Switching to HTTPS from HTTP—The Perks, Pitfalls and How-To

Why switch to HTTPS?

A Helpful guide to securing a website

The Perks

Over the last few years, many websites have made the jump from HTTP to HTTPS, and with good reason—HTTPS or secure sites encrypt sensitive data that could otherwise be hijacked during transfer.

It offers the incentives of: authentication, encryption, data integrity and ranking boost.

Authentication prevents attacks and provides a guarantee one is communicating with the exact website that was intended.

Encryption provides privacy by encrypting the exchanged data.

Data integrity prevents data from being unnoticeably modified or corrupted during the transfer.

Ranking boost may be a good incentive, as Google hints on strengthening HTTPS signal in the future.

Also, to emphasize the importance of encrypting sensitive data, Google Chrome (since January, 2017) displays a clear warning next to the address bar whenever you visit a website that doesn’t encrypt – potential – sensitive data, such as forms.

The Pitfalls

Did you know that if you don’t plan you switch correctly, the move from HTTP to HTTPS can actually harm your web promotion instead of helping them?

Sometimes, what may have tracked fine in HTTP may not track at all in HTTPS. This is because HTTP header is the single most important place from which Google Analytics gathers information for its reports about referral data, and too often, you lose that referral data in translation. As a result, your referrals may show as “direct/bookmark” rather than the actual site, rendering your Google Analytics data extremely inaccurate. When this happens, you are setting up for inaccurate website data reporting without realizing it.

So how do you make sure you aren’t missing accurate website reports? You make sure that your tracking software is in the correct location and setup properly.

How do you do that? To get the answer, check out the tips below.

How-To

Referral Traffic

To ensure the most accurate transfer of information and referral data, please verify that your Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, HitsLink or other tracking software is installed properly.

Tracking software can still report referral information even if it is not installed properly, but HTTPS transfers data and referral information differently than HTTP.

SSL Certificate

To enable HTTPS for your site an SSL Certificate will need to be obtained and configured on your server.

Most web hosting plans offer secure hosting as an option.  Contact your hosting provider to see how this can be applied to your account.

Redirect to HTTPS

Once the SSL Certificate has been installed and is working properly, there are several redirects that will need to be applied, to point to the secure HTTPS version of your site:

  1. 301 redirects for pages
  2. Update resources like images, css, and scripts
  3. Canonical tags
  4. Sitemaps
  5. Robots.txt
  6. Google Analytics

HTTPS and Google Analytics Reporting

Another pitfall of the switch to HTTPS is the sudden drop in the accuracy of Google Analytics reporting.

Warning – Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager Misreporting of Traffic

  1.  Tracking issues can occur if your Google Analytics code is not properly installed

a. Make sure it is placed at the top of the page between the opening and closing head tags – <head></head>

ga

i. If you are not sure, please contact your web developer or IQS Directory.

ii. Google Analytics Setup a Property – https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1042508?hl=en&ref_topic=1009620

2. Tracking issues can occur if your Google Tag Manager code is not properly installed

a. There are two pieces of code that need to be placed when installing Google Tag Manager

i. The first part of the code should be placed as high in the <head> of the page as possible

gtm1

ii. The second part of the code should be placed immediately inside the opening <body> tag

gtm2

iii. If you are not sure, please contact your web developer or IQS Directory

1. Google Tag Manager Setup and Installation – https://support.google.com/tagmanager/answer/6103696?hl=en

3. Check to see if you are using the most up-to-date version of the Google Analytics code on you site

a. https://analytics.google.com/analytics/web/

i. Administration tab – Property – Tracking Info – Tracking Code

ga-tracking info

ii. If you are not sure, please contact your web developer or IQS Directory.

Executed properly, a switch to HTTPS is invaluable. To learn more on the right way to do it, check out the additional resources below.

Additional Resources

Edit a property in Google Analytics

Setup and installation of Google Tag Manager

Search Engine Land

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