HTTP vs. HTTPS –– what does it mean? You’ve probably noticed that URLs typically either start with HTTP or HTTPS then a colon and two backslashes. You might know that these acronyms have something to do with site security but want to learn more.
Lucky for you, we are going to explain HTTP vs. HTTPS and their SEO implications. Additionally, we will go over what these acronyms stand for, review the history of the two protocols, and help you understand how to switch your website from the HTTP to HTTPS protocol.
What Are HTTP and HTTPS Protocols?
HTTP stands for “HyperText Transfer Protocol”, and HTTPS stands for “HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure.” To understand HTTP vs. HTTPS, first, you have to understand what a protocol is.
A protocol is a standard method for enabling connection, data transfer, and communication between two places on a network. Network protocols act as a common language between computers and are designed to set requirements for routing data.
How Does HTTP Work?
In simple terms, HTTP is a request-response protocol that allows users the ability to interact with web properties like HTML files through the transmission of hypertext messages between clients and servers.
HTTP performs various tasks by using specific request methods of GET and HEAD, with some servers using others listed below. Extrahop.com said it best with this list of request methods:
- GET requests a specific resource in its entirety
- HEAD requests a specific resource without the body content
- POST adds content, messages, or data to a new page under an existing web resource
- PUT directly modifies an existing web resource or creates a new URI if need be
- DELETE gets rid of a specified resource
- TRACE shows users any changes or additions made to a web resource
- OPTIONS shows users which HTTP methods are available for a specific URL
- CONNECT converts the request connection to a transparent TCP/IP tunnel
- PATCH partially modifies a web resource
Next, we’re going to briefly touch on the evolution of HTTP from its invention to what it is today.
The History of HTTP
HTTP has had many changes and updates since it was first created. Read on to learn about the different versions during its development.
HTTP was created alongside HTML in 1989 to produce the original World Wide Web browser. The original HTTP, referred to as HTTP/0.9 was a much simpler protocol than it is today and only consisted of the GET request method. In the beginning, there were no HTTP headers, so only HTML files could be transmitted.
Next came HTTP/1.0 in 1991 which expanded upon the original protocol’s single request method. Here are the changes that came with the update:
- HTTP headers were introduced, which allowed metadata to be transmitted.
- Other documents beside HTML could also be transmitted using the Content-Type header.
- A status code line was added to the beginning of a response to enable the browser to recognize the success or failure of a request and adapt.
In early 1997, HTTP/1.1 was introduced as the first standardized version of HTTP. Improvements included:
- The ability to reuse a connection to save time.
- Pipelining enabled a second request to be sent before the response to the first one was fully transmitted.
- Support of chunked responses.
- Cache control mechanisms were introduced.
- Content negotiation of language, encoding, and type between a client and server was introduced.
- Host header allowed the ability to host different domains from the same IP address for server colocation.
For around 15 years, HTTP remained stable as the Internet became more and more complex. Google released its own experimental protocol called SPDY that served as the foundation for HTTP/2.
HTTP/2 introduced several changes, including:
- It became a binary protocol rather than a text protocol. Improvements in optimization were found even though HTTP/2 cannot be read or created manually.
- Parallel requests can be made over the same connection as a multiplexed protocol.
- Headers are compressed to remove duplication and overhead data transmission.
- Servers can populate data in a client cache through a server push.
Since the release of HTTP/2, the protocol has continued evolving to meet the needs of users today.
Security Concerns With HTTP
Web adversaries can attack web servers, web applications, and websites using HTTP which caused concern among many in the Internet community. With HTTP, clients face a lot of security risks such as leaking personal information, DNS spoofing, vulnerability to software attacks, and more.
This led to the HTTPS protocol becoming more popular with the added layers of security.
The Introduction of HTTPS
According to Google, “The HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure is an internet communication protocol that protects the integrity and confidentiality of data between the user’s computer and the site.”
HTTPS protects users’ connections on a website using the Transport Layer Security protocol that provides triple layer protection:
- Encryption. Encryption of transmitted data ensures that no one can “eavesdrop” on users of a secure website. Activities cannot be tracked, conversations cannot be listened to, and personal information cannot be stolen.
- Data Integrity. This layer of protection prevents data from being modified or corrupted during transmission without being detected.
- Authentication. Authentication builds users’ trust through proving they are communicating with the right website. It blocks against man-in-the-middle attacks.
What’s the Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS?
So, what’s the difference between HTTP and HTTPS anyways? Is one better than the other?
Yes. HTTPS is preferred by Google because it protects the interest of its users. The primary difference between HTTP and HTTPS is security. HTTPS is essentially HTTP but with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. This is also referred to as TLS or transport layer security.
This encryption takes the plaintext of requests and responses and encrypts it so it appears as random characters to potential attackers protecting the data and the user. Public key encryption is a part of TLS protection. There are two keys: public and private.
A public key is shared with client devices through the SSL certificate which proves a domain is “trusted” by a Certificate Authority (CA) defined by a browser. A padlock icon is shown in the Google address bar to signify a web page is secure through HTTPS.
Another part of HTTPS is authentication of communicating parties. With HTTP, there’s no verification that a party is who they say they are, but with HTTPS, a private key is used to confirm a server’s identity. When a client visits a website, the host is proven legitimate if they possess a private key that matches the public key.
So, why does all of this matter? We’ll dive into HTTPS’ SEO impact in the next section.
HTTPS SEO Impact
Google has stated that HTTPS and site-security are ranking light factors for search results. The presence of an SSL certificate or HTTPS protocol does not affect whether a page is indexed or not, however, it plays a role in search engine optimization.
HTTPS and site security give you a slight advantage over competitors with only HTTP protocols. This is because Google uses HTTPS as a positive ranking signal. It does not carry the weight of other SEO such as high-quality content, but will affect your website in the long run.
The other part of using an HTTPS protocol is that it gives users security that their information is safe. This can decrease bounce rates and overall increase conversion rates. Having a site that is proven to be trustworthy is an important marketing move to get users to visit and revisit your website time and time again.
Switching Your Website from HTTP To HTTPS
What happens if you have an HTTP website? Can you secure it with HTTPS?
The good news is, yes, you can secure your website. The bad news is that it is a bit complicated. Most websites these days are already HTTPS, but if yours is not, you may want to talk to a web developer to initiate the migration for you.
This migration may cause fluctuations in SEO performance in the beginning but does not permanently hurt performance. Refer to Google’s guidelines and best practices for the best results.
We hope this guide to HTTP vs. HTTPS was informative and helped you to understand the HTTP and HTTPS protocols better. But if you have more questions about search engine optimization, we have an entire blog you can check for articles covering a multitude of topics.