October 1, 2020
You’ve built your website, purchased your domain and you’re ready to launch your site. You hit the metaphorical “Publish” button and you go to see your website live on the internet. Depending on what browser you’re using, maybe nothing seems too strange at first glance, and then it hits you. Right as you're sending yourself a test message through your contact form, you notice the big devil red “Not Secure” icon in the top left of your screen. You throw your laptop across the room in anguish and ram your head straight through the… alright perhaps it just alarms you. And it probably should.
For those reading this that don’t know what an SSL certificate is, you probably had friends in high school and I commend you for that but if you’re launching a new website, you should at least know the basics.
An SSL certificate is a digital shield for your website, protecting your site from a variety of potential threats caused by hackers, virtual bugs and so on. Before you dismiss this and assume that your site is too small to be affected, that’s not exactly how it works. Bots that can intercept important information about your website, your business and your customers information tend to more commonly target small businesses and areas that they can detect a lack of security.
If you’re wondering, an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) provides encryption to any form submissions across your site, stopping invaders from being able to see information being transferred. If you’re like me, it’s more enticing to hear what happens if you don’t do the thing. See below.
The biggest area for concern is anywhere that your customers can input their information. Credit card info, passwords, names, addresses and whatever else your visitors submit can be grabbed out of virtual thin-air. Imagine the liability concerns if/when that gets traced back to you.
If you’re not concerned with people filling out your forms, the other damage that not having an SSL can cause will show up in your Google rankings. In July 2018, Google announced that all sites that don’t include an SSL certificate will be marked as “Not Secure” before visitors even open them. The drop off in visitor traffic from seeing the warning label, alongside the inherent distaste from Google will certainly affect your likelihood to rank highly in search results.
All in all, you don’t necessarily have to have an SSL certificate the same way you don’t necessarily have to put a hot dog in your hotdog bun. But there are potential consequences. One involves an unsatisfying snack, and the other can open you up to potential security invasion and privacy liabilities.