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What is an SSL certificate?

To add extra security to your site and protect your users’ information, you can encrypt your website with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. An SSL certificate is vital if you require visitors to enter information or make a purchase online.

SSL certificates allow you to secure and encrypt the communication between your user and your site. They are small data files that scramble and unscramble communications and information. They bind together domain names, server names and organisation information in cryptographic keys.

These security certificates are usually added to websites or pages that require sensitive information from internet users, such as e-commerce platforms, login pages and payment pages.

When an SSL certificate is used on a page, a small green lock with the word ‘Secure’ will show up in the URL bar on your internet browser. This lets you know that your connection is secure and that other people won’t be able to see your information, such as passwords, data and credit card numbers.

A site using encryption will also have a slightly different URL – instead of the normal ‘https://’ at the beginning of the domain name, a secure site will have ‘https://’. The extra ‘s’ just lets you know that your data is secure.

Beyond the security benefits of using an SSL certificate, having one can even boost your Google rankings. A user is more likely to use a site that protects their data and this established trust is seen as a thumbs-up by search engines.

Different types of SSL certificate

There are five types of SSL certificates that can be separated into two categories; validation level and secure domains.

Validation level is when the certificate authority confirms the identity of the organisation or person applying for the certificate. Secure domains specifies which subdomains of your website have a certificate (having an SSL certificate doesn’t automatically secure all pages of your website).

There are three types of validation level certificates; domain validated, organisation validated and extended validation certificates. All three levels of validation provide the same protection for the user, but the difference comes down to the website applying for the certificate.

  • Domain validated SSL certificate – Shows that a domain is registered with the Certificate Authority and that the site admin is running the URL is who they say they are. Domain validation is cheap and quick to obtain, but they aren’t as secure as other SSL certificates in that a hacker can obtain one relatively easily.
  • Organisation validated SSL certificate – Shows that your organisation owns the domain and is a real company. The process of obtaining this certificate is the same as a domain validated certificate, but there are a few extra steps to prove that your company is legitimate.
  • Extended validation SSL certificate – Shows that your company is legally registered as a business in a certain city, region or country. This validation requires even more paperwork and can take a few weeks to obtain, but it is the most secure type of certificate in terms of validation.

There are two types of secure domain SSL certificates; single-name (or wildcard) and multi-domain certificates.

  • Single-name SSL certificate – Protects only one subdomain instead of an entire website. You can secure just your payment page with this option, if that’s all you need.
  • Multi-domain SSL certificate – Protects all domains of your website, which means that you can use as many subdomains as you need and know that all pages are secured.

Obtaining an SSL certificate

To make your website secure and to gain trust from your users, you just need to install the SSL certificate onto your web server. Choose which type of certificate will be best for your site and begin the process.

Firstly, you’ll need a unique IP address for each certificate you want to use, or you could use a multi-domain SSL certificate if you have more than one domain on a single IP address. You’ll also need to obtain a Certificate Signing Request (CSR), which is a piece of code that sits on your server.

The certificate authority will use your CSR to generate your certificate for your domain, and they will verify that you own the domain. Have your business documents available in case the certificate authority needs to access them for validation purposes.

Make sure that you obtain your SSL certificate from a reputable authority as most browsers, operating systems and mobile devices only trust certain certificates. When you see those error messages saying that the browser doesn’t trust the certificate, this is because the SSL certificate was obtained from a random source.

This can be detrimental to a business as it outright states that your website might not be trustworthy. Often, when customers see this message, they exit the site and look elsewhere.

To wrap up, having an SSL certificate on your website can boost your search engine rankings and put you ahead of your competitors. They give your visitors confidence that their data is protected and that their connection is secure.

This is vital for e-commerce websites and platforms that require sensitive information from users. Look at your business needs and website function to decide which of the five types of SSL certificate will be the best for you.

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Written by Joshua Oates

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