Last week, I was doing an SEO audit for one of my new Fractional CMO clients due to some poor performance they were seeing on their website. A lot of times, websites are launched by marketing teams without technical leads or SEO specialists. SEO has changed a lot over the years, and keeping up can be difficult, but using SEO SaaS tools can help. I personally like to start by doing an audit using SerpStat, which quickly flags issues on a website. One of the big red flags that came up was they hadn’t turned on HSTS on their website.
In this age, ensuring the security of your website is paramount. With cyber threats constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated, website owners need to employ robust measures to protect their users and data. One essential tool in the security arsenal is HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS). HSTS is a crucial technology that enhances website security and fosters user trust. Let’s explore what HSTS is, how it works, and why enabling it on your website is of utmost importance. Yes, it will get a little technical but don’t worry, I will simplify the concepts and tell you easy ways to implement it.
HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) is a web security policy mechanism that helps to protect websites against man-in-the-middle attacks. These attacks are like having this sneaky eavesdropper during an online conversation. HSTS enforces the use of secure HTTPS connections, ensuring that data transmitted between the user and the website remains encrypted and secure.
When a website has HSTS enabled, it informs web browsers to only interact with the site via HTTPS, even if the user enters “http://” in the address bar. This helps to prevent potential attackers from downgrading the connection to an insecure HTTP protocol, providing an additional layer of security. So, put simply, if a site visitor requests an unsecured page, it gives them a secure page instead. Google and Bing value secure sites, so from an SEO perspective, they love this.
How HSTS Works
When a user’s browser connects to a website, the website can send an HSTS header in the response. This header contains a directive specifying that the website should only be accessed over HTTPS. Once the browser receives this directive, it will remember it and automatically convert any HTTP requests to HTTPS for that specific website, even if the user attempts to access it through an unsecured connection.
If you want to check if HSTS is enabled for your website, visit: https://domsignal.com/hsts-test
The Importance of Enabling HSTS
1. Enhanced Security:
Enabling it significantly enhances the security of your website by preventing attackers from intercepting sensitive information during transit. It eliminates the possibility of protocol downgrade attacks, ensuring that all communication is encrypted and secure.
2. Mitigating Man-in-the-Middle Attacks:
HSTS helps mitigate man-in-the-middle attacks by ensuring that the communication between the user and the website is not intercepted, altered, or eavesdropped upon. This is crucial in maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of data.
3. Protecting User Data:
By enforcing the use of HTTPS, HSTS safeguards the user’s personal and sensitive data, such as login credentials, financial information, and personal details. Users can trust that their information is transmitted securely. Remember, every form on your website that requests information needs to be secure.
4. Building User Trust:
Displaying a commitment to security by implementing HSTS builds trust with your users. When visitors see that your website enforces a strict HTTPS policy, they will feel more confident in interacting with your site and providing their information.
5. SEO Benefits:
Search engines like Google consider HTTPS as a ranking factor. Enabling HSTS and serving your website exclusively over HTTPS can positively impact your SEO, potentially improving your website’s visibility and ranking in search results. This is what was happening to my client, and once we fixed the issue, we noticed an improvement with Google pretty quickly and expect further improvements in the future.
How to Enable HSTS
Enabling HSTS for your website involves configuring your web server to send the appropriate HSTS header in the HTTP response. The header should include the “max-age” directive to specify the duration for which HSTS should be enforced. It’s essential to carefully set the “max-age” value, considering factors like how often you update your security certificates and how frequently you may need to change your security policy.
I know this part might sound a little confusing, but I do have an easy hack to make it easy to implement for anyone. Talk to your hosting provider. My client was using WPX, my recommended hosting provider, and who I host with, and a simple chat with support got their website HSTS enabled. This took about five minutes to be implemented.
Implementing HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) is a fundamental step towards enhancing the security and trustworthiness of your website. By enforcing the use of HTTPS, HSTS protects user data, mitigates security threats, and ultimately helps in creating a safer online environment. Make sure to configure HSTS properly to reap its full benefits and prioritize the security of both your website and your users. If you have any questions, reach out to me.