From HTTP to HTTPS: Why Marketers Should Embrace Encryption.

This post was originally co-written with Jim Lansbury and Kurt Roberts for the RP3 Building Opportunity blog on January 26, 2016.

Lately the news has been full of articles about encryption: Big tech companies say it’s essential, the FBI says it’s terrible. Here’s how all that news affects marketers.

Americans now spend over eight hours a day consuming media, and two hours of that are spent on the web, where all of it is accessed by URL.  In the past 20 years, we’ve gone from almost no awareness of what a URL is to nearly complete awareness.  Still, there’s quite a few parts to the URL, and they’re all decided by how you structure your website.

The first part of your URL is the part that specifies the protocol; on the web, that means either HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).  It seems obvious that your bank should be using HTTPS, just from the name, but why would you want to serve your marketing sites over an encrypted connection?  Here’s three reasons:

HTTPS improves your search ranking.

Google has been using encryption as a signal for search ranking since April, 2014.  At the time they announced the move, they made it a very small part of your search ranking – only 1% of the final ranking.

Two years later, however, encryption is a hot topic, and Google has a very strong stance on it. The Google Webmasters Blog announced in mid-December that the crawler will start defaulting to the HTTPS version of a link over the HTTP version.

While no one knows exactly what the implications are for each search ranking, it’s certainly in Google’s own interest to favor secure sites while lobbying lawmakers to protect private access to strong encryption.

Going HTTPS is cheap—and it could pay for itself.

In terms of actual dollar costs, webhosts for years have charged a tidy little premium to give you that coveted SSL certificate. But these days, your options for obtaining one have never been more numerous, or more cost-effective. Heck, you can even get a certificate completely free thanks to Let’s Encrypt.

What about paying for itself in terms of better metrics?  HTTPS alone won’t lead to higher conversion rates or sales, but it is a prerequisite for HTTP/2 – and HTTP/2 is here, bringing with it speed boosts of about 50%. And those speed boosts matter in two important ways.

First, speed matters to your Google search ranking. Google has been considering page speed a factor in search rankings since 2010.  And second, it matters to your customers. It’s well-established that visitors leave slow-loading pages, with Amazon stating a few years ago that a 1 second delay in page load time would cost $1.6 billion in annual sales.

The bottom line is a small dollar investment and a faster website will convert more of your site’s visitors into paying customers.

HTTPS aligns you with high-tech companies.

Google isn’t the only brand advocating an HTTPS-only Internet.  Facebook and Twitter have both been HTTPS by default for years, and increasingly other tech companies are joining the call.

Governments across the western world are clamoring for major tech companies to open “backdoors” into their encrypted systems in the name of thwarting terrorism, but fortunately these companies have refused to bow to the pressure. Meanwhile, research continues to mount that encrypted communications are not offering terrorists any advantages.

The reason the tech companies support encryption is they have audiences that really value their right to privacy and know how technology is capable of undermining that right. Those users are their early adopters, beta testers and often loyal supporters. Their support is critical for new product launches, upgrades and changes.

So how do you get started?  Implementing HTTPS (and HTTP/2) properly takes expertise from your IT department or web partner, but it isn’t a difficult change to make in most cases. And as you can see, it can make a big difference to the success of your marketing.

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