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Be Careful Of Switching To HTTPS To Improve Google Rankings: The Buffer Story [UPDATE]
Buffer saw a 90% drop in Google traffic but recovered after Google fixed an unconfirmed bug.
Thinking about moving your site to HTTPS, in order to tap into the promised chance to rank better in Google? Buffer recently discovered that the technicalities of doing it could cause you to plunge in traffic.
In August, Google announced that sites moving to secure servers would get a minor ranking boost in search results. Buffer was one of the early adopters that made the move. And shortly after, Buffer’s traffic from Google dropped.
Buffer’s Courtney Seiter posted on the Buffer blog about what happened. The blue lines below show traffic plunging this year, compared to last year (the orange lines), right after the change:
What happened? So far, it appears the Buffer’s migration was an unusual situation that Google hadn’t anticipated. Wrote Seiter, in her post (before her post was updated, more on that below):
John Mueller’s team at Google found an issue and let us know they had fixed it. The manual action penalty was removed Aug. 28 and we began to see signs of recovery immediately after.
And Mueller himself said, in a comment on our story here:
In general, site moves like this should be totally unproblematic, so it was really useful to have an example of a special edge-case that we should have caught better (and thanks to the feedback, the team was able to resolve the issue quickly).
The original version of our story said that the traffic drop was due to a manual penalty against Buffer, because that’s what Seiter’s original post suggested and what Google seemed to be confirming. It was a head-scratcher, because it was odd that there would be a penalty that just happened to hit at the same time the site moved over to HTTPS.
We’d followed up with Google about this, and that’s one of the reasons for Mueller posting his comment after our original story went live. There was a penalty, but it existed before Buffer had its big traffic drop. That drop was due to the HTTPS change.
While Buffer is now taking the blame for “a mistake on our side,” in a comment Seiter makes below, Google’s also taking the blame. Hence, we’re doing more follow-up. What really went wrong, and is it a problem that publishers need to worry about?
It sounds like it was an issue that Google hadn’t expected. But it also sounds like it’s a relatively rare one that might not impact many other sites and which has now been resolved by Google.
Again, we’ll update as we know more. Meanwhile, the big takeaway is to be cautious about making the transition to secure, especially as it is so new. We’re also checking with Google to see if there’s any way for site owners who make the move — and then discover a plunge — to get in contact in order to figure out if the problem is on their end, Google’s end or both.