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The following is a post by Craig Bailey, Technical Director at XEN Systems. XEN is an Elcom Partner agency, helping Elcom customers optimize their Google rankings and digital marketing efforts using elcomCMS. The post originally appeared here on the XEN blog.

The Move to HTTPS

Moving web sites from http to https is becoming more common as companies aim to improve security, and take advantage of the slight algorithm benefit that Google gives to secure sites.

In the following we’re going to cover the main considerations and actions related to switching an elcomCMS managed site. 

Why Switch?

Common Gotchas

Social Share Counts

  • Most social share counts will go to zero
  • This is because social platforms see the http version of a page as a different page to the https version
  • And thus they treat the share counts separately
  • Some platforms (eg Facebook) are getting better at following 301 redirects, so this will hopefuly improve
  • Some social sharing tools are adding functionality to ‘recover’ share counts, but these will require individual checking
  • General summary: expect to lose all your social share counts

What To Expect

  • Short term (1-2 weeks typically): there will be a slight impact on the initial change to https as the redirects take hold (this is the same as with any redirect, there is a slight loss of Google juice but it is only minor – Google have officially said this shouldn’t happen with https changes but anecdotal studies I’ve read on this have indicated there still can be small impacts)
  • Medium term (3+ weeks): you’ll get a slight boost (since Google gives https a slight ranking benefit in its algorithm)

 
Full Process for Planning and Implementing the Switch to HTTPS

Switch to https best practice guide

Google has a good set of general guidelines here, which I strongly recommend reviewing.

Here’s the full, detailed process for switching over to https:

Before switching

  • Update all internal links to be relative links, including images and other assets (eg documents)
  • Ensure you have up-to-date SSL certificates in place, including coverage for any/all sub-domains that may also be affected eg including m. subdomains (SmallBizTrands has a good article with some SSL certificate notes)
  • Prepare 301 redirects for all http pages to https (ideally this should just be a wildcard redirect rule)
  • Check through any previous redirect mappings that have been setup (eg from an old site migration) and update to https destination URLs
  • Ensure https is NOT blocked in robots.txt (sometimes sites have old rules in place for blocking any secure resources from being crawled)
  • If you are using a CDN ensure that it can handle the switch to https as well

The Switch

  • Enable the https option in elcomCMS Global Site settings elcomCMS Global Site Settings

Switch from http to https best practice guide

  • Enable the 301 redirects

After switching to https

  • Add a new Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools) profile for the https version of your site (and verify)
  • Ensure all rel=”canonical” links are updated to point to https versions
  • Ensure all hreflang links are updated to point to https versions
  • Ensure XML Sitemap URLs are updated to be https versions
  • Submit your updated XML sitemap to the new Google Search Console profile
  • Ensure system pages (eg 404 error page) are updated to be https, and link back to https pages
  • Ensure Search functionality on the site is updated to return https results
  • Use a crawling tool to crawl the site and check for any errors (eg use ScreamingFrog or IMN’s site crawler)
  • Update Google Analytics View settings to be https eg:

Switch website from http to https best practice guide

  • Review any paid advertising (eg AdWords) and update the destination URLs to be https. Although the redirects will handle this, it is always better to ensure ad links are as clean as possible with minimal redirects

Reviewing

  • Closely monitor Google Analytics over the next days to ensure there isn’t any drastic change. If there’s a sudden drop in traffic it likely indicates a technical issue is blocking traffic, or blocking Google analytics tracking
  • Use the new Google Search Console profile to check the Google crawler details – it will highlight the pages that have been crawled, as well as crawl errors
  • Check Google search results for indexed pages – you should gradually see all results start pointing to https versions (this can take days to weeks depending on the size and authority of your site)

Should I Ever Switch Back to http?

Simple answer: No

If the switch has issues and the site starts to disappear from Google you may be tempted to switch back. However this is likely even more risky due to:

  • Google becoming more confused
  • The issue likely being technical, and if you stuffed it up in the switch to http then you’ll probably do an equally bad job of switching back

The best course of action is to investigate carefully what the issue is and resolve.

Most issues are due to incorrectly prepared/implemented 301 redirects (eg causing redirect loops). Carefully check your redirect mappings as the first point of investigation.

Need Help With your elcomCMS Switch?

If you’d like our help with planning and implementing your site’s switch to https, please contact us.

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