You will encounter many issues when you move your WordPress site to HTTPS to improve your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is the story of my bumpy but ultimately successful journey to HTTPS .
Why HTTPS is Important for SEO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an obsession for anyone who operates a website. Getting even the smallest advantage in the race to be #1 on search engine rankings can mean the difference between success and oblivion.
On August 6, 2014 Google made a rare announcement. Google promised it would give a boost to websites that displayed all of their content using strong HTTPS encryption.
Google usually doesn’t divulge its strategy for ranking websites, but in this case Google has a mission to reward websites that “make the Internet safer”.
Our First Attempt at Implementing HTTPS on our WordPress Site
Our blog runs on WordPress. WordPress is the most popular tool for creating websites. Over 18.9% of all websites run WordPress. Of the new websites started in the US this year, 22% use WordPress. That’s nearly 75 million websites worldwide!
But oddly, despite Google’s promise of search engine ranking riches, very few WordPress sites run in an HTTPS environment.
This should have been my first clue of trouble ahead.
A few weeks ago, I decided to take the plunge and move our WordPress blog to HTTPS. The experience was humbling.
I’ve been a software developer for more than 30 years and I have a gifted team working with me. All of the documentation I read on the subject suggested it would take a few simple steps:
- Purchase and install an SSL Cert on the site
- Make two small changes to the General Settings on my WordPress site
- Redirect HTTP requests to HTTPS
They say it’s often the strongest swimmers who drown!
I soon discovered that moving an existing WordPress site to HTTPS is nothing like the process described on all the sites I consulted.
If I had to pick a word to describe my first attempt, I would call it a “trainwreck”.
Problems Caused by Switching from HTTP to HTTPS
These are just some of the things that went tragically wrong when I moved our WordPress site to HTTPS:
- All of the likes and shares displayed on the social media counters on our site dropped to ZERO. Suddenly, more than a year’s worth of blog posts lost all of the accumulated Likes, Google Pluses, Shares, etc. Plugins like Addthis and Social Login stopped displaying our hard earned social credibility. Anyone coming to our site would think we had ZERO Likes, Google + and Shares. It made our site look really lame.
- To make matters worse, search engines use “social proof” to determine the ranking of pages. We had lost all our social credibility in the process of moving to HTTPS so we had taken one step forward on SEO and countless steps backward.
- A significant number of the plugins on our site stopped working. Suddenly our site looked like Swiss cheese, with gaping holes in places where plugins previously displayed useful information.
- Internal links within the site stopped working.
- Some Menu items stopped working.
- Links to images displayed within blog posts were broken.
As the old saying goes, “the operation was a success and the patient died”. I had managed to install HTTPS and completely demolish the site.
The HTTPS Solution
I had no choice. I backed out all of my changes and debugged each of the problems.
These are the steps we took:
- We developed and implemented an HTTPS Social Migration Pro plugin that preserves the likes and shares on the social media counters on our existing web pages and adds to them as we get likes and shares in the future.
- We carefully examined the site, looking for instances where information was not displaying correctly. These cases all corresponded to a plugin on the site not working in HTTPS mode. The HTTPS protocol is very strict. It doesn’t permit any of the elements on a webpage to display HTTP content. Any plugin displaying unsecure HTTP content causes the entire page to be blocked or the plugin to fail. I fixed each of these cases by doing one of the following things:
- Upgrading – Upgrading the plugins that were failing. Plugins produced by the more reputable suppliers have been upgraded to support HTTPS. If you go to the Installed Plugins page on your WordPress Dashboard, you can easily upgrade the failing Plugins and in many cases your problem will be fixed.
- Reinstalling – Uninstalling and re-installing the plugin. It seems crazy, but this actually worked for one of the more reputable Plugins.
- Replacing – Uninstalling the offending plugin and replacing it with another plugin that does the same job.
- Forcing HTTP On – We added a useful feature to the HTTPS Social Migration Plugin that allows you to force a specific page to stay in HTTP mode. In cases where you have a page on your site that simply will not work in HTTPS mode, you can use this feature to force a specified page to HTTP mode.
- We found instances of internal links that had explicit HTTP references and changed them to support HTTPS. This can take a lot of time on a large Blog and is not necessary if you use our HTTPS Social Migration Pro plugin.
Results of Move to HTTPS
The entire migration process was relatively quick and well worth the effort.
- We saw the SEO for our blog go up by over 20% in a couple of days
- We preserved our social credibility
- We made our site safer for our audience.
Best of all, these benefits applied to our entire website and will continue to improve our performance on future blog posts for years to come.