10 Important Reasons Why Your Website Needs an SSL Certificate

When visiting a website, it is common to come across various warnings detailing that the site is not secure. These warnings may also highlight how the site does not have a valid SSL certificate.

While this can be initially alarming, understanding the reasons behind SSL certificates will give context behind the importance of why browsers rely on them.

So firstly, why do websites need certificates? 

The purpose of an SSL Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate is to encrypt data that a user inputs into a website. Without an SSL certificate, a secure connection between the client and the server cannot be established. 

Without a secure connection, the website cannot be trusted to handle sensitive information. Essentially, SSL certificates secure the transfer of data.

Websites without an SSL certificate will remain HTTP while those with encryption will show HTTPS in users’ browsers. 

If you don’t have the SSL certificate, a secure connection cannot be established, which means, your website’s information will not be digitally connected to a cryptographic key.

This has all kinds of security repercussions and as a result, sensitive data on the webpage could be compromised.

Taking this into consideration, it’s important to establish the key reasons for using an SSL Certificate.

Let’s examine the main reasons why an SSL certificate is vital for any successful website.

It Establishes Website Identity

At its core, an SSL certificate encrypts data going from a user’s computer to its targeted website instance.

Submitting sensitive information is handled by SSL to ensure that the connections facilitating this input are secure from a user’s browser to a web server.

The practical value of this is clearly demonstrated when websites communicate with their customers to enable the purchase of their products and services safely.

An SSL certificate oversees this process and safeguards any malicious actors from intercepting the data that would compromise a customer’s personal information.

It achieves this by making the data unreadable to everyone except the server that is receiving the user’s information.

Since an SSL certificate enables secure connections, it contains identifying information about the certificate holder.

This includes:

  • Name of cert holder
  • Serial number and expiration date
  • Copy of the certificate holder’s public key
  • Digital Signature of the certificate-issuing authority

All of this information assists in determining the authenticity of a website’s identity.

This gives reassurance to its users that the website has valid credentials and basic trust between the browser and website can be established.

Improve Website Speed

Perhaps one of the most overlooked benefits of an SSL certificate is the effect it can have on a website’s loading times.

It may come as a surprise that an SSL certificate can have a positive effect in relation to website performance.

This is mainly due to how the use of an SSL cert is interchangeable with the web protocol HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) with the S standing for “Secure”.

An SSL certificate enables the use of HTTPS and as we’ve established, has n incremental effect on the security of the website instance.

Secure is faster and HTTPS is the preferred way for browsers to serve webpages and their assets to its users.

As opposed to HTTP, HTTPS uses more than one request per connection.

Without getting overly technical, this results in requests made via HTTP having bigger waiting times and smaller receiving times for a website’s assets.

HTTPS, on the other hand, is the opposite to this with smaller waiting times and bigger receiving times.

So while HTTP is always faster on retrieving the first complete result, HTTPS data requests are more consistent throughout the process of requesting data.

In addition, HTTPS gives access to HTTP/2, a significant revision of the transfer protocol used to send data.

HTTP/2 features a whole host of performance benefits. Most of these were designed to decrease latency for browser requests. As a result, web pages load noticeably faster. 

So, with these performance concepts of an SSL certificate fully understood, it’s important to know how to detect if a website if using one or not.

Again, this is tied into whether a website uses HTTP vs HTTPS.

And even though Google gives great visibility on this with stark warnings in their browser, this is not true of all browsers and tools.

You can very easily determine whether a website has an SSL certificate by whether the URL of the site is prefixed with HTTP or HTTPS.

The general rule of thumb being, if its initially loaded in the browser with HTTPS then an SSL certificate is being used on the website host.

Enabling Browser Security

Aligning with browser security measures is paramount to having an accessible website that gives users the best experience possible.

The use of an SSL certificate is one of the first security indicators that a browser will examine when a user is trying to visit the site.

It’s important to note, that a website is free to operate without an SSL certificate, however, since 2017, Google has officially deemed this as too unsafe.

As a result, Google (and most other browsers) now flags all websites without an SSL certificate.

After navigating to a website without SSL,  you will be greeted with a not secure notification in the browsers URL bar.

Without an SSL cert, a website is susceptible to malicious information hacking.  For brands and businesses, the risk is too high to not incorporate it into a website.

This is especially true of the website that uses any kind of user input component. Text inputs, dropdown selects, contact forms and search bars are just some examples of inputs that require an SSL hosted to site to be fully secure.

Even for sites that don’t have any forms, an SSL cert is still of great importance. Having it enabled greatly decreases the risk of content injection, which is very common malpractice for getting a user’s information.

You can rest assured that the site that you are viewing is, in fact, the website that you are expecting to see and not a false representation of it.

With the correct SSL implementation, no third party should be able to intercept your communications with other websites.

Without it, this communication channel is susceptible to being read and altered for a malicious actor’s benefit.

To use a contrived example, not using an SSL cert is comparable to leaving your home’s front door open.

While browsers may continue to expand their security requirements for determining the safety of a website, the use of an SSL certificate looks to be the main security indicator for the foreseeable future.

Improving Ecommerce Experiences

Perhaps one of the most important benefits to an SSL cert is the trust that it builds between a site and its users.

This trust is especially important when it comes to eCommerce platforms and their customer base.

Any site selling products or services will compromise their brand by not having an SSL cert.

Remember, thanks to Google, users will instantly see a lack of certificate on a website that has user input.

With Chrome having 60% of the market share, SSL warnings are highly likely to make or break a product conversion or sale.

SSL warnings like this tend to set off huge alarms bells for a prospective customer with intentions to purchase something on that site.

Realistically, no user likes to be told that they are browsing somewhere unsafe. Especially, when their money is on the line. As is the case, when browsing an eCommerce website instance.

Because of this, SSL secure sites having huge monetary advantages over sites that have not done the same.  

For not a lot of effort,  SSL certs easily build credibility and conversion rates for an online store.

Avoid Browser Shaming

As we’ve discussed, browsers such as IE, Chrome, and Firefox are now giving their users direct notifications for when a website isn’t secure via HTTPS.

If a website is secure, the recognizable padlock icon is on show inside the URL bar. Without it, a website instantly loses trust with those trying to visit it. 

As a result, website users are being increasingly conditioned to identify a site that does not have their best security interests in mind.

Ultimately, the reputation of a brand’s website is paramount to its success.

If a website’s security gaps are publicly visible, this stands to tarnish the reputation of that brand.

Web browsers continue to implement features that have the user’s best interests in mind.

Because of this, they have no qualms is shaming website publicly, and we should expect this trend to continue for security measures other than SSL certs.

Better SEO

Google’s search algorithm gives websites a boost to your site in their search rankings when your website has an SSL certificate. It might not be noticeable, but it’s one of the many factors Google takes into consideration when calculating wherein the search results your website should feature.

One of the most overlooked aspects of securing a website is the effect it has on its SEO performance.

Google will give extra consideration for websites that have a secure connection. This is evident when looking at statistics of the top search results. 40% of page one organic search results are secure sites. 

This is a significant stat, as many businesses and brands rely on organic traffic for conversion/signups/sales.

With Google having officially announced SSL as a ranking signal, small security measures such as implementing an SSL cert is a straightforward way to give them a little bit of reassurance that your website is safe and secure for the users they are sending to it.

So, with the concept of an SSL certificate fully understood, its important to know how to detect if a website if using one or not. And even though Google gives great visibility on this with stark warnings in their browser, this is not true of all browsers and tools.

Receiving Payments

While there are plenty of 3rd party credit card payment services that a business can take advantage of such as Stripe, Paypal, 3Ds etc, without a secure website,  the choice of methods of payments becomes severely limited. 

When a business needs to take payment online, basic security measures, such as acquiring an SSL certificate should become a major priority.

Payment services such as Stripe allows business owners to offload some major security responsibilities to their 3rd party platform.

Usually, these services take a small commission on all purchases in exchange for providing security for credit card transactions.

In addition to this commission, these payment services have some basic requirements for a website that utilizes their payment technologies.

Out of those requirements, having an SSL certificate enabled is one of the most important conditions for using them. It reassures the payment providers that your site can be trusted.

Avoiding Legal Problems

Online security breaches are a huge legal problem. Without website owners taking affirmative action with their security measures, there could some significant legal repercussions for leaked customer data.

As a result, employing preventive measures such as the aforementioned use of an SSL certificate will pay dividends by avoiding future financial issues.

In addition,  notorious customer data leaks are meticulously examined by the media.  Unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence for banks, financial firms, and others.

When it happens these firms are very much vilified publicly.

While this kind of negative attention will unlikely be obtainable by smaller businesses, there are other consequences of security mishaps that they should be aware of.

Firstly, word of mouth can spread quickly within the local industry and those brands that rely on a smaller local clientele may have their reputations tarnished.

It goes without saying that it is a website’s owner’s best interests to avoid these kinds of scandals and widespread customer outrages.

Essentially, these types of data breaches are a public relations nightmare for brands or businesses with an already well-established reputation.

An Affordable Security Measure

When trying to protect a website from malicious behavior, some actionable security measures have the perception of being very costly.

This is certainly true for measures such as :

  • Using SHA256 Encryption
  • Protecting against DoS
  •  Securing Web Server Processes
  • Hiring fulltime cybersecurity maintenance

We have already outlined how an SSL certificate works, why it’s important and the benefits it brings but you might be surprised to know just how affordable it is when compared to other security measures.

Relative to the security it provides, an SSL certificate is a cost-friendly way to protect a website instance.

And although SSL certificates can vary in price depending on the level of security required there are external services such as Let’s Encrypt which will provide free basic SSL certificates.

For more advanced setup, prices can vary. However, this usually scales fairly depending on the size of the website and the traffic it receives.

A small business website will have a negligible cost for its SSL certificate. And a larger enterprise website will pay an affordable amount based on how much value the SSL certificate provides by protecting their assets.

Easy to install

In addition to being a price-efficient way to secure a website, SSL certs can be relatively straightforward to install.

The process of adding an SSL certificate is not as difficult as one might think.

A barrier to entry for a lot of website security measures is usually the arduous process of setting it up.

In comparison to other security measures settings up an SSL is quite accessible.

Typically, most web hosting services will allow the installation of an SSL certificate with an accessible one-click install setup.

This allows more basic website instances to utilize SSL without having to use a web developer.

Let take an example of an installation process.

For common website hosts, on the admin side of the dashboard panel, the website owner can initiate the SSL provisioning process.

For the more technically savvy, an SSL cert can be manually installed using a 3rd party solution like GoDaddy or Bluehost.

Once installed, behind the scenes, the hosting provider will utilize a redirect so that any previous pages that were using HTTP are now being redirected to the new HTTPS version.

Additionally, it is also important to ensure that any external assets loaded by the website instance e.g images, JS files, CSS are also loaded with the HTTPS protocol.

For more information, Google Webmaster Tool provides a great insight into the status of your website’s security.

Overall, the importance of website certificates cannot be understated. If under the impression that it is tedious to set up an SSL certificate for a website, you are essentially putting your website at a massive disadvantage.

The difference between a secure and not secure website instance can determine the online failure or success of a business.

Essentially, an SSL certificate is your website’s digital passport. It provides the security and verification that your site is safe to be used.  There will always be additional security measures that can be taken on a website to mitigate any data theft.

However, when comparing time and effort taken vs reward gained from a security measure, the implementation of an SSL certificate is perhaps the most valuable.

Gareth Dunne

Full Stack Developer and creator of JSdiaries. Passionate about the latest in web technologies and how it can provide value for my clients.