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When going HTTPS, don’t forget about local citations!
Columnist Andrew Shotland shares some common problems that occur during site migrations to HTTPS and explains the importance of updating your citations.
Migrating your site to HTTPS is all the rage these days. Google is on the record as saying that using “https” in your URLs can give a site a ranking boost.
That said, going HTTPS has its share of SEO challenges. Here are but a few of the HTTPS horror stories we have witnessed over the past year:
- Sites go HTTPS and don’t redirect or canonicalize the HTTP URLs to their HTTPS versions.
- Sites go HTTPS without telling the SEO team, who freak out when they check into Google Search Console and see branded traffic has started to tank (Hint: check the HTTPS profile in Google Search Console that no one set up because you forgot to tell the SEO team).
- Sites go HTTPS without making the site truly secure. For example, if you are serving your CSS file from an HTTP URL, you will need to update the CSS URLs to HTTPS. If you don’t do this, your browser may start to show an insecure warning like this:
- Even worse, Google may start showing insecure site warnings next to your URLs in search results — a nice way to depress CTR, if that’s what you’re into…
- Sites go HTTPS, get some links to HTTPS URLs, and then revert back to HTTP for whatever reason. Now, whenever someone clicks on one of those HTTPS links, they are going to get an “insecure!” warning like this:
Things can get complicated when you’re trying to keep track of all of the technical best practices, particularly if you’re working on migrating a huge, complicated site with multiple teams and vendors, which is often the case with multi-location brands.
One of the bigger complications we often come across is how to handle your local citations — the listings for your locations on various local search services such as Google My Business, Yelp, YP.com, and the main business listing data aggregators such as Acxiom, Factual, InfoGroup and Neustar Localeze (or whichever services provide listings in your country).
Now I see you scratching your head, thinking, “I thought this HTTPS stuff was just about my website. What does it have to do with a business listing on another site?” In short: plenty.
Over the past couple of years, we have conducted several studies on the impact of cleaning up your local citations, and in our experience, one of the best things you can do is remove redirects from your citation links, particularly your Google My Business listings.
Often, we see brands go HTTPS and forget that their citations still all link to HTTP URLs. This may seem fine, as the HTTP links redirect to HTTPS — but in one fell swoop, you have redirected all of your local citations, which now may be negatively impacting your Local Pack rankings.
Let’s say you have a business with 1,000 locations. Each location likely has 150 to 300 citations. So on the low end, this is 150,000 links for this site all going through a 301 redirect (at best). According to this Moz post about an accidental redirect test Wayfair.com conducted, they saw a 15 percent reduction in traffic, on average, after doing 301 redirects. In our thousand-location situation, that means we could be losing 15 percent of the traffic to each of these location pages. That’s a lot of traffic to lose.
And if you have decided not to migrate your image URLs to HTTPS (For some reason, image URLs are often the neglected stepchildren of redesigns), now any image URL that you have added to your GMB profile is likely broken.
We just worked on a case where the brand had created a new HTTPS logo URL, so every other site that had been serving the logo from the HTTP URL was now serving a broken image, including every Google My Business page. #OOPS
So maybe when you put your “we’re going HTTPS!” plan together, make sure you have someone on hand to deal with your local citations. It might make you feel a bit more secure…
PS: Don’t get too freaked out about going HTTPS. Over the past six months or so, we have seen some sites make some truly epic HTTPS migration screw-ups with little Google downside. It may be the case that since Google has promoted HTTPS so much, they have made the algorithm a bit more forgiving to avoid too many #HTTPSUCKS tweets. Your mileage may vary.
PPS: You’re the SEO person. You have made a career out of studying how to take advantage of Google’s algorithms while asking for resources from people who often don’t understand what it is that you do all day. So don’t blow it by being the one who champions migrating to HTTPS. Let the CIO do it.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.