What is SSL? Here’s the complete guide, plus how to install it
SSL is an important little acronym that every website owner should be familiar with, even if you’re just getting started or running a simple blog. So what exactly is SSL? In this post, I’ll cover what it is, why it’s important for your website, and how to easily install it.
What is SSL?
SSL stands for “Secure Sockets Layer.” In the technical sense, it’s a protocol used to secure and encrypt communication between computers. In simpler terms, it helps keep sensitive information on your site incredibly secure.
Let’s say you have an eCommerce store. You probably have a form in your checkout process that collects information for billing, including credit card numbers, addresses, and maybe even passwords. That’s definitely not information you would want hackers to access, meaning you need to securely store that data. That’s where an SSL certificate comes in.
By encrypting information on your site and securely storing it, an SSL certificate keeps everything safe. This makes it incredibly important for sites that:
- Have users with usernames and passwords
- Collect credit card information
- Collect banking information
- Have almost any type of form field
The best part about SSL is that you can always tell if it’s been installed on a site, whether it’s your own site or just one you’re visiting. This will vary a little depending on your browser, but look up at the navigation bar – see a little green padlock or the “https” at the front of the URL? That symbolizes that an SSL certificate has been installed, meaning you can trust that information is being securely stored. On the flip side, if an SSL certificate isn’t installed, you’ll see a red warning message instead. You’ll want to use a little caution when visiting sites without SSL, mostly surrounding form fields.
So to recap, SSL is a protocol for securely storing the information on your site. That’s one reason it’s important, but there are also a few more.
Why SSL is important
As I’ve already covered, one of the reasons SSL is important is securing information on your site. You wouldn’t want hackers to have access to any of those credit card numbers, would you? That’s why an SSL certificate is required for eCommerce sites, or other websites handling sensitive information – it’s too important in your security process to ignore.
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But another reason SSL certificates are important is that they can build trust with your users. Remember that red warning that pops up if you don’t have SSL installed? Image how your users will feel landing on your site and seeing that message. It instantly takes away some of your credibility, and makes your site seem a little scammy. Definitely not something you want your site to be associated with!
Before you install an SSL certificate on your site, you have to answer a few questions about your website and/or business. This allows the certificate authority (the site you acquire the certificate from) to verify that you are indeed the website and business you say you are. In other words, this helps enforce that sites with an SSL certificate are legit, while sites without one should maybe not be trusted. And I’m guessing you’d rather establish trust with your users than encourage them to leave your site.
There’s one final reason SSL is important for your site: Google is prioritizing it. They’ve started rolling out a new protocol that flags sites that store passwords or credit card information without SSL as insecure (that red warning label we talked about). They’re starting slow by flagging sites that are obviously storing sensitive information, but it’s the beginning of a long-term plan to mark all sites without SSL as insecure. In other words, you don’t want to put off installing it, because it could seriously hurt your traffic and conversions if you avoid it.
The web is moving towards a more secure place, which means that no matter what type of site you’re running, having an SSL certificate installed will help your site thrive. SSL keeps your information secure, helps to build trust with your users, and keeps your site current with industry standards.
And the good news is that it’s super easy to install!
How to install SSL
To install an SSL certificate, you have a few different options. If you host your sites on Flywheel, we’ve decided to remove the hassle by offering free SSL certificates with all of our hosting packages! With a little help from our friends over at Let’s Encrypt, there’s no need to go back and forth with a third-party provider – you can get world-class hosting and encryption all under one roof!
Of course, if you need a special SSL certificate, like wildcard or EV, you can still purchase those from a trusted certificate authority. For the majority of sites, however, a standard certificate like the one Flywheel is offering will be the perfect solution.
If your site is hosted somewhere other than Flywheel, be sure to check with your hosting provider to see how they handle installing SSL certificates. Typically, the process includes a little communication between your host and the certificate authority to get everyone on the same page. (It’s not the worst process in the world, but it’s also not the smoothest, which is we created Simple SSL in the first place!)
Hopefully this article has helped you understand what SSL is, why it’s important, and how to get it installed on your own site! What do you think of Google’s prioritization of SSL? Are you excited for the change?
I recently went through the process of installing the SSL on my Flywheel site. It was all pretty straightforward. There were a few tense moments when Google de-indexed the http version and re-indexed the https. But it bounced back well in Google. However I have noticed a huge drop and de-indexation in Bing and Yahoo. Do you think this is just a delay in crawling or are there special settings or requirements for these search engines?