Checklist for Moving From HTTP to HTTPS

At the SMX West Conference held in March 2015 in San Jose, California I joined Eric Enge from Stone Temple and Gary Illyes from Google in a session called “How to Secure Your Site for Google’s HTTPS Algorithm”. In other words, moving HTTP to HTTPS. As you’re probably aware of by now, Google has been encouraging site owners to secure their sites using the HTTPS/SSL protocol–and apparently giving the site owners a slight search engine ranking boost. I’ve had my own experiences with SSL migrations, and I’ve about it several times.

moving from http to https

There are several reasons why I believe you should moving HTTP to HTTPS, and several benefits from moving your site to a secure one. But I won’t get into them here. For more about that, you should read my post here.

But what about the actual process? What’s the process for moving your website from HTTP to HTTPS? Well, during the process of moving sites (my own sites and client sites), I’ve put together the following checklist. Feel free to use this checklist and refer to it when moving to HTTPS.

Generally speaking, there are three different phases involved with the moving to HTTPS process:

  1. Planning
  2. Moving Day
  3. After Moving Day

Each task for each phase is detailed below. This is, of course, a working document or working checklist so to speak, and as I go along I’ll be adding more details. If I have left anything out, feel free to let me know so I can add it to the list.

Moving from HTTP to HTTPs Preparation

There are several things you need to prepare for the move from HTTP to HTTPs;

  • Move all content or partial content?
  • Prepare site (internal links, canonical tags, etc.)
  • Review links to site, identify links to update
  • List of Social accounts, profiles to update
  • Google Search Console review

After preparing your move site move from HTTP to HTTPs, and you’re really confident that the website is ready for the move, then you need to take a look at the site itself.

Moving from HTTP to HTTPs Site Preparation

So, you’re now ready to prepare the website itself for the move. You can’t just move the site or install an SSL certificate on your website and think that it’s all going to work. You have to prepare your site–make site changes in the code–to make it all work properly. Here’s what you need to fix or change on the website when moving from HTTP to HTTPs:

  • Ensure internal links point to https
  • Check CMS settings (i.e., WordPress, etc.)
  • Check canonical tags
  • Check image, CSS, JavaScript URLs (all URLs)
  • Set up 301 redirects (.htaccess file, etc.)

When checking and updating internal links, you may run into issues regarding absolute versus relative links on the website. If you’re using WordPress, you may be able to do a search and replace of the old URL to the new URL, but that depends on whether or not you’re using absolute or relative links. I prefer to always use absolute links, which will make it easier to do that search and replace. Don’t forget about updating image links, as well.

Redirects

Redirecting URLs from the old HTTP URL to the new HTTPs URL is extremely important. This will preserve the links to the old HTTP URLs so that the new URLs get the credit for links. Then, visitors requesting the old page will get redirected to the new proper URL. On most sites, the site is probably using Apache. To tell if your website uses a Apache or Windows server, you can do a server header check to see. Here is the Apache sample redirect code:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [R=301,L]

Plan for Moving

Detail a plan for moving. If you’ve prepared the site and you are confident that it is ready to move from HTTP to HTTPs, then make sure you have a plan. If you are part of a company, then there will be others responsible for helping with the move. But if it’s just your own website, then you can handle it yourself with the help of your web host. If it’s your company website, then you’ll want to answer these questions:

  • When will you switch/move?
  • Detail process for moving
  • Internal company: who is responsible for what?

Moving Day

It’s moving day. The day you will make the switch from those old URLs to the new ones. Your site is about to be secure. Well, here are a few things to do once you’ve gone live on HTTPs:

Verify the website in Google Search Console. Make sure you verify these versions of your site (you should have already verified the HTTP versions:

- https://www
- https://

Those two are important, because they are, in fact two separate versions of your website. Google will show you only the current data in their Search Console of the live version. So, once you’ve verified the new HTTPs version of your site, you should start to see traffic dropping on the HTTP version since no one is visiting that version of your site any more. After a few weeks (or about a week) you should see NO traffic in Google Search Console in the HTTP version. That’s expected. It should all be moved over to the HTTPs version of your site, and you should see visits going up in the Search Console. If you’re not, then there could be an issue. Contact me and we’ll talk through it.

Test your website. It’s very important to test your site to make sure that the HTTPs version of your site is working properly.

  • Test SSL (Qualys Lab tool)
  • Test for Heartbleed vulnerability
  • Server header check
  • Crawl site (Screaming Frog SEO Spider or OnCrawl)
  • Switch Social Media Profiles
  • Check Google Analytics for Referrers
  • Test your site in several different web browsers, including on mobile devices

After Moving Day

So, after moving day, everything should be going smoothly. There are a few things you need to watch to make sure that everything, in fact, is going smoothly. Like updating Google Analytics and watching it (make sure GA has the HTTPs URL and not the old HTTP URL). Here’s a list for “after moving day”:

  • Update and watch Google Analytics
  • Update social media accounts, profiles
  • Update email signatures with new URL
  • Update company themes/templates
  • Start contacting link owners

I mention “start contacting link owners” above, as you need to look at your links. Look to see who is linking to the old HTTP version of the site, and, if you can, get those site owners to update their links. The most important ones are going to be the higher quality links to your site. Get those changed and updated. Even though the site does do a 301 Permanent Redirect (I hope) to your site, it’s still good to get those links updated.

Any questions, comments, or concerns with a move from HTTP to HTTPs? Feel free to contact me, as I’ve done (and assisted) in a lot of HTTP to HTTPs migrations over the past few years, and can help.