Google: Improved security means better search results

Google announced Wednesday that it would start placing more weight on a website's security when ranking it in search results. 

Jens Meyer/AP/File
Exhibitors of the Google company work on laptop computers in front of an illuminated sign of the Google logo in Hanover, Germany.

If you're a website that relies on web traffic from Google, you may want to consider making your site a bit more secure. 

That's what Google emphasized in a blog post Wednesday that announced that the company will be giving more weight to encrypted websites when it comes to ranking sites in its search results. Google is urging sites to adopt the HTTPS encryption – Hypertext Transfer Protocol over Secure Socket Layer – over the more common HTTP.  

"We hope to see more websites using HTTPS in the future," the search giant noted in its post. 

This announcement comes in the wake of news that a group of Russian hackers had collected 1.2 billion username and password combinations, affecting 420,000 websites, according to a report published by The New York Times earlier this week. 

Because Google's search results can be so important for sites that need to draw visitors and do business online, Google's push for HTTPS could likely spur adoption. For the time being, however, Google says its emphasis on security will be only a "lightweight signal," meaning that it will affect less than 1 percent of search results worldwide. Greater emphasis will still be granted to more traditional search factors, such as the quality of a site's content.

But soon, Google says it may make security increasingly important to search results "because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web."

In total, Google uses more than 200 factors in determining search results, most of which are not publicly discussed, notes The Wall Street Journal. 

This marks one of the latest steps Google has taken to increase Internet security, a concern that's grown in importance for the search giant in the past year since Edward Snowden pulled back the curtain on the NSA's electronic spying efforts. 

In June, Google launched End-to-End for its Chrome browser, an extension that encrypts e-mails as they are sent from their browser to a recipient's inbox, provided both users are using an encryption tool like End-to-End. 

Last month Google announced Project Zero, a group of hackers with the stated goal of researching and improving the security of software used widely on the Internet. 

While increased security is beneficial for Web users, site owners have tended to shy away from HTTPS due to the higher cost. In addition, there has long been a stereotype that this type of encryption slows down sites. And slower sites, in addition to hampering user experience, can hurt site's rankings in Google's search results. But the use of encryption from such sites as Google and Facebook have demonstrated that sites can maintain strong security while also offering fast and efficient Internet services. 

Still, while appearing high in search results will likely serve as an impetus for many sites, there's going to be a trade-off due to the higher cost. 

"There is going to be a business cost to it," Tom DeSot, chief information officer of Digital Defense, a cybersecurity company, told The Los Angeles Times. 

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