What is an SSL Certificate?
You’ve most likely seen the padlock icon on top of a webpage next to the URL. You can usually tell when an Internet website is secure because there will be a small lock symbol at the very top left corner of your screen before you type in any sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers.
This icon symbolises the secure transmission of data from the web server to the browser through activation of the https protocol. This means that it’s safe for you and other visitors to use their personal data without fear of hackers stealing them! The SSL certificate is what makes the encryption process possible.
But what exactly is an SSL certificate? Let’s find out!
- What is an SSL Certificate?
- How Does an SSL Certificate Work?
- The TLS/SSL Handshake Protocol
- Is SSL Important for SEO?
- Is HTTPS Same as SSL Certificate?
- Types of SSL Certificates
- What is the Process of Installing an SSL Certificate?
- What are the Risks of Using a Self-Signed SSL Certificate?
- Consequences of Expired SSL Certification
- What Should I Look for in an SSL Provider?
What is an SSL Certificate?
Secure sockets layer certificates also known as a TLS are cryptographic protocols that facilitate secure transmission of data on the internet. If you visit a website and you don’t see a padlock icon, then it’s important to note that the site is insecure.
If you hover your cursor around the https section of any website, you’ll see the security details of the referring URL.
How Does an SSL Certificate Work?
SSL certificates use cryptography that harnesses the use of two keys – a private one and a public one. Keys are long strings of randomly generated numbers. A public key is a key known to the public server and to your domain. Public keys can be used to encrypt any type of message.
Think of it like a door with a lock. The lock is visible to everyone but only the person with the correct key can open the door. Similarly, when sending an encrypted message, you need to have both the public and private key. The recipient will then use their private key to open the message.
If any hacker intercepts the said message before it gets to the recipient, they cannot decode the message because they don’t have the right key to open the message. Which is how SSL certificates work to secure data.
The TLS/SSL Handshake Protocol
All HTTPS connections begin with a handshake. The TLS or SSL handshake protocol is a channel that creates a secure connection for the server and user to communicate. The protocol uses an asymmetric cryptography process.
The handshake occurs on the user’s device automatically without affecting their user experience. However, if the SSL certificate used isn’t valid, the handshake may lead to disruptions and or loss of connection.
Is SSL Important for SEO?
SSL certificates don’t have a direct relation to SEO. However, the presence or lack of the SSL certificate may determine how users interact with your website. Most people use Chrome browser which indicates whether the site you visit is secure or not.
The browser also warns users against clicking on the site because their personal data isn’t encrypted. A website with an SSL certificate gives users trust because they know their personal information is secure. The more users have faith in your website, the more visitors the site will receive which will in turn boost the rankings of the site.
Therefore, search engine optimization in combination with the use of an SSL certificate can boost your website’s performance and ranking. This a huge aspect of any Technical SEO Audit.
Is HTTPS Same as SSL Certificate?
Although often used interchangeably, HTTPS and SSL are not the same. HTTPS is a transfer protocol that facilitates communication between websites. SSL on the other hand, are data files that encrypt any transmitted data.
HTTPS focuses on how the data appears to the end user while SSL focuses on the security of data. Google admits that HTTPS is a ranking factor because it improves user experience and consequently Google rankings.
So, what’s a HTTPS certificate? It is termed as a website security certificate and which acts as a digital stamp of approval by a trusted third party certificate issuer in the industry.
The HTTPS certificate acts as an internet communication protocol that ensures data integrity and security between the user’s computer and the site they visit. If you’ve been keen enough, you’ll realize that some websites will only have a HTTP while others will have a HTTPS. The “s” at the end denotes security which is often guaranteed by the presence of an SSL certificate.
HTTP certificates exist in different varieties. You can either have a DV, EV, OV, Wildcard, Multisite, or a Single site certificate.
What about an SSL certificate? This is a certificate which when installed on a site activates the security padlock and the HTTPS protocol.
Types of SSL Certificates
There are different types of SSL certificates depending on the level of security you want to have on your website.
- Domain Validated Certificate
The first type is the low assurance certificate commonly known as the domain validated SSL certificate. I recommend use of this certificate for internal systems only. The certificate guarantees that the domain is registered and that an administrator approves the request. The low assurance certificate is the most standard form of SSL and which is common among many website owners.
- Organization Validated Certificate
There is also a high assurance certificate or the organization validated certificate. I recommend this type of certification because it validates the domain ownership and personal details about an organization such as the name and location. Such a certificate is processed within a few hours to a few days.
- Extended Validation Certificate
The newest type of SSL certificate is the EV commonly known as the extended validation certificate. Before issuance with this type of certification, the business goes through an extensive validation process. During this process, the legality of the business is established and also the domain ownership needs proof.
Choosing the right SSL certificate just like the HTTPS one requires that you understand the type of protection you want. For example, you may want to secure a domain or a sub-domain. You could also have multiple sites you want to secure under one certificate. Depending on your needs, your trusted certificate issuer will guide you accordingly.
What is the Process of Installing an SSL Certificate?
Truth be told, installation of SSL certificates is daunting and errors may happen if you aren’t an expert. Besides, the process of configuration is time consuming. The first step when you want to install an SSL certificate is to make a certificate signing request (CSR).
Once you have the CSR, you can then request for a certificate from your certificate authority. Once you add your most preferred certificate to the cart and pay for it, the CA will send you a downloadable text file. The text file contains the SSL certificate which you need to download, and install on your server.
The installation and configuration can take different paths depending on what tool you use to install the certificate. Whichever path you take, the file is installed in a certificate store where it serves the purpose of ensuring security on your site.
The process of installing and renewing a certificate that only serves one site is seamless. However, when you have multiple domains and probably use one certificate, the process becomes more complicated and chances of making errors increase. In such situations, you can always seek help from your CA or web developer.
What are the Risks of Using a Self-Signed SSL Certificate?
Self-signed SSL certificates are free which may tempt most website owners especially those looking to save a few pennies. There are risks involved in using certificates that aren’t issued and validated by the certificates authority.
Most browsers have advanced their security alerts. Once they detect that your certificate is self-signed, the browser will alert the user not to proceed to your site. Usually, such a certificate will encrypt the user’s login credentials and personal data but will give alerts whenever they try to view anything from the site.
Most business owners may also use self-signed SSL certificates for their internal communication with employees. The employees will also receive security threats but will be told to ignore such threats. When employees get used to ignoring security alerts, it may place your organization at a risk because they will also ignore threats on the web. Eventually, such behavior may introduce malware into your business.
Consequences of Expired SSL Certification
If you’re wondering what the big deal is with an SSL certificate expiring, it’s important to note that it doesn’t automatically renew like other subscriptions.
As a website owner, when your SSL certificate expires, you risk losing the trust of your customers. You will most likely witness fewer site visitors, lots of cart abandonments, and of course reduced sales. The revenue you earn from your online business is critical to your business performance; you cannot afford to lose customers over expired SSL certificates.
As a user, you wouldn’t want to risk exposing your personal data on sites that don’t have data encryption. You don’t want to be a victim of identity theft, fraud, or even introduction of malware to your devices.
It’s therefore crucial that site owners renew their SSL certificates on time to avoid risks to their business reputation or even putting the users at risk.
What Should I Look for in an SSL Provider?
Now that we know all the basics, let’s look at the things to consider when choosing a provider.
Your provider should be able to handle high volumes as your online business grows. The provider should be willing to provide as many certificates as needed for your business.
You should also choose a provider who is available to answer any questions at all times. The provider should be available for calls, emails, or even social media messaging. It would also be advantageous if there are multiple support groups where you can interact with other users.
You also have to ensure that the CA you choose shares values with your business. At the end of the day, you want a certificate authority who upholds integrity, and trust on all applications and websites.
A good certificate authority is one who offers flexible terms especially on payments. Understandably, clients have different capabilities and allowing them to pay according to their capability can encourage them to use the services. as you pick a provider, ensure that they have different payment plans for different levels of clients.
SSL certificates are recommended for all websites that uphold user security. A secure website will make users trust a brand more. As much as SSL doesn’t affect SEO, it does affect ranking on Google because users are likely not to click on a site that isn’t secure. Consequently, more clicks signal to Google that users are finding useful information on the site which may lead to better rankings.