Posted by Dr-Pete
Just over 9 months ago, I wrote that 30% of page-1 Google results in our 10,000-keyword tracking set were secure (HTTPS). As of earlier this week, that number topped 50%:
While there haven't been any big jumps recently – suggesting this change is due to steady adoption of HTTPS and not a major algorithm update – the end result of a year of small changes is dramatic. More and more Google results are secure.
MozCast is, of course, just one data set, so I asked the folks at Rank Ranger, who operate a similar (but entirely different) tracking system, if they thought I was crazy...
Could we both be crazy? Absolutely. However, we operate completely independent systems with no shared data, so I think the consistency in these numbers suggests that we're not wildly off.
What about the future?
Projecting the fairly stable trend line forward, the data suggests that HTTPS could hit about 65% of page-1 results by the end of 2017. The trend line is, of course, an educated guess at best, and many events could change the adoption rate of HTTPS pages.
I've speculated previously that, as the adoption rate increased, Google would have more freedom to bump up the algorithmic (i.e. ranking) boost for HTTPS pages. I asked Gary Illyes if such a plan was in the works, and he said "no":
As with any Google statement, some of you will take this as gospel truth and some will take it as devilish lies. While he isn't promising that Google will never boost the ranking benefits of HTTPS, I believe Gary on this one. I think Google is happy with the current adoption rate and wary of the collateral damage that an aggressive HTTPS ranking boost (or penalty) could cause. It makes sense that they would bide their time..
Who hasn't converted?
One of the reasons Google may be proceeding with caution on another HTTPS boost (or penalty) is that not all of the big players have made the switch. Here are the Top 20 subdomains in the MozCast dataset, along with the percentage of ranking URLs that use HTTPS:
(1) en.wikipedia.org — 100.0%
(2) www. amazon.com — 99.9%
(3) www. facebook.com — 100.0%
(4) www. yelp.com — 99.7%
(5) www. youtube.com — 99.6%
(6) www. pinterest.com — 100.0%
(7) www. walmart.com — 100.0%
(8) www. tripadvisor.com — 99.7%
(9) www. webmd.com — 0.2%
(10) allrecipes.com — 0.0%
(11) www. target.com — 0.0%
(12) www. foodnetwork.com — 0.0%
(13) www. ebay.com — 0.0%
(14) play.google.com — 100.0%
(15) www. bestbuy.com — 0.0%
(16) www. mayoclinic.org — 0.0%
(17) www. homedepot.com — 0.0%
(18) www. indeed.com — 0.0%
(19) www. zillow.com — 100.0%
(20) shop.nordstrom.com – 0.0%
Of the Top 20, exactly half have switched to HTTPS, although most of the Top 10 have converted. Not surprisingly, switching is, with only minor exceptions, nearly all-or-none. Most sites naturally opt for a site-wide switch, at least after initial testing.
What should you do?
Even if Google doesn't turn up the reward or penalty for HTTPS, other changes are in play, such as Chrome warning visitors about non-secure pages when those pages collect sensitive data. As the adoption rate increases, you can expect pressure to switch to increase.
For new sites, I'd recommend jumping in as soon as possible. Security certificates are inexpensive these days (some are free), and the risks are low. For existing sites, it's a lot tougher. Any site-wide change carries risks, and there have certainly been a few horror stories this past year. At minimum, make sure to secure pages that collect sensitive information or process transactions, and keep your eyes open for more changes.
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