HTTP to HTTPS – An SEO Nightmare

HTTP to HTTPS site change led to decreased SEO visibility
HTTP to HTTPS site change led to decreased SEO visibility

I’ve had the opportunity over the last few months of seeing the direct impact of switching URLs on a site from http to https.

Because we saw such a negative impact from this change, I wanted to share our experience with the greater community to help you avoid the same SEO challenges we faced for about 5 weeks.

The site is a major retailer with their own E-Commerce site and products sold in retail stores & thru many dealer partners.

Secure HTTPs Requirement

This particular client was instructed (read “forced“) to convert some product URLs on their website to secure https format to maintain PCI Compliance. In what appears to be one of the DUMBEST reasons to change to https I’ve heard in recent memory, this changeover led to a pretty significant decrease in SERP visibility and traffic within 2 weeks of implementation (approx. 3/25).

Top 10 Google Ranking Drops after HTTPs Implementation
Top 10 Google Ranking Drops after HTTPs Implementation

In the above chart, you can clearly see the impact this technical change had on overall site visibility; which also resulted in major traffic losses (nearly 50% per day).

For those curious, the https requirement on the product pages was due to the use of an “email a friend” option; not because they accepted credit cards or otherwise “confidential” information on the product pages themselves.

Note: The HTTPS was integrated ONLY on the product URLs from the category pages. All other URLs from the HTTP-based site remained HTTP so this was not a complete HTTP to HTTPS conversion.

Mixed SEO Signals

Based on the fluctuations in this client’s Google rankings after the https integration, it is apparent that Google themselves had a hard time determining which version of the product pages should have authority & rankings – the http or the https. In the chart below, you can see major ups/downs in the number of keywords ranking.

HTTP to HTTPS site change led to decreased SEO visibility
HTTP to HTTPS site change led to decreased SEO visibility

While the actual URLs aren’t displayed, I can confirm that the major shifts were the result of Google swapping out the http and https versions of the URLs repeatedly.

Relative URL’s Can Hurt Your SEO

Further complicating the issue of a partial integration, the site (at the time) was utilizing relative file path canonical URL declarations, as well as relative URLs in the main navigation. The result… the entire site getting spidered as HTTPS when the bot continued from a product page.

Note: The relative paths were not a recommendation of ours – absolute file paths in canonical tags and other areas of the site which could be impacted by HTTP vs. HTTPs are critical.

Changing Back to HTTP URLs

Fortunately this client was able to backtrack and remove the HTTPs configuration on the product URLs. Within approximately 2 weeks of implementing the fix, the traffic returned (almost) to normal. The fix occurred in the middle of May; don’t ask me why it took so long to fix 🙁

And the results…

Today, the site is now performing extremely well and appears to be free of any HTTPs repercussions.

Overall site rankings in Google are above those in March cumulatively for the Top 5 pages of results and only 1 total keyword (63) behind March’s total of 64 keywords ranking on Page 1 (Top 10 results).

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By Cory

Experienced SEO Expert and Website Developer based in Phoenix, AZ.