How to Migrate from HTTP to HTTPS and Keep Google Happy

Moving your website from HTTP to HTTPS can give your pages a slight ranking boost, and it makes browsing your website more secure.

Here are the frequently asked questions:

Q: Should I move my site all at once to HTTPS, or bit by bit?

Google recommends initially moving just a piece of the site to test any effects on traffic and search indexing. After that you can move the rest of your site all at once or in chunks.

When choosing the initial test section of the site, pick a section that changes less frequently and isn’t significantly affected by frequent or unpredictable events.

Also keep in mind that while moving just one section is a great way to test your move, it’s not necessarily representative of a whole site move when it comes to search. The more pages that you move, the more likely you’ll encounter additional problems to solve.

Careful planning can minimize problems.

Q: How long should I run my trial?
Google’s Gary Illyes says that you should plan for a few weeks to allow for crawling and indexing to pick up changes, plus time to monitor traffic.

Q: Even though we are starting with only a section, we plan to make the entire site available on HTTPS. To avoid indexing of the HTTPS content early, should we use redirects or rel=canonicals?

With redirects in place, you won’t be able to test those pages from a technical point of view. For that reason, Google recommends using rel=canonical.

Q: We reference our HTTP sitemaps in robots.txt. Should we update the robots.txt to include our new HTTPS sitemaps?

Google recommends separate robots.txt files for HTTP and HTTPS, pointing to separate sitemap files for HTTP and HTTPS. They also recommend listing a specific URL in only one sitemap file.

Q: Which sitemap should map the section in the HTTPS trial?

You can create a separate sitemap just for the updated section of your site. This will enable you to track indexing of the trial section more precisely. Be sure not to duplicate these URLs in any other sitemaps, though.

There are no other specific things that you need to add to the robots.txt for the HTTPS version.

Q: Our HTTPS site redirects non-migrated pages back to HTTP. What should our sitemaps list? Should we list in our sitemaps both the HTTP and HTTPS URLs? What if in the test section the HTTP URLs redirect to HTTPS?

List all HTTP URLs in your HTTP sitemap, and all HTTPS URLs in your HTTPS sitemap, regardless of redirects when the user visits the page. Having pages listed in your sitemap regardless of redirects will help search engines discover the new URLs faster.

Q: If we set includeSubDomains in our HSTS header, which domains will that affect?

After you migrate your entire site to HTTPS, you can support HSTS preloading for extra security. To enable this, you must set the includeSubDomains directive in the HSTS header.

If the site www.example.com serves an HSTS header with includeSubdomains set, then it will apply to www.example.com and foo.www.example.com, but not example.com or foo.example.com.

Keep in mind however that HSTS adds complexity to your rollback strategy. Google’s recommendation is this:

  1. Roll out HTTPS without HSTS first.
  2. Start sending HSTS headers with a short max-age. Monitor your traffic both from users and other clients, and also dependants’ performance, such as ads.
  3. Slowly increase the HSTS max-age.

If HSTS doesn’t affect your users and search engines negatively, you can, if you wish, ask your site to be added to the Chrome HSTS preload list.

Q: We use a single Google News sitemap for our entire site. What do we do if we’re migrating our site piece by piece?

If you want to use a Google News sitemap for the new HTTPS section, you will have to contact the News team to let them know about the protocol change, and then in your HTTPS property in Search Console you can submit a new Google News sitemap for each migrated HTTPS section of the site.

Q: Are there any specific recommendations for Google News Publisher Center with HTTPS migration?

Google News Publisher Center handles the HTTP->HTTPS moves transparently. In general you don’t have to do anything from Google News perspective, unless you’re also making use of News sitemaps. In that case, please get in touch with the News team and let them know about the change.

You can also let the team know about changing sections, for example in case you’re moving to HTTPS, you can specify that you’re moving http://example.com/section to https://example.com/section .

Migrating your website from HTTP to HTTPS can give your website a small ranking boost. There are many more factors that influence the position of your pages in Google’s search results.  If you are interested in fine-tuning the process or making sure things go smoothing, contact Web Design Idaho today for a free project quote!

Post Author: Richard Tuttle

Richard has been active in the Web Development and Design field since 1995 and offers his expertise with Open Source software, including WordPress and Zen Cart. He is an award-winning Developer, instructor, and writer.

During his limited off-time, Richard is a voracious community service volunteer helping to raise funds for needy local charities.