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A Guide to HTTPS vs HTTP Protocols and More

By Manick Bhan on Feb 14, 2022 - 10 minute read

Have you been told to move from an HTTP site to an HTTPS site? If so, you’re receiving good advice. The difference between an HTTP vs HTTPS […]

understanding https vs http with a address bar int eh back

Have you been told to move from an HTTP site to an HTTPS site? If so, you’re receiving good advice. The difference between an HTTP vs HTTPS protocol can be the difference between keeping your site visitors safe and risking their confidential information possibly winding up in the wrong hands. Additionally, switching to the more user-safe protocol can give your site an SEO advantage.

In this article, we will provide you with the foundation you need to understand more about protocols, servers, and how you can do your part to strengthen your site’s cybersecurity. And, how these all affect your SEO.

How Does Having an HTTPS Affect Your SEO?

The HTTPS is more than just a protocol and digital certificate, it’s a promise to your visitors. It’s also the preferred domain certificate for Google search results.

Why does Google care if a site uses HTTPS? As the world’s most popular search engine Google has carried the torch when it comes to making the internet a better place for all. As a result, Google become more and more concerned with the user experience over the past few years. 

a heart with the google logo and an ssl logo in it

One factor they’ve zeroed in on is user security and safety. In an attempt to discourage the use of HTTP and encourage more sites to use HTTPS, Google has gone public about how they’re using the HTTPS protocol as a ranking factor for search. And they explain that over time, this security factor will weigh more heavily on how they rank sites.

What Is a Network Protocol?

When your computer accesses a network, the network acts as a communication interface that allows all of the devices to communicate with one another. The purpose of a protocol is to set up a set of rules for how the data or information that is communicated between the devices can be transmitted. Essentially, the protocol sets the manner in which the information is handled.

There are a wide variety of protocol types, including those that:

  • Interpret the data (application protocols)
  • Decide how much data can be sent at a time (transport protocols)
  • Decide on the path the data will take (Internet protocols).

All of these protocols are layered upon one another and transmitted between a web browser and a server.

There are network protocols for nearly any device-to-device interaction, but the most commonly used are those that control the communication and security of the world wide web. Network management protocols are also at play when it comes to the internet (but those have slightly less to do with HTTP and HTTPS, so we won’t dive into them in this article).

How Do Servers Work?

To understand the significance of HTTP and HTTPS, you need a basic understanding of how servers work

how do servers work with a lady at her laptop and an arrow pointing to the server with the url then one arrow pointing back with the webpage data

A server is essentially a computer or data storage device. When you enter a URL, you’re directing your internet browser to retrieve a webpage. To do so, the browser sends a request to the server on which the data for that page is stored. The server receives the request then puts the data together and serves the data back to your computer in the form of data that your browser then displays.

What Is HTTP?

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and is the standard protocol used by browsers to connect to web servers and request web pages. HTTP protocol is a stateless protocol, meaning that each request is independent of previous requests. When a web browser connects to a web server, it sends a request for the home page of the website. The web server responds by sending the HTML code for the home page, which the browser then displays.

What Does A Hypertext Transfer Protocol Do?

how http works

HTTP (or Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is a request-response protocol between your web browser and a server. Essentially, a browser sends an HTTP request to a server in the form of a message, and the server responds with a message (HTML that is then displayed as a website).

This message can be a successful retrieval of a webpage, a redirect, or a loading error.

What is HTTPS?

how https works

The ‘secure communication’ version of the HTTP protocol is HTTPS, the protocol over which data is sent between your computer and the website you are visiting. HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. HTTPS is especially important when you enter personal information, such as your credit card number, on a website.

The ‘S’ in HTTPS stands for ‘Secure.’ HTTPS connections are encrypted, which means that the information you send is hidden from anyone who might try to intercept it. HTTPS is also authenticated, meaning that you can be sure that you are communicating with the website you think you are.

Why Is HTTP Not Safe?

a diagram with http and someone diverting information

HTTP request is not safe because it transmits information in plain text. This means that anyone who is listening in on the network can see the sensitive data that is being transmitted. 

Additionally, HTTP sites do not use encryption, which means that the information can be intercepted and read by anyone who is monitoring the network. This is often called a “middle attack.”

What is an SSL Protocol?

ssl with a lock and secure socket layer

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, the standard protocol that provides security for communications over the Internet. SSL is used to encrypt data and create a secure connection between a server and a client.

This protocol layer turns your sensitive information into unreadable data. This keeps it private and protected from anyone that may be viewing server data or intercepting data.

Websites that have an SSL protocol often receive an SSL certificate that demonstrates to their users that they encrypt user data.

What is a TLS protocol?

SSL < TLS with muscles

Transport Layer Security, or TLS, is a cryptographic protocol that provides security for communications over the internet. TLS is a newer and more advanced version of SSL. TLS uses a combination of symmetric-key cryptography and public-key cryptography to secure communications.

Despite, being a new system of encryption, often TLS and SSL are used synonymously. 

While TLS is a newer technology, most TLS providers still provide their customers with the umbrella term, “SSL certificates.” However, more and more services are using TLS certificates.

How Can You Obtain an SSL or TLS Certificate?

SSL certificate

SSL/TLS certificates are issued by companies that are certified and trusted authorities in cybersecurity. These sites are referred to as certificate authorities (CAs). To receive one, you must use a CA service. Most charge a fee, averaging about $5 per month. However, there are free SSL/TLS services, such as Cloudflare.

They will then provide you with a digital certificate that displays your domain name, issue date, and expiration date. You will need to download this certificate and then activate it on your server. After its activation, your site’s SSL will automatically begin working, keeping all information transferred between users and your site server encrypted.

Those that use a hosting service will need to contact their host server to employ the certificate.

Every SSL certificate will have a public key for encryption along with a private key. The private key is inaccessible to everyone but the certifying CA.

What is an Application Layer Protocol?

Application layer diagram

An application layer protocol is a set of rules that governs how applications exchange information. In other words, an application layer protocol establishes how a computer and server will communicate with each other. This includes the semantic language to use and the rate of data transfer. 

The application layer protocol sits on top of a transport layer protocol, such as TCP or UDP, and provides services such as file transfer, email, and web browsing.

Application layer protocols are used in emails, file transfers, websites, and media streaming services.

How Can You Tell If You’re Using a Secure Website?

There are a few ways that you can tell if you’re using a secure website and your sensitive information will be protected on said site. 

  1. The first way is to look at the address bar. If the website starts with https://, then it is a secure website. The “s” stands for “secure.” 

The other way to tell if a website is secure is by looking for a lock icon. This icon usually appears in the address bar or in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. If the lock is closed, then the website is secure. If the lock is open, then the website is not secure.

How Can You Tell If Your Site Is Using HTTPS vs HTTP?

It’s easy to determine if your site is employing HTTPS vs HTTP. The first way is to head on over to your homepage. If you see the lock symbol on your browser and the HTTPS in the URL, you’re on the right track.

You can also determine if all of your pages are using HTTPS security encryption using SEO audit software. Using an SEO tool like SearchAtlas, you can identify if there are any issues with your site’ security settings.

https vs http

Make Your Site the Safest It Can Be & Improve Your SEO

When it comes to improving the security of your site, you cannot go wrong. As Google continues to push the value of the user’s experience, you must keep up with their demands. Switching to HTTPS from HTTP is a huge step forward. However, you can improve your site even more with TLS certification and auditing your site regularly.

Don’t miss a beat when it comes to your site’s search performance. Whether it be user security or site speed, LinkGraph’s SEO experts have you covered.

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