The Applecado blog

What is SSL, and do I need it for my website?

TAGS TECHNICAL

Padlock

Read our article on SSL, we aim to help you understand the jargon around this ‘new’ convention and decide whether or not a SSL certificate will benefit your website.

Before we start; basics.

To enable you to understand what SSL really means, we need to understand the existing connections between your server, and your browser. We use HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) to access a server - that’s where your website code is hosted - from your browser - the program you use to access the internet, so Chrome, Firefox, Edge, IE (please, reconsider) and so on.

HTTPs stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. It rolls off the tongue, I know.

So, what is HTTPs, or how is SSL involved?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, you don’t really *need* to know that. What you do need to know is that SSL acts like a super-secret handshake between your browser and the website’s server. All the data sent between to two, is now sent down an imaginary, secret, password encrypted tunnel between the two. The ‘tunnel’ is much less able to be violated by third parties.

How do I know if a website has a valid SSL certificate then?

There are two ‘main’ levels (for the purposes of your customers). The green padlock, and the extended validation which confirms the company and location immediately. See the image at the bottom of this article for an example.

The extended validation features enhanced checks where the certificate is issued after various paperwork checks on your business and it’s offices/locations and so on. This is to ensure the company name really matches the company website.

What are the benefits of having an SSL certificate?

HTTPs websites are safer, they ensure a certain amount of privacy when handling sensitive customer data, especially passwords and credit card details.

Websites with a valid SSL certificate are also faster. Unencrypted HTTP websites are subject to filtered, scanned or cached data. I was most surprised to learn about the real life differences in HTTP/HTTPs speed using this site: http://www.httpvshttps.com

SSL certificates increase trust, which in turn can improve your conversion rate. This is a huge benefit to online retail/eCommerce websites.

SSL certificates make Google happy, this should see a small benefit to your search engine rankings (from Google).

Ok, how do I get an SSL certificate?

A few online hosting providers or domain registrars can offer SSL certificates. Our experiences purchasing an SSL certificate for our own website were less than desirable and at the end of the day, the computer required numerous hoops to be jumped through as our official registered address is at our accountants (which is not unusual in the UK).

We wanted to experiment and look for a better option, and were intrigued by whisperings about Let’s Encrypt.

Let’s Encrypt are a new, automated, and not-for-profit Certificate Authority. Let’s Encrypt allow you to obtain certification easily, and for free to encourage a more secure and private internet.

We now use Let’s Encrypt for 95% of our completed websites, and offer the integration for free as standard.

SSL certificate example

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