If you’ve spent any amount of time online you probably know that you connect to some websites using “http://”, and others using “https://”. If you see the latter in your address bar when visiting a website, it means that there’s a “Secure Sockets Layer” connection between your web browser and the website server. This is great news for you, as that means all the data that passes between you and the website is secure and encrypted.

It’s also great news for whoever is running that website, because not only can they guarantee a secure connection, they are also handsomely rewarded by Google for taking this security precaution.

Why SSL and HTTPS matter

A recent study conducted by SEMRush, one of the world’s leading search engine marketing companies (with clients such as eBay, Amazon, and Disney), showed that HTTPS is one of the most important factors when it comes to ranking in Google search results.

It’s also by far the easiest one to fix.

Adding free SSL with Cloudflare

In order to enable encrypted connections for our website, we need a so-called “SSL certificate”. There are several ways to get one, but the method I outline in this article is both free and easy. We’ll use Cloudflare, which is a Silicon Valley business that provides site performance and security services to websites. Both Google and Microsoft have ownership stakes in the company.

The way it works is like this: when somebody visits your website, the request will go to Cloudflare, who downloads your website from your hosting provider and serves it to the user. Cloudflare performs a bunch of performance and security enhancements before the website is served to the user, which means it will:

  • load faster
  • be safer from malicious attacks

Best part is: they also have free SSL support! Without further ado, here is the guide.

But first, a quick commercial break

This post was originally sent out to the wonderful people on my email list. If you want to receive more website tips like this one, you should sign up. Also, the email version of this guide contained bonus material, which I will send to all new subscribers.

Step 1: register your Cloudflare account

You know the drill. Enter your email address, set your password, etcetera.

Step 2: add your website

Once you’ve done that, you will be able to add your website. Just enter your domain name, and wait for it to finish scanning.

When it’s done scanning, click “Continue Setup”. Now it will show you all the DNS records it was able to find.

If these look correct to you, click “Continue”. If you think they missed something or got something wrong, fix it and then click “Continue”.

Step 3: choose your Cloudflare plan

Cloudflare offers four different plans. Choose the free one.

Step 4: set your nameservers

Next, Cloudflare will ask you to change your nameservers. This will enable Cloudflare to work its magic. To do this you need to log into your domain registrar’s dashboard.

Depending on who your domain registrar is, the interface is going to look a little different. This particular client used Webhostinghub to register his domain, so that’s what I’m working with here.

(Side note: if you’re wondering what domain registrar I prefer, it’s Namecheap. Their interface is modern and easy to use, I’ve found their customer support to be far more responsive and helpful than many competitors, and their private email service is great and doesn’t require you to host your website with them. Here’s an affiliate link — I make about a dollar every time someone registers a domain with it, so go ahead and make me rich. 🤑)

Step 5: Change your Cloudflare settings

We’re almost done already! All you need to do now is change your Cloudflare SSL settings, from “Full” to “Flexible”. To do this, click on the “Crypto” button at the top of your Cloudflare dashboard.

Done! It could take up to 48 hours for the changes to propagate, but in my experience it’s usually less than that. You website will not go offline or anything during this transition period, it just takes a while before your website uses HTTPS instead of HTTP.

Bonus step: make your website faster and redirect all HTTP links to HTTPS

I know, I’m a bastard for keeping valuable content from you. But I’m trying to build my email list so I can feel more popular. Give me your email, and I will give you tons of value in return. Starting by showing you how to redirect all your HTTP traffic to HTTPS, and how to use Cloudflare to make your website a little faster.