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Migrating Images to HTTPS

What are we doing?

Google recently announced that they will be prioritizing secure HTTPS URLs (over regular HTTP URLs), signaling an increased focus on seeing more secure web pages surfaced in their search engine.

Luckily, all Tempest sites will be migrating to HTTPS in 2017. We are taking a phased approach, starting with images, and tackling this on a site-by-site basis to ensure that the impact of this transition is monitored closely.

What is HTTPS and why is it important?

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is an internet communication protocol that protects the integrity and confidentiality of data between the user's computer and the site. Users expect a secure and private online experience when using a website. Google is strongly pushing that all sites move to HTTPS in order to protect user’s connection to websites, regardless of the content on the site.

Google introduced a strong icon to pages that are not on HTTPS, visually warning users that the content is not secure. It is thought that this will impact SEO since they will give preference to secure pages.

It should be noted that HTTPS is also a prerequisite to migrating to HTTP2.

What is HTTP2 and why is it important?

HTTP2 is a replacement for how HTTP is expressed “on the wire.” The focus of the protocol is on performance. Specifically, it is intended to reduce latency of the initial page load.

Page performance has been a consistent theme over the past few years. We saw this with the release of Google AMP and Facebook Instant Articles last year.

HTTP2 plays into that same philosophy which is to say that the performance of your website matters (and not just on mobile). The more performant your site, the better for SEO.

Before sites can move to HTTP2 they must be first be served over HTTPS. This was a big motivating factor in making this transition to images ASAP.

Why are we starting with images?

Converting a site to HTTPS/HTTP2 requires a lot of manual work and is not something that can happen overnight (this process usually takes a single site several months to complete). The prerequisite to serving an entire website on HTTPS is that all items the site contains are also secure. This means all embeds should be served over HTTPS and all images. This is why we are transitioning images first.

How will my images change?

Since we will be changing the URLs for your images as part of migrating to HTTPS we figured we may as well make them more SEO performant at the same time. The below are a list of changes, all of which should have a positive impact on overall search performance of your images.

This compliments the new Media Management feature set that we introduced last December (2016) whereby publishers have much more control over the metadata assigned to their images, again, to help with SEO.

For a refresher on the Media Management features and how they relate to SEO: https://saymedia.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/217061826-How-To-Manage-Media

The Basics

First things first, let’s review how your image URLs are changing:

Old world: http://a5.files.YOURSITENAME.com/image/upload/c_fit,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_620/MTM5NzM1MjczODQyOTQyOTg3.jpg

New World: https://www.YOURSITENAME.com/.images/c_fit,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_620/MTM5NzM1MjczODQyOTQyOTg3/my-own-seo-keywords.jpg

Now that you have this in front of you, let’s talk about what each piece of this URL structure means and how it relates to image search performance.

Security

The domain in the old world started with HTTP which is not secure. That is going to change to HTTPS which reflects that this domain is secure.

  • Old - http://a5.files.YOURSITENAME.com/image/upload/c_fit,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_620/MTM5NzM1MjczODQyOTQyOTg3.jpg
  • New - https://www.YOURSITENAME.com/.images/c_fit,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_620/MTM5NzM1MjczODQyOTQyOTg3/my-own-seo-keywords.jpg

One Domain for All Images

In an effort to make images performant in the HTTP world, we served them over a few domains. This is also called sharding. The intention was to not overload one domain with too many requests which could cause images to be slow to load. You can see this reflected in the old image URLs, it is the “a5.files” piece in this example:

http://a5.files.YOURSITENAME.com/image/upload/c_fit,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_620/MTM5NzM1MjczODQyOTQyOTg3.jpg

Since we are migrating images to HTTPS, which also means to HTTP2 which allows for other loading techniques for superior performance, we no longer need sharding. This means we no longer need to serve images over several custom domains that belong to your site. Instead, we can serve them all under your ONE singular site domain. The fact that all images are associated with a singular domain should help with SEO. It also makes the URL more readable which is preferable to search engines:

https://www.YOURSITENAME.com/.images/c_fit,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_620/MTM5NzM1MjczODQyOTQyOTg3/my-own-seo-keywords.jpg

SEO Friendly File names in URL

The last improvement to the image URL is to include the image title. The image title should be a good description of the subject matter of the image. The more contextually relevant your title the better the image will perform in search rankings. This has always been true. The added benefit here is this title is also now in the image URL itself. This means that search engines can look at your image title, alt text, and even the image URL itself to determine the subject matter of the image and help surface the most relevant results to their users.

https://www.YOURSITENAME.com/.images/c_fit,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_620/MTM5NzM1MjczODQyOTQyOTg3/MY-IMAGE-TITLE.jpg

The old image URLs did not include the image title at all in the URL.

For a refresher on how to best manage your image metadata for SEO: https://saymedia.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/217061826-How-To-Manage-Media

Conclusion

To recap why moving to HTTPS will have a positive impact on image SEO:

  • Secure - Google wants all elements of the web page to be secure and will give preference to secure pages. Having secure images is the first step in the right direction. Users can also search for images as standalone content which means that HTTPS images will outperform HTTP images in Google Image Search.
  • Domain - All images are on a single domain making image searches against your domain easier to match.
  • SEO Friendly File Names - The subject matter of the image is now not only captured in the title and alt text of the image, but it is preserved within the URL itself. This gives Google plenty of options to find the right keywords to surface your images against their user’s search queries.

As part of the transition we will submit a new sitemap to Google to point to all the new image URLs for reindexing. While Google processes the new URLs you may see a slight decline in image search equity. We fully expect that to recover shortly post-migration. We also expect to see image search equity grow due to the changes in both moving to HTTPs and the new metadata control we brought to images in December 2016.

When will my full site migrate to HTTPS?

We will be starting with migrating all images and other resources within the content items to HTTPS and HTTP2 across all of Tempest. Once this phase of work is complete, we plan to take next steps to translate our publishers full sites to HTTPs. This will be an on-going initiative in the first half of 2017.

 

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