Data encryption for dental websites

What is https and what does it mean for your practice website?

Over the last couple of years, data encryption has become a much bigger issue for websites, not just those which take card payments for ecommerce transactions but for general sites too. This is being driven in large part by Google who are keen to see all website interactions encrypted, not just those of a sensitive nature.

In line with this, Google is starting to push progress with encryption by offering incentives for those who comply and penalties for those who don’t. This basically means that websites published using encryption can rank slightly better than those which aren’t. Equally important is where users have to enter data to log in to a website or submit data – here Google is showing an “insecure” warning for users who use the Chrome browser. Whilst this can be very misleading as much of that data will not actually be sensitive, it is still very off-putting for users who don’t actually understand the full implications.

What is https?

This is a communication protocol which behaves very similarly to the traditional http protocol but where the data is encrypted. So before data leaves your browser and travels up to a web server, it is “scrambled” so it cannot be read. Decryption occurs at the server side when the data arrives. Similarly, for websites using encryption, your browser is actually decrypting the information that comes down to you from the server. The idea is that if anyone intercepts the data on route, it will be unreadable and useless to them.

Should you use https for your website?

The simple answer is yes; but there are some serious considerations to make before you jump in. It’s quite an easy decision for new websites although there are some costs involved. There is a small piece of software (a “certificate”) which handles the encryption and which needs to be installed on the web server which hosts your site. This is purchased from a regulated third-party and typically needs to be renewed every year (although longer periods can be purchased).

For dental websites which are already established and ranked in Google, there are some additional, non-trivial considerations. Here it is not simply a case of installing the encryption certificate to switch everything to https. This would look to Google as though you’d published a completely new website and any ranking you’d already established for your pages would be ignored.

However, the switch can still be done using a process know as “301 redirects” which tell Google that the non-encrypted http page has now been permanently moved to a https version. This is Google’s recommended way of making the transition. Whilst this does work quite well, there is no absolute guarantee that your search rankings will be preserved 100% – hence why the process has to be considered very carefully.

So with SEO in mind, the transition to https does hold some risk and also quite a lot of work to reconfigure page re-directs and also back-links. However, with the increasing pressure from the web power houses like Google, it will be necessary to bite the bullet at some point.

Indeed at the time of writing, here at Dental Media we are scoping out the change to https for our own website and the best ways to maintain our search engine positions.

Summary

There is increasing pressure to publish all websites under full encryption – https. This is being driven by the likes of Google and the pressure to comply is growing. The decision is quite easy for new websites but requires more consideration for established websites, particularly those with good search engine rankings. For this, you will likely need assistance and the digital team here at Dental Media will be pleased to assist.

If you’d like more information about data encryption for your practice website or digital marketing strategies in general, please call us now on 01332 672548.