Any website that collects credit card information, logins or passwords will be marked as unsafe in Google’s Chrome browser (by far the most popular browser in the UK and US). Since January 2017, Google has added this information to the browser bar which the user can see when they visit any website. Firefox already does something similar and other browsers will follow suit.
But this is only a first phase. Google plans to label all http sites (and all pages) with an unsafe warning eventually. This warning will be bright and bold, featuring a red triangle alert that visitors can’t miss. This is what it will look like :
Such warnings are certain to deter many visitors from booking their accommodation on the hotel website. Especially when other hotels, travel operators and booking engines can offer a safer https website.
Page load speed matters and it been well documented that visitors will abandon websites that take too long to load on their screens. Google has also stated that speed is a search ranking factor and this impact has been magnified with the explosive growth of mobile. Mobile has now overtaken desktop as the most popular method of accessing hotel websites. https is often much quicker than http and hotel websites can benefit from this faster speed if they switch to https. This site demonstrates the difference in speed between http sites and https sites.
Google announced last year (2016) that https is now a ranking factor albeit still a small one, affecting around 1% of all search queries. But this could become a stronger signal in the future and could help boost your site’s rankings at the expense of sites that still use http. We already know that Google has separate results for mobile and desktop searches. Even if your hotel website ranks well on a desktop search, it may be much lower ranking on mobile search, and this is heavily influenced by things such as site speed, which itself is improved by using https.
http sites (unsecure) do not pass any referral data to https (secure) sites, this is a security issue but also affects your analytics. As more and more sites switch to https, if you’re still on http you’ll lose more and more analytics data, crucial referrer information about your site visitors, where they come from and how the got there (search queries used, etc).
What about messy 301 redirects?
Making the switch from http to https also involves necessary 301 redirects from the old version to the new version of your site. In the past some webmasters and site owners have been wary of doing 301 redirects for fear of losing PageRank (link juice) and consequently search rankings. However in July 2016, Google announced that using 301 redirects no longer resulted in reduction of PageRank. More case studies are now appearing which confirm that no loss of PageRank and rankings was experienced after making the switch.
How soon should hotels switch to https ?
As soon as possible is the answer. Google has been pushing hard for these changes for a while and the latest Chrome release is a statement of intent – they are planning to clearly label all http sites as unsafe. This will happen quickly as most things do with Google today. The move from http to https is already happening across all industries and different types of website. Last year saw the biggest increase yet in the number of sites moving to https. This is an unstoppable trend and those websites that don’t make the switch will be left increasingly isolated and will stand out very clearly, and not in a good way!
In truth, all sites should look to switching to https soon, that is the way things are moving. But hotel websites are among some of the most affected at the moment. Many hotel sites have seen significant traffic losses in recent years, particularly in organic search traffic, which has been declining due to changes in search behavior and the way Google now presents and ranks its results pages. Hotels simply cannot afford not to stay up-to-date with the technology and should make the switch now.