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How to Force HTTPS For Your Domain

Posted on by Ronald Caldwell
Reading Time: 6 minutes

When browsing the internet, users must be aware of the evolving technologies they use to browse webpages. Whether browsing the web for personal or business use, security becomes a concern when new technologies create unforeseen issues. 

For instance, when redirecting domains from HTTP to HTTPS, it is important to note that the Hypertext Transfer Protocol forms the basis for data communication on the World Wide Web.

The transfer protocol initiates secure delivery of webpage content to users across the globe.  However, with the introduction of HTTPS, a layer of security was added to the transfer protocol by using Transport Layer Security (TLS). The TLS protocol then takes normal HTTP requests and responses, encrypts them, and then digitally signs each request and response. As a result, HTTPS offers significantly greater security compared to HTTP. This implies that HTTP is no longer as secure, exaggerating the risk for ordinary web users.

Either way, a stigma exists for any webpage using the original HTTP messenger, prompting everyone to want to switch their URLs over to HTTPS. Learn why forcing HTTPS to your domain is important, and why it’s a good idea to do it.

HTTP and HTTPS: What Do They Have to Do With the Internet?

When you force HTTP to HTTPS, you’re changing the transfer protocol type, which essentially changes how the URL appears in the browser. It doesn’t sound like much, but even though both protocols carry the requests to the web server for you, one does it better than the other. Utilizing HTTPS can enhance the user experience while browsing the internet. Website owners also choose to force HTTPS on their domain because of the increased privacy and security.

What is Transfer Protocol in a Web Server, and What is HTTPS?

HTTPS, an abbreviation for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, signifies that this version of the server request handler comes with an additional layer of security. When a user’s web request is sent to the server, a connection is made between the browser and the server. The browser makes the connection, and the server sends back identification using a digital certificate. HTTPS encrypts the data to make sure it's only decoded and read by the intended recipient. Transfer Protocol isn’t just important with security though; it also matters when website owners are creating content and need to establish or improve their technical SEO.

Why Should You Force HTTPS on Your Domain?

We’ve been hinting at reasons to force HTTPS on your domain. Below are a couple reasons with examples to use HTTPS on your domain.

HTTPS Builds User Trust

At some point, you’ve likely seen a warning from Google stating that a site you’re about to visit may not be safe, and your personal information could be at risk. While the transfer protocol may not be the reason in every case, URLs with HTTPS use a secure certificate known as an SSL certificate. We will discuss the characteristics of these certificates later. With the added security from a certificate, your information is encrypted from third-party attackers who could otherwise steal it.

eCommerce websites are a good example of web servers using SSL certificates to protect customer information. When browsing sites protected by HTTPS you should see a lock icon to the left of the URL address.

Google is Using HTTPS to Rank Websites

This benefit doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, but forcing HTTPS for your domain could help you rank better in Google SERPs. Around 2014, Google announced that they would be using HTTPS, among other things, as a ranking device to encourage websites to improve their security features. With a better protocol on your web server, visitors see that your website is legitimate and more secure.

It should also go without saying that businesses seeking a better ranking need to use HTTPS, as it proves they are following Google’s E.E.A.T guidelines. Technical SEO is elusive, and it always seems to be changing. Forcing HTTPS on your domain is the easiest way to follow better SEO practices. More importantly, without HTTPS, it’s likely that Google will manually penalize your site.

What is an SSL Certificate, and What Does it Do For HTTPS Domains?

SSL certificates (also known as SSL certs) are a digital means to verify a website’s identity and encrypt sensitive information. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, and while SSL certificates have been around for a while, they have evolved over time. You may hear about Transport Layer Security (TLS), which uses similar tactics to the ones that SSL certs use to encrypt the information exchanged between the client and the web server.

In the industry, it’s quite common for TLS certs to be referred to as SSL certs since they accomplish the same goal. If you find yourself wondering if a site is using SSL, it’s quite simple to make that determination. If a site is using HTTP, then there’s no SSL, since the transfer protocol lacks the “secure” portion of the messenger file. There’s also going to be a lack of the padlock in the URL, which indicates that users can’t trust the site.

You can probably tell what we’re getting at, but if a user doesn’t see the padlock, then chances are they won’t stay on your site. Redirecting HTTP protocol is one of the best things you can do for your site.

How Does an SSL Certificate Work?

There are several ways to enable an SSL certificate on your site. Typically, if you purchase a web domain from a hosting provider, they offer free SSL certificates with your purchase. If you have a domain, you may already be using a free SSL certificate that comes with your hosting plan. If not, SSL certs are easy to purchase, just ask your hosting provider.

When an SSL process is engaged, this is what happens:

  1. The server tries to connect with an SSL-enabled website.
  2. The contacted server verifies its identity.
  3. The web server responds to the request by sending a copy of the SSL certificate.
  4. The web server checks the certificate to make sure that it’s secure and can be trusted.
  5. The website returns a digital confirmation that it’s ok to start an SSL-encrypted session.
  6. The sourced data is then shared between the client and the server.

This multi-step process may seem like it takes a while, but it happens in seconds. Another way to force HTTP to HTTPS for your domain is to use an .htaccess file manager to enable a secure connection.

What is an .htaccess File and its Common Uses?

An .htaccess file is a text file used to configure characteristics of a website, such as redirects, IP management, and more. Web admins often use .htaccess files to force redirects to improve the user experience on their websites. Essentially, all files that require redirection should be in the appropriate server directories. Web admins can also put an .htaccess file in the root directory of a server, which configures the entire website under the same parameters.

When using the .htaccess file method, administrators can modify the .htaccess file in the directory a number of ways. One method is to go into the file manager on the web panel and add the file directly. Alternatively, one may use FTP or command line, etc. After writing the necessary Apache directives in the file, they can force the redirect one of two ways:

On All Traffic

While in the control panel, open an .htaccess file in the public_html folder. Once you are in the directory, scroll down to find the ReWriteEngine On file and insert a few lines of code to change its behavior.

On the Domain

If you want to take this route to force the redirect, you’ll need to place the .htaccess file in the root folder of the domain by inserting a few lines of code in the ReWriteEngineOn file.

A word of caution: using the .htaccess file does present some security and reliability concerns, which is why using a TLS certificate to redirect HTTP is usually the best method. Users who go this route may experience speed issues, compromised security, and accessibility errors that eventually take down the site.

Final Thoughts

If you’re dealing with your customer’s personal information at any point during your interactions, then it’s a good idea to have a secure website. HTTP cannot match the security of HTTPS, and many web servers are getting away from using HTTP because of the risks it poses to their business. 

When your site uses HTTPS, it lets your customers know that you’re a legitimate business that takes their business and their security seriously. At the same time, by forcing HTTPS on your domain, you could have better rankings on Google, and your website will operate better.

At Liquid Web, we offer managed server plans for your business that have complete root-level control of your server environment. Our services also have customizable features that allow you to manage your business website in a way that meets your customers’ needs. We can answer questions or advise you on how to make your website more secure or even walk you through the process of forcing HTTP to HTTPS on your domain.

For 25 years, Liquid Web has been serving our customers by providing high-level performance and reliable server hosting services. If you want to learn more about us, please visit our website or contact us today.

Avatar for Ronald Caldwell

About the Author: Ronald Caldwell

Ron is a Technical Writer at Liquid Web working with the Marketing team. He has 9+ years of experience in Technology. He obtained an Associate of Science in Computer Science from Prairie State College in 2015. He is happily married to his high school sweetheart and lives in Michigan with her and their children.

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