SSL certificate guide

So your website either has no SSL certificate or an SSL certificate that is about to expire? Sounds pretty technical and scary right? Well don’t worry because it’s not anywhere near as scary as it sounds and THB is here to guide you through getting it fixed.

Contents

What is an SSL Certificate?

Before we get started adding/updating your SSL certificate, it’s probably a good idea to understand what one is. An SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate allows your website to establish a secure connection to its users. It does this by encrypting the data that is exchanged between the two parties, this is important when handling secure or personal information such as credit card details for payments. Basically, it protects you, your users and your website from potential threats like data leaks or hacking. 

You might have noticed that on some websites, they have a little padlock next to the URL at the top of your browser? That is an indicator that this website has a valid SSL certificate and a secure connection. You might also have seen when search engines try to block potentially harmful websites, this is usually (not always) due to the website not having a valid SSL certificate. 

Another way to spot if a website has an SSL certificate is to look at their URL, if it has https:// at the start then they will have a valid SSL certificate. If they have http:// at the start of their URL (note that the ‘s’ is missing) then their website might not be secure. 

Obviously, you want your website to be secure to protect both yourself and your website’s users. It’s also worth doing just so that you have that little padlock when other people visit your website, it reflects badly on you and your business if your website isn’t secure. It may also give users a message when they first try to enter your website, informing them that it may not be secure. This on its own is probably enough to put users off and they will go and use one of your competitors. 

How do I get an SSL certificate?

Every website is different, so every website needs a slightly different SSL certificate, it can be a confusing world. But don’t worry because we have put together an easy guide to help you choose the right certification for your website and get it up and running in no time!

Choosing the right level of protection

First things first, it’s probably a good idea to decide what level of protection you need for your website. There are 3 levels of protection with SSL certificates, Extended Validation (EV) certificates which are the highest level of protection, Organisation Validated (OV) certificates which are a mid-level, and Domain Validated (DV) certificates which only offer the most basic level of cover. 

DV certificates require the least amount of personal information to obtain and aren’t registered to a particular company which means we wouldn’t recommend these for business use. For your business, you want to be looking at either an EV or OV certificate depending on how much protection you want. This is because they are both registered to your company so they are much more secure and harder to obtain. It’s also worth bearing in mind that a more secure website will make your website look more credible in the eyes of your users. 

How many domains do you need to cover? 

Okay, so we’ve figured out which level of protection we want. The last step to figuring out which type of SSL certificate you need is how many domains do we need to cover? There are 3 options to choose from here.

Single domain

If you only need to secure one domain name then this is the option for you. If you just have yourwebsite.co.uk and nothing else, you’re all set with a single domain option. 

Wildcard domain

So you only have the one main domain name, but it has multiple dub-domains such as payments.yourwebsite.co.uk and signin.yourwebsite.co.uk. Rather than covering each one individually under single domains, you can purchase a wildcard domain to cover them all under one certificate. 

Multi domain

This will cover multiple domains under the one certificate so you can cover yourwebsite.co.uk,  yourwebsite.com and yourwebsite.net under the same certificate. This is again, usually more cost effective than purchasing single domain certificates for each.

Choosing a Certificate Authority (CA)

Once you know what kind of certificate you need, it’s time to go certificate shopping! You can’t just buy one from any Joe Bloggs, you have to go to an approved organisation known as a Certificate Authority. 

You can find free SSL certificates online but, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for. Free SSL certificates are unlikely to offer a high level of protection so usually are unsuitable for a business website.

First, it’s always best to check with your web host. They might already have provided you with an SSL certificate when you signed up. Get in touch with them to check, you can ask if they provide certification and check that they are providing the right certificate for your website. If they are already sorting it for you, and you have the right level of protection, happy days! You’re all set. If not, they might be able to provide you with one and get it all installed/set up for you, this is probably the easiest option so it’s worth having a check with them first.

If you can’t get the right SSL certificate directly from your web hosting provider. Then you can find one online, it’s worth comparing a few different CAs to find one that suits the needs of your business. Be sure to choose one that is both well-trusted and provides the right level of cover for your website. You can use SSL.com or GoDaddy or a wide variety of other trusted SSL providers. 

Buy and verify

Now you know exactly which type of certificate you’re looking for and you’ve found the right CA. Time to buy and verify! 

Purchase the certificate that you need for your website and let the CA work its magic. Keep your eyes peeled for any emails from the CA as they may contain instructions to help complete for verification. It depends on the level of cover and the number of domains but this process can be as quick as a couple of minutes, or sometimes it can take a couple of days. 

Once your verification is complete, the CA will send over your certificate details for you to download and install. 

Installing your SSL certificate

If you purchased your SSL certificate directly from your web host, they will either take care of the installation or provide instructions on how to get you set up. If you purchased from a third party, you will have to install the certificate yourself. Luckily it’s a fairly simple process and most CAs will provide instructions/support if you get stuck. You can also check in with your web host to see if they have instructions in their knowledge base. 

Give it a check

Once you have installed your new certificate, its worth giving a couple of things a quick check to make sure everything worked as it should!!

URL

Once you’ve managed to get your SSL certificate installed, it’s time to go and admire your handywork!

Log out of the back end of your website (or open up an incognito browser window) and open up your website. Has the http:// updated itself to https:// – if it has, then it means you have an SSL certificate installed!

Once you have confirmed that your SSL is up and running. Firstly, well done! 

Next, you need to check your links to update them to the new https:// – we didn’t spend all that time setting up your SSL certificate to have people ending up on the old version of your website. 

Have a check through anywhere that you have a link to your page and get it updated to https://

Redirects

It’s probably worth setting up permanent 301 redirects from the old (http) pages to the new (https) pages. This means that if your users happen to end up on the old URL, they will automatically be redirected to the new, secure page. If you aren’t sure how to do this, it’s probably best to check with your web host for guidance. 

Sitemap 2.0

The very last thing we need to do is update your sitemap with Google Search Console (GSC) so that Google knows that we have a brand new SSL certificate and our website is secure! Google treats your http and your https website as two separate properties. This means you will have to set up your new website as a new property in Google Search Console and upload a new sitemap.

We have this covered with two handy guides – Adding Google Search Console to your website and Sitemaps

SSL certificate about to expire

If your website already has an SSL certificate but it’s about to expire, you will need to get a renewal certificate. It’s worth being aware of how long your SSL certificate is valid for and setting up some kind of prompt to remind you with enough time to renew. Most providers will get in touch with a reminder email and instructions on how to renew. Its largely the same as the steps above but usually slightly simpler as you can just update your existing certificate rather than having to go through the whole process again.

Remember, when you renew, it’s worth making a note of when your new SSL certificate expires. It might feel like a while away now, but it will come around fast!

And that is your SSL certificates covered and your websites secure for now!

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