Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller provided an interesting answer as to whether there was an SEO downside from linking to insecure HTTP web pages.
One would think that linking to HTTP pages might be seen as a negative quality of a page because it might seem like a negative user experience.
Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS
HTTP is a protocol (a system made up of rules) for transferring data from a server to a browser.
HTTPS is a secure version that verifies to the user that the site they’re visiting is protected and can be trusted with sensitive information like passwords.
HTTPS is a Ranking Signal
The secure HTTPS protocol is a known Google ranking signal.
Google announced in 2014 that HTTPS is a ranking signal.
The announcement stated:
“Beyond our own stuff, we’re also working to make the Internet safer more broadly. A big part of that is making sure that websites people access from Google are secure.
For these reasons, over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms.
We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal.
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 —while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS.
But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”
The fact that HTTPS is a ranking signal provides the background for the question about linking out to insecure HTTP pages.
If secure webpages are important to Google, then it follows that the linked sites should also be HTTPS.
But that’s not necessarily the case, as Mueller explains.
Is It Bad to Link to HTTP Pages?
There are many reasons why linking to an HTTP page is not recommended.
But the question was limited to understanding if there was a negative impact on SEO from linking to insecure webpages that only use HTTP.
This is the question that was asked:
“Does it affect my SEO score negatively if my page is linking to an external insecure website?
So, on HTTP, not HTTPS.”
Mueller answered the question by clarifying that there’s no such thing as an SEO score and then reinterpreting the question to what he believes the question is.
“…first off, we don’t have a notion of an SEO score.
So you don’t really have to worry about kind of an SEO score.
But regardless, I kind of understand the question is like, is it bad if I link to an HTTP page instead of an HTTPS page.
And from our point of view, it’s perfectly fine.
If these pages are on HTTP, then that’s what you would link to.
That’s kind of what users would expect to find.
There’s nothing against linking to sites like that.
There is no kind of downside for your website to kind of like avoid linking to HTTP pages because they’re kind of old or crusty and not as cool as on HTTPS.
I would not worry about that.”
Linking to HTTP Pages Okay?
Mueller affirmed that it’s okay (for SEO reasons) to link to another site using the HTTP protocol.
However, HTTP offers no verification to the browser that the server responding to a request for a web page is the correct server.
In the past, many web publishers dragged their feet on adopting the HTTPS protocol because they felt it was only necessary for banks, hospitals, shopping sites, and other businesses that dealt with sensitive user data.
But that’s no longer the case because websites using HTTP protocol can be attacked, with unintended consequences resulting to those websites that can affect their bottom line.
Over the years, hackers have developed ways to trick site visitors into believing they are accessing a specific website. Once tricked, the hacker will do things like obtain bank passwords and other sensitive data.
DNS hijacking, man-in-the-middle attacks, and domain spoofing are some of the exploits that can happen when someone visits a site using an insecure HTTP implementation.
So it may be a best practice (for user experience reasons) to identify outbound HTTP links and check if the linked site uses HTTPS. If it doesn’t then it might be helpful to find a better site to link to if a visitor’s user experience and security are important to you.
Site visitors following a link from a secure site to an insecure one and confronted with a browser message that a website is insecure may start to question if the secured site is trustworthy after all.
There are more things to consider than the impact on SEO.
Will Linking to HTTP Have a Negative SEO Effect?
Watch Mueller answer the question at the 07:35 minute mark.
Featured Image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral, July 2022.