I would easily take this bet. Today, tomorrow and twice on Sunday. Now, I wasn’t at MozCon, and I didn’t see Dr. Pete’s preso. Just the Twitter stream. So even knowing how Twitter and games of telephone can distort someone’s thesis, I would STILL take this bet. And the reason why is simple, people always overlook local search and the deeper layers of the web. Now look, I don’t need to tell our regular readership that local search is the majority of local and voice searches (which are the fastest growing search types). But I do also want to point out that local search queries are a significant portion of the traditional web as well.

Into the data!

To walk you through my reasoning, let’s dive into the data. First here is Dr. Pete’s data:

Now obviously this isn’t ALL of Google Page 1 (unless the good Dr. got his hands on some sick scraping resources/tech if so hook a SEO up!). He measures some subset of results. Given that the Mozcast looks at the small subsection of the web, about 10k websites, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he is looking at something similar here. But like I mentioned back at the beginning, the top of the web isn’t representative of the entire web. Let me show you what I mean and dive into the data I’m using to frame my point of view.

HTTPs, in both pack and organic results, is something we looked at in our 2016 and 2017 (spoilers!) Local SEO Ranking Factors. Now I am still working with our statisticians on the modeling for our 2017 factors, but I do have the raw data handy (and have been pouring over it for a couple of months). The chart below shows the increases in HTTPs in both traditional local results and local organic results.

Local Search HTTPS Adoption Rates

As you can see we are a long way away from a 66% HTTPs adoption rate among the local web. To see just how far off these adoption numbers are, here is a chart overlaying my data and Dr. Pete’s:

For the sake of argument, let’s assume current adoption rate of 11% among page 1 local organic businesses continues. That means we are six years away from a 66% adoption rate of HTTPs among page 1 local businesses.  Now I’m going to throw in some caveats. First of all, this data doesn’t look at industries where HTTPs is a compliance issue like financial institutions, healthcare, etc. Also, the local web isn’t the whole internet. Now that being said, outside of the top sites on the web HTTPs adoption is coming along very slowly, and those non-HTTPs sites make up A LOT of page 1 real estate. But hey, don’t take my word for it, just look at the research from our benevolent $GOOG overlords.

Google Research to the Rescue!

Luckily, kind folks over at the $GOOG are paying attention to this, and writing about it in academic, peer reviewed, fashion. Hopefully the aptly titled article “Measuring HTTPS Adoption on the Web” can help us get to the bottom of this.

Per the article, HTTPs adoption rose the most among the Google Top 100 websites. It increased an astounding 20% from 2016 to 2017. This is almost exactly the same as the increase Dr. Pete is seeing among his subset of page 1 results. However, when looking at long tail HTTPs adoption via the Alexa Million the adoption rate wasn’t nearly so high. From 2016 to 2017 the long tail adoption rate was only 5%.  There is a lot of page 1 SERP real-estate that these top million sites take up.

Let’s look at http://www.genealogy.com/ for example. First, it’s not HTTPs, and second, it is ranking for 216,000 keywords per SEMrush:

When I filter down to only keywords on page one, it’s only around 200,000

That’s a lot of page 1 real estate that isn’t HTTPs. Now imagine 1 million similar sites that have ~10% default HTTPs adoption rate. And this is in line with what we see in local search. Those businesses that heavily invest in search are adopting HTTPs at a higher rate than those that are less invested. Given the data around adoption rates, there is no reason to think that HTTPs is that meaningful of a ranking factor since the growth of page 1 HTTPs results is more or less in line with HTTPs adoption rates.

Remember, a bad HTTPs transition can bork your site. So if you are thinking about adopting HTTPs strictly for SEO here is a piece of advice for you:

Let the CTO/CIO suggest it 🙂

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