What Is an SSL Certificate and How Does It Work?
Have you heard about the mysterious SSL certificate? Are you wondering what it actually is and how it works? Keep reading our entry to discover the importance of SSL certificates in SEO and learn why it’s worth implementing this solution on your website.
Table of contents:
- What is an SSL certificate?
- How does an SSL certificate work?
- Why do websites need an SSL certificate?
- How to get an SSL certificate?
- Does an SSL certificate affect SEO?
What is an SSL certificate?
An SSL certificate is a protocol that encrypts online traffic and verifies server identity. It allows your website to change from HTTP to a safer alternative – HTTPS. This is what affects the importance of SSL certificate in SEO. In a nutshell, it’s a data file found in your page’s origin server that contains information about your page identity, its public key, and other important elements. If any devices try to reach your origin server, they’ll reference this data file to obtain the key and verify your identity. The use of SSL is part of technical SEO services and remains an important website performance factor.
SSL certificates include:
- Your domain name
- The name of the organization, person, or device the certificate was issued to
- The name of the certificate authority that issued it
- The digital signature of the certificate authority
- Information about any related subdomains
- The date when the certificate was issued
- The date when the certificate expires
- The public key (this one is kept a secret)
6 types of SSL certificates
It’s possible to distinguish six main types of SSL certificates that differ in terms of validation level. The list includes:
- Extended Validation certificates (EV SSL) – this is the most prestigious and most expensive SSL certificate type. It’s usually chosen by high-profile websites that collect a lot of data and process online payments. You can recognize this certificate if there is a padlock, HTTPS, business name, and information about the country in the browser address bar. To get this certificate, the website owner is obliged to go through the verification process and prove that s/he has rights to the domain.
- Organization Validated certificates (OV SSL) – the validation level of this SSL certificate is similar to the validation level of the EV SSL. If your website has this certificate, it’ll also display information about you (the owner) in the address bar. OV SSL certificates are a bit cheaper than the abovementioned type and they’re typically used to secure websites that collect sensitive information about users.
- Domain Validated certificates (DV SSL) – this type provides minimal encryption, mainly due to the fact that the validation process isn’t too complex. DV SSL certificates are usually chosen by the owners of blogs or informational websites that don’t involve payments and don’t collect data. To validate the certificate, a website owner only needs to respond to an email or a phone call and this is the main method of proving the ownership of the domain. In this case, in the address bar, you’ll only see HTTPS, there will be no information about the business name.
- Wildcard SSL certificates – with this solution, you can secure your main domain and numerous subdomains on a single certificate. This option frequently turns out to be more affordable than purchasing individual SSL certificates for each subdomain.
- Multi-Domain SSL certificates (MDC) – as the name suggests, the MDC SSL certificate is used to secure numerous domains and subdomains with diverse TLDs (Top-Level Domains). However, it’s worth noting that this certificate type doesn’t secure subdomains by default. To support two URLs, you need to specify both hostnames when obtaining the certificate.
- Unified Communications Certificates (UCC) – this is another multi-domain SSL certificate initially intended to secure Microsoft Exchange and Live Communications servers. These certificates show a padlock in the address bar.
It’s worth analyzing various SSL certificate types in detail before making a decision. Only then, you can choose an option best suited to your needs.
How does an SSL certificate work?
The main function of an SSL certificate is to ensure that any data and information transferred between websites, users, and systems are secure and can’t be read by third parties. This is achieved thanks to encryption algorithms that scramble data in transit and prevent hackers from accessing the information. SSL certificates help to protect data like names, credit card numbers, addresses, financial details, and sensitive information.
A website secured by an SSL certificate can be recognized thanks to the acronym HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) shown in the URL. Without the certificate, there is only HTTP, and there is no padlock. As you may guess, the extra “s” letter which stands for “secure” informs users and search engine robots that the domain is trustworthy and safe.
Why do websites need an SSL certificate?
If you’re wondering why websites need an SSL certificate, we can tell you that it’s crucial to securely store users’ data, verify ownership of the website, prevent hacker attacks and inspire trust among visitors and search engine robots. That’s why SSL certificate is important.
If your page involves transactions and you ask users to provide sensitive data such as their credit card numbers, names, addresses, dates of birth, medical records, or other information, you should do everything in your power to protect this data.
How to get an SSL certificate?
If you want to obtain an SSL certificate, contact one of the Certificate Authorities (CA) that issue millions of such certificates each year. These authorities make online operations transparent and trustworthy which is becoming more and more important among users as their awareness is also increasing.
To get an SSL certificate, you need to take the following steps:
- Set up your server to ensure that your WHOIS record (a query and response protocol) is up-to-date and corresponds to the information sent to the Certificate Authority. Verify elements like your company name, address, phone number, etc.
- Generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) on your server. If you aren’t sure how to do it, ask your hosting company for support.
- Submit the CSR to your CA that will verify and validate your company data and details.
- Finally, it’s time to install and configure the provided certificate once the process is finished.
Are you wondering how long the entire process takes? As usual, when talking about SEO, the answer is: it depends. It depends on your certificate type and chosen provider. While Domain Validation SSL certificates are frequently issued within minutes, Extended Validation ones can require even a week.
How to install an SSL certificate?
Once your certificate is ready, you’ll probably want to install it. For this purpose, you’ll need your server certificate, any intermediate certificates, and your private key.
To install the SSL certificate, follow these steps:
- Log in to your web host manager and provide your user name and password
- Go to your homepage view and look for a field with information about SSL
- Try to find a place or a button that will allow you to install an SSL certificate on your domain
- Provide your domain details and upload your certificate files in a place specially designed for that
- Click install
That’s it! Congratulations. As you can see, installing an SSL certificate is a piece of cake. To check whether it works correctly, type in your website URL in the address box and see whether there is HTTPS. Remember that it might be necessary to restart the server or wait a few minutes before the modifications come into effect.
SSL certificate costs
Well, let’s stop beating around the bush. Money is a decisive factor in numerous business operations, therefore, it’s not surprising that you probably wonder what are the costs of an SSL certificate.
The price of an SSL certificate can vary from free to hundreds of dollars, depending on the level of security you choose. That’s why it’s so important to take a closer look at available types and do thorough research to determine which option is likely to satisfy you and your users’ needs. Once you select an SSL certificate type, you can search for Certificate Authorities that offer needed services and certificates.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to provide one universal answer to the questions about the SSL certificate costs, therefore, consult a few authorities and compare prices before you decide to invest in a given solution.
Does an SSL certificate affect SEO?
Although an SSL certificate won’t improve your website positions drastically, it’ll definitely have a positive impact on the rankings. Let’s talk about how does SSL certificate affect SEO.
As you may guess, SEO is a complex and time-consuming process. Google algorithms take into account hundreds or even thousands of factors when assessing websites and deciding about their positions. An SSL certificate does affect SEO, because it definitely makes your page more trustworthy and reliable, both for users and search engine robots. Google rewards websites that take care of users, their needs, and safety. Do your best to create a page that is a secure and valuable source of unique information and you’ll see that this will quickly translate into higher positions in the ranking. While taking care of the optimization of your website, remember the importance of an SSL certificate in SEO.
Want to learn more about technical SEO? Check out our blog!
This is an update of an article published in 2018.