Google announced in August 2014 that the transition to a HTTPS protocol is now considered a positive ranking signal, albeit one that has less weight than other onsite factors like content and domain authority. Nevertheless, hundreds of web owners jumped to secure their networks for the sake of the safety, security and privacy of their users – and for the expressed SEO value.
A few months after the fact, Stickyeyes pulled data from their unique Roadmap sample to search for trends and signals of HTTPS benefits throughout the top 100 search positions in gambling, travel, retail, legal and finance sectors. Although the number of those 100 ranking pages featuring a HTTPS protocol rose incrementally (from 5.52% in May to 6.93% in November 2014), their study brought about an interesting finding.
The Impact is Visible on an Industry Level
The SERPs for the travel sector were hardly impacted at all. In fact, the proportion of HTTPS results ranking in the top 3 positions actually fell, from 2.52% in May to 1.33% in November 2014. Econsultancy attributes this signal to a lack of competition, plus the depth and density of those top ranking travel websites and the constant creation of fresh content on each domain.
Gaming and finance websites, on the other hand, were more significantly influenced by the adaptation of HTTPS protocols. The importance of a secure network within the financial field should come as no surprise, as this is where consumers expect protection. As such, the number of top ranking finance pages saw an increase from 8.31% in May to 12.46% in November. In online gaming, the number grew from 10.58% to 15.14% over the same time period. Even more telling is the number of secure financial websites that ranked within the top 5 positions in the SERPs. This amount saw a hike from 10.51% in May to 17.41% in November – meaning close to a fifth of those top five search results are now secure.
Of those sectors examined, the short term loans market featured HTTPS in over 25 of the top 100 ranking pages. Following in the wake of Google’s Payday Loan algorithm, it certainly makes sense that Google is using HTTPS more heavily within this industry to weed out untrustworthy domains. At a glance, it would appear that the ranking signal actually holds more weight with these sites, as over 70% of the pages ranking in the top 5 positions now use HTTPS; up from 36% in June. To paint a clearer picture, 83% of the ranking pages in the first position have a HTTPS protocol; 60% are HTTPS in position two; and 76% in position three.
While the overwhelming majority of websites are still HTTP, Stickyeyes’ findings are only measuring visibility; the full impact of utilizing a secure network no doubt also plays a part in boosting the CTR, bounce rate and cart abandonment among competitors. Google did mention that the weight of the HTTPS protocol may strengthen over time, but perhaps we’ll find that the full strength of this ranking signal will vary even more greatly between different subjects and industries across the board in 2015.