As malicious attacks become more widespread, aggressive and advanced, security is becoming more important than ever. While there are hundreds of ways you can increase the security of your website, there’s something basic you can do to lay the foundations of a secure platform: getting an SSL certificate. We explore what it is, how SSL works, and the benefits of being certified.

What is an SSL certificate?

Firstly, what does SSL stand for? SSL is short for secure sockets layer, which, in practical terms, means certification provides a secure connection over the internet – most commonly between a user’s browser and the website they’re visiting. By encrypting that connection, SSL prevents interception of the data being transmitted over it, which comes with additional benefits.

What does an SSL certificate do?

As you begin to better understand how SSL works, you’ll realise just how beneficial certification can be for your site. First and foremost, an SSL certificate acts as visual confirmation to users that your website is a safe and secure environment, with encryption in place to prevent attacks. This is especially important if you’re offering a transactional process that requires a user to input personal and payment information.

Similarly, ensuring your website is SSL certified helps to build trust with users, who will immediately recognise more legitimacy in your offering than those sites without the certificate.

How do I know if I’m using SSL?

If you’re visiting a website that has a valid SSL certificate, there’ll be two obvious indicators. You’ll see a padlock icon in the address bar before the URL of the site:

And the full URL of the page will contain the letters ‘https://’ at the beginning, rather than ‘http://’.

It’s not a rarity either – over 60% of websites now employ SSL and HTTPS as their first line of defence.

How to get an SSL certificate

Knowing how to get SSL certificate verification is important in earning the trust of your users. To obtain an SSL certificate for your domain, general practice is to apply through an independent certificate authority (CA). Because CAs are third parties, their digital signature is considered trustworthy.

Once you’ve received a certificate from the CA, you should apply it to your website through your server. Usually, your website host will handle the activation, after which users will be able to load your site in a secure manner.

How much does an SSL certificate cost?

When it comes to analysing the advantages and disadvantages of SSL, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. However, the most common obstacle that domain owners come across is finding the right SSL certificate for their website.
It is possible to obtain an SSL certificate for free, but only for up to 90 days, meaning it’s crucially important that you continue updating SSL certificate validity after each period expires. Free certificates offer less complex security features than paid versions, which are usually suitable for smaller sites and blogs, rather than businesses.

Alternatively, purchasing a premium SSL certificate will generally cost between £25-50 per year, with prices varying depending on the level of service you require. There are packages that far exceed this cost, while at the other end of the spectrum some basic packages can be bought for as low as £6 per year.

How to update an SSL certificate

Once your SSL certificate expires, your website can become susceptible to hackers. Fortunately, it’s possible to begin the process of updating SSL certificate validity up to 90 days before the expiration date. In essence, this is a similar process to getting an SSL certificate verified for the first time.

The first step is to generate a new certificate signing request (CSR). A CSR is a portion of encoded text that identifies your company name and domain. You’re required to present this to your SSL provider upon renewal.

Once you have successfully completed your CSR, you can log in to the account you created when you initially applied for an SSL certificate. Choose whether you want one-year or two-year certification and confirm your order.

Once approved, your website will feature the recognisable padlock and ‘https://’ that signifies SSL security.

5 benefits of SSL

1: Protect the data of you and your users

We’ve already mentioned the primary benefit of having an SSL certificate on your site. By encrypting the data being transferred to and from the site with 256-bit encryption, it protects it from being read by anyone malicious who tries to get access. Even if there’s a data breach and some of the data is intercepted, it will make it almost impossible to be understood due to the level of encryption it involves. Your visitors can feel safe in the knowledge that their data is in good hands.

2: Reduce the risk of phishing

Those visual indicators we mentioned above are also key to preventing phishing. If you’re unfamiliar, phishing websites are fraudulent sites made by those who aim to steal user data. They’re often very convincing replicas of legitimate websites, and try to trick visitors into entering their personal information. A valid SSL certificate on your website is an obvious way of showing that you’re the real deal, which can help your visitors avoid phishing attacks.

3: Increase your search engine ranking

How highly a website ranks in search engine results is key to its success. In 2014, Google announced that it would start including SSL and HTTPS as a factor in its search rankings. With so many websites using SSL, the reality is that without a valid certificate, a website is very unlikely to rank highly (or at all). Google visibly supports and endorses the use of SSL certificates to secure your website.

4: Secure your customer payments

The encryption we talked about in point two also obviously applies to payment data. When your customers are sending their card details to your site, having HTTPS in the address bar shows that you’re encrypting and protecting those details. In fact, PCI (Payment Cards Industry) regulations require at least 128-bit encryption on any payment data being transmitted, so if you’re taking payments from customers, having an SSL certificate is the bare minimum.

5: Showing your users you can be trusted

We’ve said it already: above all of those technical points, a huge benefit of having an SSL certificate is that your customers know they can trust you. For those who use the web often, having the padlock icon next to your URL gives you legitimacy.

Without one, many potential visitors might simply avoid your site. Google itself adds to this – if you try to navigate to a site that is running on only HTTP using Chrome, you’ll be shown an intimidating screen with a warning symbol. It warns you that the connection is not secure.

It’s like having a big warning barrier outside a shop, warning those trying to enter that they might have their wallet stolen if they go in. Visitors to the site then have to click on a very small advance button to actually reach the unsecured website.

All of these factors break down visitor trust, which further impacts your search engine rankings – if users are leaving the website without clicking on anything (bouncing), it reflects badly on your statistics.

Wondering where you can get your own SSL certificate? At Fasthosts, we include them for free for the first year with our Web Hosting, WordPress Hosting, and Website Builder products. To find out more about what SSL can do for you, call our expert support team on 0333 0142 700.