What is an SSL certificate?
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) allows data from your website to be encrypted so that when someone enters personal data (for example username, password or credit card details). If someone intercepted the data it wouldn't make any sense to them which for personal data is obviously a good thing.
How do you know a website has SSL?
When you shop online if you check the address bar you'll usually see https:// when an SSL certificate has been installed for that website. It's one of the things I automatically check before I pay online.
Google and SSL
Google has been encouraging websites to have an SSL certificate for quite a while but for some micro and small businesses it has been too costly. However the cost of SSL certificates has come down and some like Let's Encrypt are free.
If you buy an SSL certificate from your hosting company then they will usually install it free of charge.
Why mentioning the changes in SSL now?
From January 2017 the Chrome browser will make all websites that allow password or credit cards and do not have SSL as insecure. This means that if you have an e-commerce website that does NOT have SSL because you've been told that a third party (such as Paypal) handles the data, Chrome will mark your website as insecure. (https://security.googleblog.com/2016/09/moving-towards-more-secure-web.html)
In May 2016 Chrome overtook over web browsers to become the most used web browser. Whether it's because it comes pre-installed or whether it's because people prefer it doesn't really matter. According to Net Market Share nearly 55% of users are on Chrome (for desktops), with slightly less for mobile devices.
Image from Net Market Share - for more details see: Net Market Share
What if you don't have an SSL certificate?
If you have a purely informational website then you don't have to install SSL (yet) although Google is moving that way.
If you have customers enter usernames, passwords or credit card details then you need to install an SSL certificate if you haven't already done so.
Although it's easier to install an SSL certificate before doing a website it can be installed afterwards. Most micro and small businesses will need to approach a developer or specialist for help since once the certificate is installed you need to make sure that the web pages are still working correctly.
Warning about Wix and SSL At the time of writing if you have a Wix website it is not possible to add an SSL certificate to your site. A standard reply on several support tickets seems to be: "Any payments made through your Wix site (e.g., WixStores, Wix Hotels, Wix Bookings, Wix Music, or Wix Restaurants) are completed through a secure server. In addition, your personal data and billing information are stored securely. "
Updated: 22nd Feb 2017
Wix have announced that all Wix sites have now been enabled for SSL certificates which can be switched on under manage site.
Updated: 18th May 2020
Please note that some hosting companies will charge over $200 per year for an SSL certificate. Other hosting companies will give you one for free as part of the hosting package and the free ones can be just as good as the paid for certificates. Make sure you ask before signing up since I've come across a lot of this recently.
You need to know this kind of information so it can help you decide what is right for your business.
If you need more information about any of these of points feel free to book a complimentary 15 minute chat.