Secure sockets layer (SSL) certification is a product that protects websites and users of those sites from security breaches that can occur between the user’s device and web browser and the website. For those involved in the creation and maintenance of a law firm’s digital presence and marketing, understanding why SSL matters is more important than ever.
What HTTPS Means and Why SSL Matters
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), as opposed to Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), confirms that a web address has been secured by a reliable SSL certificate authority (CA). The importance of HTTPS is at an all-time high for law firms—and for anyone with a website.
SSL technology first protects a website and its users by authenticating the parties on both ends of an Internet exchange of information. So when a potential client finds your site online, the user’s browser and your website transmit information and security keys to one another to confirm a secure connection.
Once a secure connection is established, SSL protocol prevents intruders from accessing the connection and encrypts any data and information that is exchanged.
This process helps prevent third parties from interfering in or intercepting communications between the user and the site. These third parties might be cyber criminals attempting to steal personal data or infect a user’s device with malware. There are also third-party actors who hijack non-secure connections to display advertisements and other pop-ups. These interruptions are, at best, frustrating to the user, and at worst, a risk to personal data and equipment.
Importance of HTTPS in Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a digital marketing process that works to make your website, pages, and content more appealing to search engines, like Google. SEO uses a broad and ever-changing assortment of methods to indicate to search engines that your content is useful in answering a given query.
The goal of SEO is to help your content rank better based on the search engine’s algorithms, so your website appears closer to the top—or beginning—of the search engine results page (SERP). This is essential to “getting found” online, because some Internet search users fail to venture past the first page of the SERP when they research a topic online.
Google, the most popular search engine in the world, announced in 2014 that HTTPS versus HTTP would become a ranking factor in the company’s proprietary search engine algorithm. In short, if your website does not have that “S” to indicate you have taken measures to secure the site for visitors, Google will count that against you when deciding if your content is relevant and useful to searchers.
If you do manage to “get found” online with a website that is not secure, there are still further implications that illustrate why SSL matters.
Establishing Trust: Your Digital First Impression
You know that saying about first impressions, right? Never is it more apt than in the virtual realm, where competition for users’ attention is abundant.
Google has been gradually moving away from labelling sites as “secure” in the user’s browser URL bar. The company has noted that the default expectation for websites should be that they are secure. So, instead, Google has begun marking sites that are not secure with a conspicuous warning to users.
Perhaps you have invested a lot in your website and digital marketing—time, money, frustration … then more time and money—all in an effort to get Internet users to make the decision to click on your URL and walk through your virtual door. Now, imagine someone put a big, red caution sign on that door.
Let’s say a particular Internet user is a bit daring and decides not to heed the search engine’s warning. The user doesn’t intend to exchange any personal information, after all; he or she just needs a little legal advice. Without HTTPS, a third-party can interfere with the connection between your site and the user, serving the person unrelated advertisements, or even malware.
Why SSL Matters for Website Security
Cyber criminals have realized that law firms often house and handle sensitive and confidential client information for individuals, corporations, and institutions like banks and hospitals. While banks and hospitals are mandated by law to maintain a specific level of data security, the legal responsibilities of law firms are less defined.
Ethical guidelines of the legal industry, however, make clear the expectation for protection of client data. Rule 1.6 of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct states that, “[a] lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”
Perhaps your law firm’s website does not process or store confidential client data. It’s likely that, at a minimum, your legal website contains a contact form where potential clients are able to submit information related to personal legal situations in an effort to obtain guidance, and potentially counsel, on those matters. And remember, too, that you often cannot control the information a user enters onto a form. Would you give details of a personal legal situation to a company with a big, red “not secure” sign on the door?
Why SSL Matters for Legal Digital Marketing
SSL for law firms can protect a legal website and its users, and it’s relatively easy to implement. Once you understand SSL for attorneys and the importance of HTTPS, the decision to better safeguard your law firm’s website should be easy to make.
If you want more information on why SSL matters, or would like to consult on any aspect of your law firm’s digital marketing strategy, contact TwoDogBlog today.