Google will reward websites that use quality HTTPS encryption with higher rankings in its search results.
The firm is proud of its own encryption activities, and has added the security layer to its social network, email and storage options. It said that it wants to encourage this across the industry, and will attempt to boost use by rewarding adopters.
"Beyond our own stuff, we're also working to make the internet safer more broadly. A big part of that is making sure that websites people access from Google are secure. For instance, we have created resources to help webmasters prevent and fix security breaches on their sites," it said in a blog post.
"We've also seen more and more webmasters adopting HTTPS on their website[s], which is encouraging. For these reasons, over the past few months we've been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search-ranking algorithms. We've seen positive results, so we're starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal."
Currently not much weight is being put on encryption use, but Google said it would consider increasing this. "For now it's only a very lightweight signal – affecting fewer than one percent of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content – while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS," it added.
"But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we'd like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web."
The news was cautiously welcomed by one member of the security community, who suggested that the search firm could have done more.
Mark Sparshott, Proofpoint's director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: "I welcome Google's move to use HTTPS as ranking signal and downgrade those sites that are not encrypting connections to their visitors but caution that the minimal scope and weighting Google is applying may not be enough of a deterrent for poor security best practice yet."
Cloudflare reports that a 'shamefully low' two million sites are using HTTPS, and added that it expected to see an increase in this. Commenting on the Google announcement it said: "This means that if you care about SEO then ensuring your site supports HTTPS should be a top priority. Kudos to Google giving webmasters a big incentive to add SSL to their sites."
It added that a "quick way" to boost ranking would be to take a paid Cloudflare account.
Dave Neal is a reporter at The INQUIRER. Previously he worked at V3.co.uk, VNUnet, and IT Week in editor and journalist roles.
He started his career when the Y2K bug was a front page story and remains committed to covering the interesting world of technology news.
He left the world of office working four years ago and now represents The INQUIRER from home in Kent with his dog.
Dave has been quoted in papers including the London Metro.