Google confirmed that sites using secure encryption would benefit from a “lightweight” algorithmic boost in an announcement yesterday on the (ironically unencrypted) Google Webmaster Central Blog.
Google’s latest move isn’t a huge surprise given its recent focus on privacy, both in the form of “right to be forgotten” changes enforced by the EU and its own efforts such as the controversial (not provided) withdrawal of organic keyword data in Google Analytics.
However, it’s interesting to see a direct admission that this algorithmic change is part of Google’s “HTTPS everywhere” campaign to encourage webmasters to adopt HTTPS as the standard on their websites.
The more cynical among us will say that this isn’t the first time Google has used its search results to influence webmaster behaviour, but it’s a remarkable example simply because it’s so blatant – Google openly admit that they’re changing their algorithm to encourage webmasters to use HTTPS, not to improve the quality of their search results but to propagate their own wider vision of what the web should be.
That being said, Google’s argument is that more secure websites offer a better user experience by making the internet safer for users. And they’ve got a point – there are still too many websites with lax security standards, and too many companies showing a frightening lack of respect for their users’ personal data. This runs right across the spectrum from high profile data theft cases at huge companies, down to the exploitation of large numbers of smaller websites putting the personal data of billions at risk.
Given that criminal liability under data protection legislation doesn’t seem to be enough to convince some webmasters to take responsibility for the security of their own websites, it remains to be seen whether the promise of better SEO visibility for more secure sites will succeed where government intervention has failed. We’ll certainly be watching the effect of Google’s campaign with interest…