Small business owners are some of the busiest people on the planet. They’re normally rushing around trying to perform a host of roles. Sales, customer service, HR, and even IT/webmaster duties…small business owners have to do it all. It’s difficult to be everything to everyone, but there’s one aspect of your business you can’t afford to ignore, and that’s your website and the big changes implemented by Google this summer.

For many small businesses, a website is their portal to the world, even if the site isn’t for retail shopping. Restaurants, house cleaners, accountants, and retail establishments all rely on their website to convey critical information about their brand. From physical location to areas of specialization, people find you via the internet.

So what’s going on with Google and SSLs?

Beginning in the summer of 2018, websites that don’t have SSL will be differentiated from those that do. Also, preference in the Google algorithm for sites with SSL will improve ranking for those sites.

How much does this matter?

A whole lot. Way back in the olden days of 2014, Google started using SSL as a factor in their algorithm that ranks pages. In the four years since then, the number of sites with SSL – denoted by the HTTPS prefix – has increased steadily. In fact, according to Google’s blog post from earlier this year, more than 68% of Android and Windows Chrome traffic is on protected sites. More than 78% of Chrome traffic on Chrome OS and Mac is protected. And 81 of the top 100 Google sites use HTTPS by default.

Google’s preference for secure sites is changing the landscape for websites, and the statistics show that users are increasingly conscious of which sites have SSL and which do not.

What exactly is an SSL and what does it have to do with HTTPS?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, and it’s an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. In plain English, it’s a way of simultaneously protecting your website from attacks and also protecting visitors to your site from attempts to collect their personal information.

So you have a website, and you obtain an SSL certificate for it. Websites with SSL have URLs that have been slightly differentiated by Google and its browser, Chrome. Secure sites (ones with SSLs) are displayed with the HTTPS prefix. Sites that aren’t secure are displayed with the HTTP prefix. If you’re curious, HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Security.

In addition to the HTTP/HTTPS differentiation, beginning in July 2018, sites that aren’t secure will be prefaced by an exclamation mark, and they will be clearly labeled as “not secure.” Google is making it easier for users to identify which sites are safer to access.

Do I need an SSL certificate?

The short answer is almost always yes. Sites that simply convey basic information to visitors may be able to function just fine, but the preference for secure sites by the Google algorithm means that your site’s page ranking is likely to fall if you don’t obtain SSL certification. Certainly, any sites that solicit customer input should be secured.

The reasons for having an SSL and using HTTPS go beyond just your website’s ranking, though.

First, if you value your customers and visitors to your website, an SSL protects their valuable information. If a customer visited your site while using a shared network, like in a coffee shop or hotel, and they visited an HTTP site, any information they input into that website could be much more easily collected and exploited. The encryption of your website’s SSL makes it more secure for customers to interact with you via your site.

Second, your SSL protects your website from outside attempts to collect or corrupt data. Your data should be protected, along with the data you’ve collected from any customers. If your account is hacked or compromised, not only is your data vulnerable, but you may also lose critical downtime.

And finally, in addition to the vital security provided by SSLs and HTTPS, your business and its visibility will benefit from the preference Google gives to secure sites. Sure, Google is explicitly telling you the page ranking for your site will suffer if you decide not to secure your site with an SSL. But also, as internet users become more familiar with how secure vs. non-secure sites are marked, it’s logical to assume that sites without SSL certificates will begin to see higher bounce rates. And security is even more critical for sites that allow users to shop online. A GlobalSign survey indicated that a whopping 84% of shoppers would abandon a purchase if the site weren’t secure.

SSLs and HTTPs provide both visibility for your website and security for you and your users.

What are my SSL certificate options?

There are four levels of SSL certification, and it’s helpful to know a little about each of them so you can select the option that’s right for your business. One important fact: All SSL offer the same level of encryption, regardless of cost.

Free SSL certificates:

Free SSL options provide data security for you and visitors to your site. They’re typically bundled with web hosting plans. Free certificates typically have to be renewed every 30-90 days, so they’re best suited for non-input sites – sites that don’t collect information from visitors.

Domain Validated certificates (DVSSLs):

In addition to providing encryption, DVSSLs ensure that your company has the right to use your domain name. They can typically be issued and used in a short period.

Organization Validated certificates (OVSSLs):

OVSSLs provide the services above, as well as vetting aspects of your company like address and phone number, which does take a little more turnaround time. The vetted information is displayed to customers who click on your Secure Site Seal.

Extended Validation certificates (EVSSL):

Along with all the above security features, EVSSLs require thorough vetting of your business. Additionally, EVSSL holders can opt to enable a green bar designation that turns the URL green and makes it clearer to users which sites have the highest level of security and vetting.

Staying on top of new Google developments can dramatically affect how potential customers interact with your small business. The July 2018 HTTPS changes are ones you can’t afford to ignore. Making sure your website has an SSL certificate protects you and your customers, and it also has a positive effect on your Google page ranking. Obtaining an SSL is neither difficult nor time-consuming, and the benefits far outweigh the cost.