We’ve all seen that little padlock icon when shopping online — sat reassuringly close to the web address. As we’ll discover, this symbol offers much more than just a sense of safety. SSL Certificates play a huge role in protecting our personal data on the net. For any sort of website owner, they help to build a trustworthy and credible online presence. And if your plan is to sell products or services online, there are few better ways to tell customers: I mean business.
Cast your mind back to the early days of the internet, if you can — Windows 95 booting up on a chunky CRT monitor, 56k modem chirping down your only telephone line. The mid-1990s marked the first time many of us ever sent an email across the world. Perhaps it was the first time you added an item to your digital basket and paid for it online. Oh, how we marvelled at our new global connectivity.
Yet, there was one major snag: online security. Or rather, the lack of it. The problem lay in how browsers and servers very casually moved our data around. For the most part, it was all exchanged in simple plain text. Like an open book. Sensitive data was out there to be picked up by anyone with ill intentions. Imagine scribbling credit card numbers on a napkin every time you go to buy a coffee.
Everyone wants to keep their data safe. For the internet to become a place where people could shop, share, and interact with confidence, there had to be a better way to protect the information passing through. What was needed was a kind of secure courier service — a private envelope that could be signed, sealed, delivered. This is where SSL Certificates come in.
What do SSL Certificates do?
SSL Certificates are a clever way to protect user information and defend against hackers. The initials stand for Secure Sockets Layer, though don’t let that put you off. In a nutshell, SSL is there to establish a trusted and secure link between your browser and the website you’re on.
Like two people meeting for the first time, browsers and servers want to say “Hello” and have a good handshake. But your browser is rightly suspicious when meeting new people. It needs to know strangers really are who they say they are. It asks: “Can I see some ID, please?”
With that, it’s then up to the server to come up with the credentials: its SSL Certificate. If the details check out with the browser — both valid and in date — it forms the beginnings of a trustworthy relationship. SSL Certificates are like passports, in this sense.
Crucially, each SSL Certificate is issued and regulated by a third party, known as a Certificate Authority (CA). It’s the job of a CA to check that a website is indeed owned by the entity that claims it, ensuring, for example, that an online shop is connected to a real company.
Have you ever noticed how some URLs start with “http:” while others start with “https”? The S stands for “secure” and this goes to show that the website has its own SSL. Most browsers actually hide that part of the address these days, instead opting for some variation on the little padlock icon. Just be sure the padlock is displayed within the browser’s interface — an image of a padlock on a webpage is no guarantee of security.
The next step is encryption. That is to say: scrambling up the information so that it can be safely unscrambled again later. SSL Certificates make use of sophisticated keys and algorithms to encrypt data. The level of sophistication can be described in “bits”. As a reference, a sheet hidden with 128-bit encryption would take the most powerful supercomputer billions of years to decode. 256-bit is better than that.
But the really smart thing is that there are two different keys involved. When you send data, it’s locked using a public key. And when it gets to where it’s going, it’s unlocked with the private key. Nobody has access to both keys. Therefore, nobody can take a direct sneak peak, no matter how hard they try.
Just as the internet has developed over the years, so have SSL Certificates. Over time, SSL became what is (technically) known as “Transport Layer Security” or TLS — but most people stick with the original expression when speaking broadly about these security tools.
The importance of SSL Certificates has only grown. Whether you’re running a small online shop or a big corporate platform, writing a blog or curating a professional portfolio, they’ve become more of a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. With that said, let’s dig into seven reasons why SSL Certificates are essential for online success.
SSL Certificates: The 7 Reasons You Need Them
1. Protect user data
Think for a moment about the sheer volume of personal information you share on the net. From basic personal info to shopping habits, to credit card numbers and salary figures, even medical records — so much of it is out there on servers, somewhere.
Data breaches have become alarmingly regular headlines. Some are accidental, while many more are the result of the actions of cybercriminals. Here’s a shocking statistic: over 30,000 websites fall victim to hackers daily.
It’s not just governments and the giants of industry. In fact, it’s often small and new businesses that are especially at risk. That can really hurt when a company is in the early phases of building up a client base and brand image. One security misstep might hit the “undo” button on everything.
2. Prove you are who you say you are
When visitors see a website has an SSL certificate, it’s a sign they are on a legit site and not a fake one. SSL Certificates are issued and regulated by Certificate Authorities (CAs) to ensure they are genuine. Customers can trust they are dealing with a real brand and not a scammer.
3. Build up trust
SSL Certificates build trust. When users see that padlock symbol next to your website’s URL or notice the ‘https’ protocol, they can see the site they’re is shielded. But SSL isn’t really about the techy stuff — it’s about showing visitors that you’re serious about their safety and deserving of their trust.
4. Boost your conversions
Trust has a powerful impact on user behavior. When visitors perceive a website as trustworthy, they’re more likely to engage with its content. But they’re also more inclined to share information, express opinions, make a purchase, hit a ‘like’, subscribe or sign up.
The trust factor can boost a website’s conversion rate in way that turns casual visitors into active users or loyal customers. This is even more important for first-time visitors who are often hesitant to engage with a lesser-known brand or platform.
5. Be payment ready
The credit card industry wants to see those SSL Certificates. More than that, they have regulation in place to make sure you do. Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of strict guidelines established by the major credit card companies. Its primary goal? To ensure that all businesses that handle credit card information maintain a secure environment. It shows shoppers that it’s safe to use their credit cards on that site.
6. Boost your search rank
Modern search engines aim to provide their users with a safe surfing experience, together with the most relevant results. This matters in terms of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If your website has an SSL certificate, it’s more likely to rank higher on the search engine results page (SERP). In the case of Google Search, using “https” is known to boost rankings. While an active SSL can help your rank, your rank can drop if that SSL is broken, old, or not there at all. Secure sites tend to have a better chance of outperforming their non-secure counterparts, regardless of the search engine. Browsers like Chrome and Safari actively flag non-secure sites with offputting warnings. This can deter users from engaging with a site and lead to higher bounce rates.
7. Savings in the Long Run?
Think about it: a single security slip-up could cost a fortune in damages, legal fees, and lost customer loyalty. You have the power to prevent these pricey mistakes by implementing an SSL certificate. It’s a small investment that can save you from potential long-term financial losses.