus, organic growth as well.
03. Faster connection time across your site’s network
Modern websites very rarely exist on a single domain. Although people generally talk in terms of single websites, in actuality, what users often see is a patchwork collection of content coming from an assortment of websites, applications, iframes, widgets, and embeds, rendered on a single URL.
For instance, a typical blog post on a site could potentially include content written on the blog itself, images served via a CDN, and embedded content from third-party platforms like YouTube or Twitter. Domain-wide, this network could include subdomains, ticketing apps, CRMs, social media feeds, live chat, review widgets and more.
Each of the component parts of the website will have its own security setup. And, every time a user loads a page containing these elements, servers will need to make fresh, secure connections. When the level of security is more consistent, users experience fewer delays during loading and using the full mix of elements across a site.
04. Build and maintain link value with HTTPS links
If a site has a valid SSL certificate, then connections to the site should always be made via the https:// link and not via http:// link. With regard to the overall security of the site, this is beneficial because “data is encrypted in transit in both directions: going to and coming from the origin server” which can reduce vulnerability to cyber attacks. HTTPS consistency has additional SEO benefits in terms of crawlability and backlink value.
HTTPS internal link hygiene improves crawling
Managing this does not need to involve sophisticated SEO tools, but maintaining good internal link hygiene can benefit SEO by:
Reducing risky, unsafe connections to your site
Reducing unnecessary redirects from the server that cause measurable page load delays and make crawling less efficient
To review your internal links, you can run a simple site crawl using a tool, like Screaming Frog, and then update any links that are not https:// links.
HTTPS backlinks add more value
Ensuring that all your backlinks are pointing directly to the https:// URLs on your site can help increase the value of backlinks to your site by:
Giving you more actionable data for SEO reporting because links are attributed to the appropriate channels, rather than being designated as “direct” in Google Analytics
Concentrating the value of backlinks on the https:// link rather than splitting the value with a redirected link.
To reduce the number of http:// backlinks to your site, I recommend that focus initially on the links in your immediate control. It is not uncommon for websites that have been around for 10 years or more to have old http:// backlinks around the web. While you may wish to take steps to contact external site owners to update these links, in my experience, the process can be highly time intensive. To save time, I generally start with all of the social media profiles, directories, citations, and the Google Business Profiles that our brand maintains, and ensure that each of them is pointing to the secure link.
It’s also a good idea to ensure that the teams that are actively distributing content (via PR or social media, for example) are doing so using the correct https:// link.
05. Improve trust signals for users
Users may not even be able to access sites with poor security because they are blocked or discouraged by search engines, social media, and cloud hosting providers.
If users are getting these warnings for your site, then security is critical to your SEO success and to the value of your brand overall. Websites with these issues should be working to improve security as a matter of urgency.
Which security optimizations impact SEO?
Many believe that if you add an SSL to your site, you are fully secured—this is not the case. Though SSL is an important step, there are many more website security improvements that can affect SEO, such as:
Improving the quality of your SSL certificate chain to reduce verification delays
Enabling HTTP3 protocols
Reducing access to unsecured http connections
Upgrading to TLS 1.3
All this to say that security should be a core consideration when you are maintaining or building a website. Depending on the website configuration, site managers and SEOs can work with certificate authorities, server teams, hosting providers and developers to implement a suite of changes to improve security. Alternatively, when selecting a managed CMS partner, SEOs should choose a website provider that offers best-in-class website security with ongoing maintenance maintenance and support.
Web security at Wix
In Wix’s case, all users are supported by a dedicated security team made of industry-leading experts. These experts regularly test site infrastructure with external, independent researchers through initiatives, such as the Bug Bounty Program, and are constantly monitoring and optimizing our security solutions.
Wix users can get insights into their security framework by accessing the Uptime & Security Report.
However you choose to host your site, prioritizing security can have real benefits to your overall SEO activity. Beyond search visibility, it also helps to protect your users’ data, which can serve to build trust and turn those users into customers.
Crystal is an SEO & digital marketing professional with over 15 years of experience. Her global business clients have included Disney, McDonalds, and Tomy. An avid SEO communicator, her work has been featured at Google Search Central, Brighton SEO, Moz, DeepCrawl, Semrush, and more. Twitter | Linkedin