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Moving Your Site to HTTPS? Read Google’s HTTPS FAQ!

Google’s John Mueller recently answered 13 frequently asked questions about HTTPS. The questions are specifically about moving your site from HTTP to HTTPS. From how to test HTTPS pages to how long a site-move to HTTPS takes, this FAQ is a pretty useful resource if you’re thinking of making the move.

Here are Google’s HTTPS FAQ and answers:

1. “Do I need to set something in Search Console?”

Mueller says all you need to do is “add the HTTPS site there.” He also mentions the “change-of-address setting doesn’t apply for HTTP -> HTTPS moves.” Remember that this HTTPS FAQ focuses on moving an existing site on the same host-name. The change of address tool does not currently support protocol changes.

2. “How can we do an A/B test?”

For webmasters who want to ensure a safe launch, A/B testing makes a lot of sense. To do it the right way, Mueller suggests you “don’t cloak to Googlebot,” and “don’t block via robots.txt.” Instead, he recommends using 302 redirects and a rel=canonical to the HTTP site so the HTTPS version won’t be indexed.

3. “Will the rel=canonical guarantee that the HTTP URL is indexed?”

Expanding on the previous question, Mueller answers “no, but it’s a very strong signal.” So whichever site you tag as canonical will signal Google to treat it as the right one.

4. “What’s the next step after testing?”

Google provides a step-by-step guide for completing a site-move. Mueller also lists additional steps in his comments:

  • “Use 301 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS”
  • “Confirm the new version by adding a rel=canonical on the HTTPS page, pointing to itself”
  • “Submit sitemaps including both HTTP & HTTPS URLs with new change-dates (in the long run, just keep the HTTPS sitemap)”

5. “What about the robots.txt file?”

Mueller says, “the HTTPS site uses the HTTPS robots.txt file. Check that it’s reachable or serves a 404 result code, and check that your HTTP URLs aren’t blocked by the HTTP robots.txt file.”

6. “Is it OK to have just some pages on HTTPS?”

Mueller responds with an enthusiastic, “yes, no problem!” He gives the all-clear to move only some pages over, test them, and if you’re happy with the result, add more. The process will vary in difficulty for everyone, so it’s nice that you can go at your own speed.

7. “Should I move everything together, or is it fine to do sections?”

Right in line with the last question, Google reminds us it is just fine to move your site in sections.

8. “Will I see a drop in search?”

This is a big one for SEO companies, or really any online business. Mueller reassures that “Fluctuations can happen with any bigger site change. We can’t make any guarantees, but our systems are usually good with HTTP -> HTTPS moves.”

Remember that Google themselves have started prioritizing HTTPS sites over HTTP ones. With Google supporting a more secure web, it’s likely you may see increases in rankings once your new HTTPS site settles in.

9. “Which certificate do I need?”

There are several SSL certificates to choose from. But Google places an emphasis on any “modern certificate” that is supported by “modern browsers.” So as long as your choice is up-to-date, you should be good.

10. “Do I lose ‘link juice’ from the redirects?”

Mueller’s stance on this is pretty direct: “No, for 301 or 302 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS no PageRank is lost.” Although our own research has found that redirects don’t carry all the link juice from page to page, this is mostly true. Hearing it from Google should be all you need to be convinced that a move from HTTP to HTTPS really is in your best interests.

11. “Will we see search keywords in Google Analytics when we’re on HTTPS?”

No change here—Mueller says, “you can still see the search queries in Search Console.”

12. “How can I test how many pages were indexed?”

No doubt you’d want to know which—and how many—pages got crawled after your move to HTTPS. Mueller offers the following: “Verify HTTP / HTTPS separately in Search Console, use index Status for a broad look, or the sitemaps indexed counts for sitemap URLs.”

13. “How long will a move from HTTP to HTTPS take?”

This depends on several factors. Google has no fixed crawl frequencies; they happen when they happen, essentially. But for a site-move to be recognized by Google will “depend on the size of your site, and the speed of the crawling that’s possible. Mueller also states the site-move “takes place on a per-URL basis.” So if you’re moving lots of pages at once, the move could take a while.

Moving a website from HTTP to HTTPS can be a daunting process. With Google's recent HTTPS FAQ, you can make it happen smoothly.

Remember this HTTPS FAQ and Move Your Site with Confidence

Obviously these questions don’t answer everything people need to know about HTTPS. But for the specific act of moving a site from HTTP to HTTPS, this is a pretty comprehensive list.

Keep this page bookmarked! It’s possible the Google+ community may come up with more questions. And when they do, you can be sure Google will be there to answer them.  If you have any questions, our full SEO services and strategies will solve this and your SEO needs.  Contact SEO Inc. for a FREE Quote and web site analysis.

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About Eric Seal

Eric SealEric has written copy for hundreds of blog posts, press releases, and website pages across a wide range of industries, from upscale luggage vendors and industrial warehouse equipment to luxury international hotels. His ability to write engaging content while maintaining a client’s brand and voice has made him a valuable member of the SEO Inc. team. Eric holds a BA in Literature and Writing from Cal State University San Marcos.