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How to get a free SSL Certificate & why Google is forcing you to

Did you know that a site with an SSL certificate will both improve your search engine rankings and it will also offer your visitors better security! Something you may know is that you can actually get an SSL Certificate free of charge (no strings attached!).

SSL certificates secure your website and boost its rankings in Google. And now, thanks to services like Let’s Encrypt, you can actually get a free SSL certificate for your website.

You read that right, all of the benefits of SSL and none of the costs!

So what is an SSL Certificate?

Have you ever noticed how sometimes websites start with “http://” and then sometimes they start with “https://” and have a green padlock? If you have, you’ve seen the end result of an SSL certificate. But what you haven’t seen is what goes on behind the scenes.

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. Essentially, SSL establishes an encrypted link between your web server and your visitor’s web browser. This ensures that all data passed between the two remains private and secure.

With an unsecured HTTP connection, third-parties can snoop on any traffic passing between your reader’s browser and your web server. Obviously, this is a huge issue if you’re passing sensitive information like credit card numbers.

But nowadays, many entities, including Google, are pushing to use secure HTTPS connections for all traffic, even things you might think are mundane.

So why do you need an SSL Certificate?

In the past, the only time an average webmaster needed to care about SSL was for an ecommerce website. But that all changed in late 2014 when Google dropped a bomb:

SSL was going to be rolled out as a ranking factor.

That’s right, sites that use SSL certificates get a boost in the SERPs. It might not be a huge boost, but I think you’ll agree with me that any boost in search rankings is a good one. When I moved my portfolio site to HTTPS, I experienced a notable bump in my search rankings.

But now Google is going even further. As of January 2017, Google will mark “HTTP pages that collect passwords or credit cards as non-secure.” That means your WordPress login page will be marked as non-secure if you’re not using HTTPS. Here’s what that change will look like in Google Chrome:

Google eventually plans to expand this feature to treat all HTTP pages like this:

You definitely do not want all of your users seeing that in their URL bar!

So how do I get a free SSL Certificate from Let’s Encrypt?

If you’re just running a regular WordPress site and you are not handling any super sensitive information (like credit cards), you can get a free SSL certificate from a service called Let’s Encrypt.

This certificate will give you all of the benefits of SSL without costing you a single penny. And here’s the best part:

Most major hosting providers are partnering up with Let’s Encrypt to make installing an SSL certificate totally painless.

Here are two ways to get your free SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt:

Install Your Free SSL Certificate from Your cPanel Account (for supported hosts)

As I mentioned, many hosts are partnering up with Let’s Encrypt to add free SSL certificates directly inside their customers’ cPanel dashboards. For example, if you’re hosting at SiteGround, you can install an SSL certificate in about two seconds from your cPanel dashboard. You just have to find the Let’s Encrypt button:

Then, all you need to do is select your desired domain and click Install:

Here’s a full list of web hosts who offer direct support for Let’s Encrypt. The process for most supported hosts should be similar to SiteGround.

I use Plesk so I just added the Plesk Extension – Let’s Encrypt, then when you go into any domain you will see the Let’s Encrypt add-on. Simply click that, type in your email address and there you have it! It will assign the domain with the SSL certificate and everything’s ready to go, just like that!

Use “SSL For Free” to Configure Your Let’s Encrypt Certificate

If your host doesn’t support Let’s Encrypt, you may still be able to get your free SSL certificate by using a website called SSL For Free.

The site will help you configure Let’s Encrypt certificates. But, you will need access to your site’s FTP details and potentially support from your host.

If at all possible, you should try to find a host that offers direct Let’s Encrypt support because it greatly simplifies the process.

How to configure your Free SSL Certificate With WordPress

Once you get your SSL certificate installed, users will be able to view a secure version of your site by going to “https://yoursite.com”. But just because your HTTPS connection is active doesn’t mean you’re finished.

To properly configure WordPress to work with your SSL certificate, you need to make some changes. You could do this manually or you could use an awesome plugin that does everything for you.

Really Simple SSL handles the whole process. Just install it and run the plugin and it will make all the necessary changes.

Just be aware – you will naturally get signed out of WordPress when you run the plugin. This is because the plugin changes your default URL from “http://” to “https://.” All you need to do is log in again with your normal login credentials. No need to be alarmed!

And there you have it, I hope you’ve found this post useful!

Let me know your thoughts or if this has helped you in the comments below.

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