The security of your website, its visitors, and their data is absolutely paramount. That means you need to do everything you can to protect your visitors’ personal information. Exposing that data to a breach, even unintentionally, could result in the collapse of your entire business.
With that in mind, many websites protect sensitive data by implementing Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology. In a nutshell, this encrypts any information sent across the web, which includes data traveling between your website and your visitors’ browsers.
In this post, we’ll explain both SSL and the related concept of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). Then we’ll discuss how to migrate your site, and offer some tips for making the switch!
What Is HTTPS?
If you look at most web addresses, you’ll see that they are prefixed with a very familiar set of letters. Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is essentially the way web pages transmit data. There’s a lot more to HTTP than that, but it isn’t necessary to understand all the details.
What matters is that, by default, the data that HTTP connections send is unencrypted. This means that hackers can obtain your data (and that of your website’s visitors) through malicious means. This is obviously not good news for business dealing in sensitive personal information, such as credit card and address details.
Secure Sockets Layers (SSL) is a protocol that ‘fits over the top’ of HTTP, to create Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). This works just like HTTP, except that it encrypts the transmission of data and prevents anyone from accessing it.
In order to set up HTTPS, you’ll need to purchase an ‘SSL certificate’, which is linked to your website. This provides an encrypted data stream for the information you send across the web.
Why Switch to HTTPS?
We’ve already touched on some of the reasons why you’d want to switch to HTTPS. To summarize, the primary goal is to protect your users’ personal data from ending up in the hands of hackers and spammers.
There are also a number of secondary reasons for implementing HTTPS, including increasing user trust. Many people now know what a secure website designation looks like – a green padlock in the browser, and an explicit mention that the website you’re visiting is safe:
If a website is asking for personal details and it isn’t secure, customers will immediately know. That can erode user trust, and contributes to dwindling business. In addition, search engines have also begun to prefer HTTPS sites over those using HTTP.
HTTPS for SEO
Search engines now recognize that a secure website is important on a number of levels, and have begun to ‘reward’ sites that use encrypted connections. For example, Google marks HTTP sites as Not Secure within browsers, and also penalize them in its search engine rankings.
In other words, search engines such as Google want to help make sure users are browsing to sites that will keep their data safe. So they rank those sites more highly, in order to encourage their use.
How to Migrate a WordPress Site to HTTPS
At this point, you may be wondering how to actually implement HTTPS on your site. There are a number of steps you’ll need to take in order to encrypt your data permanently. The first and most important is to purchase a suitable SSL certificate.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to swap out the http:// for https:// in your site’s URL. WordPress users can do this easily, as the option can be found within Settings > General in the admin dashboard.
Just change the relevant parts of the URLs under both the WordPress Address and Site Address fields:
Next, you’ll want to ensure that visitors are correctly directed to the new, secure version of your site. In our opinion, the best way to do this is with a WordPress plugin, such as Really Simple SSL:
This plugin does much of the work for you when it comes to implementing SSL and HTTPS, and will also resolve some potential WordPress-specific issues, such as the ‘mixed content’ error. At this point, it’s also a good idea to check and make sure that all your internal links are still working correctly.
Finally, you’ll want to update your settings in Google Analytics and Search Console if you use those tools. Neglecting this step could negatively impact your search rankings.
As you can see, there are a number of things to consider when transferring your WordPress site to HTTPS. Let’s take a look at a few other important aspects of making the switch.
Important Things to Know Before Switching to HTTPS
As we’ve demonstrated, making the switch to HTTPS is relatively easy. However, there are still some key aspects you’ll need to think about before you get started. Skipping over these (or finding out about them halfway through the process), can hinder your progress and cause any number of issues.
With that in mind, here are a few important things to do before switching to HTTPS:
- Set up redirects for your site and its links. There are SEO-focused guides available to help with this. To get started, you’ll want to use a tool such as SEO Spider to create a list of URLs that you’ll need to redirect.
- Request indexing for your site. Asking Google to take a look at your newly-updated site is a crucial step, in order to keep traffic disruptions to a minimum. Fortunately, it’s easy to do.
- Update your internal links. This isn’t always necessary. However, sometimes your internal links won’t update correctly, and you’ll have to take care of it manually.
- Update your social and affiliate links. You’ll also need to look at any links featured on social media profiles, and any affiliate links you use, in order to make sure that all your site’s incoming traffic reaches the correct destination.
Switching to HTTPS is simple in theory, but there are a lot of loose ends to tie up. Keeping these considerations in mind will help minimize any underlying issues, and keep your traffic flowing – this time with a layer of encryption protecting all your visitors.
Get Support for Changing Your WordPress Site to HTTPS From WP Engine
While you have an important role to play in making the switch to HTTPS, your web host is an equally vital part of the equation. As such, choosing a host that is reliable and offers stellar support is key.
WP Engine automatically implements HTTPS on all websites hosted on our digital experience platform, and we can even help you make the switch if necessary. For more information, check out our affordable plans!