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It was a major decision that we’ve held off for too long. I was tapping my fingers on my computer table contemplating if the risk was worth it. I was about to lose 101,569 recorded tweets and retweets (accounting for 77% of our entire social shares) on SEO Hacker’s articles. I breathed out a long sigh before finally telling my developer “Let’s do it.”
An hour later, all the recorded Tweets in SEO Hacker’s website turned to a depressing zero. It felt like an abandoned country ghost town in an old wild west movie. Building this blog for a little over 4 years now with over 300 blog posts, I found myself to be a little lost even after the decision has been made.
“Let’s just hope this works.” I whispered.
You see, I’ve read all about the new HTTPS ranking factor that Google is going to incorporate in their algorithm. To cut the long story short, they said that:
“For now it’s only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content”
It’s been just a little over two weeks since we made the change. I’m excited to say that we already have some valuable data and insights to show for our huge social signal loss. Before I begin, let me qualify the study for you:
Study set: 46 keywords – all of which we have been tracking for 2 weeks now for this case study’s purposes – since we moved the SEO Hacker blog to HTTPS in between that time frame.
3 Competitors – All of whom are SEO companies in the Philippines with similar business models as ours and are competing for very similar keywords as SEO Hacker. For company interest purposes of the competitor’s data in this study, we chose not to disclose the names of the individual competitors. Instead, we named them Company 1, Company 2, and Company 3 accordingly.
To clarify, these companies did not make the shift to HTTPS. We merely recorded their data to compare against ours in the 2-week timeline since our shift to HTTPS.
Website we used: We used seo-hacker.com for the rankings since it’s the first one we converted to HTTPS. We feel the need to tell you this since we have three company sites.(seo-hacker.net for SEO services and clients, seo-hacker.org for SEO School, and finally, seo-hacker.com for our SEO blog).
Search Engines used in the Study: Google (Global), Yahoo and Bing
Disclaimer: I do not accredit the ranking increase solely to our shift to HTTPS. I’m aware that no one in the SEO industry will accredit causation to a single factor. However the data speaks quite strongly about the timely correlation of our transfer to HTTPS to our increase in rankings.
Summary of Results: SEO Hacker’s spread of keyword rankings have Increased by as much as 26%
Details of the Results:
- Median increase of the keywords that ranked higher after HTTPS shift of SEO Hacker: 9.43%
- Keywords that increased in rankings: 28
- Median decrease of the keywords that ranked lower after HTTPS shift of SEO Hacker: 13.6%
- Keywords that decreased in rankings: 15
- Median increase of the keywords that ranked higher over time for Company 1: 5.33%
- Keywords that increased in rankings: 3
- Median decrease of the keywords that ranked lower over time for Company 1: 37%
- Keywords that decreased in rankings: 1
- Median increase of the keywords that ranked higher over time for Company 2: 3%
- Keywords that increased in rankings: 3
- Median decrease of the keywords that ranked lower over time for Company 2: 13.57%
- Keywords that decreased in rankings: 7
- Median increase of the keywords that ranked higher over time for Company 3: 4%
- Keywords that increased in rankings: 6
- Median decrease of the keywords that ranked lower over time for Company 3: 12%
- Keywords that decreased in rankings: 2
SEO Hacker increased in keyword rankings by approximately 480% more than the closest competitor (28 keywords from SEO Hacker increased by as much as 26% vs 6 keywords from Competitor 3 who experienced only a maximum ranking increase of 7% ).
Was it worth it? As of this point, it’s inconclusive because of two things:
1) The study is just for 2 weeks worth of data.
2) 101,569 tweets is a lot to trade off even for as much as 480% increase in rankings against a comparison company.
However, after seeing the results, I had HTTPS applied in a heartbeat for our SEO Services site – which does not have any recorded social signals in any of its pages.
Consequently, I also had HTTPS applied to my other start-up, Qeryz.
Changing your entire site from HTTP to HTTPS is no easy task. Here are the 12 things I’ve learned segmented into categories:
Things me and my developer used to pull this trick off:
1) Used the SSL Insecure Content Fixer plugin to make sure that each of our pages will reflect HTTPS properly. We’ve tried other plugins but this one works best to our taste. Without it, some of the images and other plugins cease to work properly.
2) I had to change our MaxCDN pullzone settings from HTTP to HTTPS. Strangely, the CNAME for cdn.seo-hacker.com wasn’t working anymore too so I was forced to use a direct CDN address connection to seohacker-seohacker.netdna-ssl.com – which was configured as a shared SSL from MaxCDN
3) Purged all caches – including the CDN’s cache to pull all the static files from HTTPS instead of HTTP.
4) Fixed seo-hacker.com’s internal caching system to work with HTTPS. I use the W3 Total Cache plugin.
5) Reviewed Cyrus Shepard’s extremely useful post on “The Big List of SEO Tips and Tricks for Using HTTPS on Your Website” to make sure I didn’t miss out on anything. Can’t be too careful as a switch to HTTPS is a major move. It may make or break your rankings depending on things you might’ve missed along the way.
Unfortunately, HTTPS is pretty exclusive and not all WordPress plugins will cooperate with an HTTPS site. Here are some consequences I’ve faced and sacrificed to finalize our move to HTTPS:
6) I had to kill nRelate Related Content plugin and sacrifice internally referred Pageviews as it doesn’t work with HTTPS.
7) Killed Activeshare plugin by OrangeSoda – not really something major since I plan to kill this plugin anyway.
8) Killed my manually coded social sharing buttons and switched to Ultimate Social Deux because it works well with HTTPS. It’s actually what we’re using right now as our social sharing buttons in the site.
9) Facing the need to renew our SSL certificate yearly from hereon out. It’s an extra expense but if the rankings hold out to increase steadily such as what we’ve experienced so far, it would be well worth the investment.
Some other positive technical effects of the HTTPS change:
10) We were able to use MaxCDN’s SPDY technology – which increased our site load speed like crazy. Imagine, at 2.5mb worth of data and 110 external DNS requests, our site loads as fast as 1.65 seconds! I did a short comparison with Copyblogger (which boasts on running with Synthesis – its own site speed optimized hosting) and the results were quite far off. And they only have 1.5mb worth of data and 68 external requests.
Do note that they’re not running on HTTPS either. I have no idea if they’re running on SPDY though. In any case, it’s a huge difference to behold.
11) Our site’s transfer protocol’s security increased dramatically – naturally because of the SSL certificate.
12) The social signals we’ll accumulate from this point on as a blog won’t be killed off in the future because we’ve already adopted to HTTPS. No more returning back to a depressing zero. The only way from here is up!
Best of all? We’ve already experienced a dramatic increase in rankings for our SEO Services Company site.
Hope this entry picked on your brain enough to make the (relatively early) switch to HTTPS. I sincerely hope you won’t lose as much Tweets / Retweets as we did!