Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller hosted a Q&A session on Google+ earlier this month, and one of the big topics of conversation was how to successfully migrate a site from HTTP to HTTPS.

Can you go part-HTTPS? Do I need any certificates beforehand? Is it possible to A/B test without dropping down Google’s search rankings?

Here are the user questions, followed by John’s answers:

(Q) Do I need to set anything up in Search Console?
(A) No, just add the HTTPS site there.

(Q) How can we A/B test?
(A) Don’t cloak to Googlebot specifically, use 302 redirects + rel=canonical to HTTP if you want to test, but not have the page indexed. Don’t block via robots.txt.

(Q) Will the rel=canonical guarantee that the HTTP URL is indexed?
(A) No, but it’s a very strong signal when picking the indexed URL.

(Q) What’s the next step after testing?
(A) Follow our site-move documentation. Use 301 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS, confirm the new version by adding a rel=canonical on the HTTPS page, pointing to itself, and submit sitemaps including both URLs with new change-dates.

(Q) What about the robots.txt file?
(A) The HTTPS site uses the appropriate robots.txt file. Check that it’s reachable or serves a 404 result code, and check that your HTTP URLs aren’t blocked by the HTTP robots.txt file.

(Q) Is it OK to just have some pages on HTTPS?
(A) Yes, no problem! Start with a part, test it, add more.

(Q) Should I move everything together, or is it fine to do sections?
(A) Moving in sections is fine.

(Q) Will I see a drop in search?
(A) Fluctuations can happen with any bigger site change. We can’t make any guarantees, but our systems are usually good with these moves.

(Q) Which certificate do I need?
(A) For Google Search, any modern certificate that’s accepted by modern browsers is acceptable.

(Q) Do I lose “link juice” from the redirects?
(A) No, for 301 or 302 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS, no PageRank is lost.

(Q) Will we see search keywords in Google Analytics when we’re on HTTPS?
(A) This won’t change with HTTPS, you can see the search queries in Search Console.

(Q) How can I test how many pages were indexed?
(A) Verify HTTP / HTTPS separately in Search Console, use Index Status for a broad look, or the sitemaps indexed counts for sitemap URLs.

(Q) How long will a move from HTTP to HTTPS take?
(A) There are no fixed crawl frequencies, it depends on the size of your site, and the speed of crawling that’s possible. The move takes place on a per-URL basis.

Does Google’s advice seem fair? Don’t forget you can now see when your activity is being encrypted with HTTPS.

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