Installing an SSL certificate on your website can have a wide array of benefits. These include enhanced security, improved SEO, and importantly, faster webpage load speed.
In this article, we discuss what exactly SSL is, and why you should apply SSL to your website. We then consider how SSL can improve your site’s load times due to access to HTTP/2, and we share a few extra tips on how to improve website performance across the board.
What is SSL?
SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer. An SSL certificate can be purchased for any website and provides an extra layer of security for sites, helping keep data safe as it travels between servers and browsers. (You can also get SSL certificates free from Let’s Encrypt, an automated and open certificate authority brought to you by the nonprofit Internet Security Research Group—ISRG)
You can immediately identify any site using SSL, as the URL will incorporate HTTPS (instead of HTTP). HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, and any site using this protocol will have its data encrypted over a secure SSL connection. SSL also ensures information is sent to the right server and not an impostor server trying to steal information.
Let’s break this down further. If a site is using an SSL certificate, any data sent between a browser and server will be first be encrypted. Therefore, if it’s intercepted en route, it can’t be deciphered. Data will then be decrypted once it reaches its destination. This ensures requests and responses are totally secure.
Why Should You Use an SSL Certificate?
There are many reasons for installing an SSL certificate on your website, and there are also major drawbacks if you don’t opt for a certificate.
Before we consider the impact of SSL on web speed, let’s first discuss how SSL can improve security, consumer trust, and SEO.
SSL ensures sensitive information traveling across the internet is safe. Examples of sensitive information include:
- Credit card and payment information
- Usernames and passwords
- Personal data including addresses and passwords
- Private emails
Therefore, for websites dealing with customer data, like e-commerce sites or any type of membership site, having an SSL certificate is a must. This will ensure the information sent between the server and browser remains safe, which will be particularly important to customers sharing credit card info or personal data.
If you don’t use an SSL certificate, your website will simply use HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and data will be sent without encryption. This means anyone can potentially view this information, leaving you and your users vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves.
Not only does an SSL certificate keep your website’s data safe in transit, it also portrays your site as reliable and trustworthy. Customers parting with sensitive data want to know their personal information isn’t going to be stolen, and all necessary steps have been taken to ensure high levels of security.
Browsers will give visual clues of a site being SSL secure, often using a green browser address bar, or displaying an icon lock next to the site’s domain name. Customers often look for these factors and take them into consideration before making a purchase.
Since July 2018, Google marks all websites that are not using HTTPS as “not secure.” This can be a serious deterrent for many customers and may well cost you in visitors and revenue.
A third benefit of installing an SSL certificate on your website is improved SEO. For the last few years, Google has been giving a “slight ranking boost to HTTPS URLs” in search results. On top of this, it has also adjusted its indexing system to crawl more HTTPS pages.
Therefore, if your site uses SSL, you’ll have an advantage over HTTP sites, as your pages will be more likely to be found by Google, as well as given priority in Google Search.
SSL and Webpage Load Speed
One of the key benefits of using SSL is it works with HTTP/2, which has a key focus on performance improvements. By installing an SSL certificate, your site will be able to make use of HTTP/2, which will result in faster webpage load speed.
Here are some of the HTTP/2 Performance enhancements:
Multiplexing for Faster Transfer of Data
With HTTP/2, a browser and server can request and receive multiple web elements through a single connection. This will significantly reduce latency, as users won’t need to wait for multiple messages to be sent backwards and forwards before receiving the webpage they’re trying to access.
In contrast, sites without an SSL certificate and using HTTP have to wait for each request and response. After sending a request, a browser needs to wait for the response from the server before the next request can be made. This approach takes up server resources and slows down website loading times.
Another key feature of HTTP/2 is server push. Server push enables a server to push additional resources to a browser—this information may not have been requested but is anticipated in future requests.
By enabling servers to send multiple responses to one request via pushing, HTTP/2 cuts down on server load, improving latency.
Compression of Headers
HTTP/2 has also made big changes to headers. Headers inform servers on what information a user wants and describe the resources being transferred. Each HTTP transfer carries a set of headers, which adds up to 500 – 800 bytes per transfer, or more if cookies are being used.
HTTP/2 compresses header data for requests and responses. This reduces the size of transferred header data, resulting in an improvement in latency and page speed.
Evidently, installing an SSL certificate will enable you to use HTTP/2 protocol, giving your website impressive gains over those site’s only using HTTP. Most hosting companies have already implemented HTTP/2, but you should still check with your hosting company to make sure it’s available for your website.
How Else Can You Make Your Webpages Faster?
In addition to implementing SSL, other performance-related tips include:
- CDN—If your audience is based in more than one geographical region, then using a content delivery network (CDN) is a must. By signing up with a CDN, copies of your website’s files will be distributed to data centers around the world. When a user accesses your website, the files will be served from the data center closest to their location. This cuts down the distance the files have to travel and consequently improves load times.
Our last top tip is to monitor your web application’s speed to give you insight into how it is performing. SolarWinds® Pingdom® is a client-side, web application health and performance monitoring tool with proactive, synthetic monitoring, and real user monitoring. Pingdom synthetics allows you to run tests on page speed, endpoint availability, and tests to see if your critical transactions are completing successfully. Pingdom real user monitoring (RUM) provides the actual users’ experience and performance with your web applications by region, device, and browser. Both synthetics and RUM can give you a clear understanding of webpage load times, as well as issues that may be slowing down your site.
One of the monitors you can setup with Pingdom is to let you know if your SSL certificate is about to expire. By being able to proactively monitor your SSL certificate, Pingdom can alert you in advance of the certificate’s expiration date. You want to avoid letting the certificate expire, because if it does, you won’t be able to run secure transactions on your website.
Final Thoughts on SSL
As you can see, installing an SSL certificate on your website has a wide assortment of benefits. As well as strengthening security, you may also see an improvement in SEO and importantly, webpage load speed. So, if your site is still using HTTP, it’s time to invest in an SSL certificate.
Any questions on SSL certificates? If so, please ask away in the comments below.