What is an SSL Certificate?

An SSL Certificate is the key to security

What is an SSL Certificate? You might have heard the term SSL, or maybe someone said your website needs an SSL certificate but you aren’t sure what one is. That’s OK. By the end of this article, you’ll have a basic understanding of SSL certificates, and you’ll know whether you need one.

What is SSL?

In simple terms, an SSL is an abbreviation for Secure Sockets Layer. You purchase an SSL certificate to protect information that other people enter on your website. For example, an SSL certificate protects the personal data of visitors who sign up for your monthly newsletter and the credit card information of customers who make online purchases.

An SSL certificate contains the following information:

  • The certificate holder’s name
  • The certificate’s serial number and expiration date
  • A copy of the certificate holder’s public key
  • The digital signature of the certificate-issuing authority

In a nutshell, an SSL allows you to reassure your online visitors and earn their trust by securing your website.

How does SSL work?

An SSL builds a secure, encrypted connection between the visitor’s browser and the web server. To establish the secure session, the SSL “handshake” process occurs behind the scenes without interrupting the customer’s shopping or browsing experience. Think of an SSL as a lockbox that secures valuables (customer information) as it travels across the Internet from the visitor to you.

How do I know if I need an SSL certificate?

what is ssl certificate colorful keysIf visitors or customers enter information on your website — such as names, addresses, and credit card numbers — then you definitely need an SSL certificate to protect that information.

In years past, you really only needed an SSL certificate if your website collects information from website visitors. This is not the case anymore.

Google has placed a strong emphasis on SSL usage and it is now part of the search algorithm. And starting in July of 2018, Google Chrome is marking any website without SSL certificates as not secure. This will reduce a web page’s ability to rank in search, as well as limit the number of conversions.

Thus, SSL usage is no longer optional. It is a requirement for all websites and blogs.

How will people know my website has one?

On every secure web page, there are visual indicators. First, the browser displays a padlock icon. The location of the icon differs depending on the browser.

Example of a URL With SSL
Example of a URL With SSL

Second, you can look at the top-left corner of your browser’s address bar. Have you ever noticed that all websites say http:// or https:// before the website address? Pages that don’t have the “s” after the “http” are not secured by an SSL certificate.

There are other visual indicators that vary depending on the type of SSL certificate. Sometimes the address bar turns green and/or a security seal displays. Other times, the web browser provides a warning when a page isn’t secure.

The basics of SSL

If you need an SSL certificate, the next step is to learn more about the different types available. And when you’re ready to secure your website, check out the SSL Certificates available from GoDaddy.

Learn more about using SSL certificates in your website or blog:

Learn about the four types of SSL certificates available:

Sean Loiselle
Sean Loiselle is a senior technical writer at GoDaddy who focuses on our hosting and security products. When he's not creating kick-ass content for Web Pros to succeed, he runs around Seattle (literally) and buries his nose in old books (slightly less literally).