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Guide to SSL certificates

What is an SSL certificate?

You have probably noticed that most websites start with http. Websites that have an SSL certificate will start with https instead. The S stands for Secure. You may have also noticed that when you use a website there is a padlock icon. This means the website is using an SSL certificate. The whole purpose of the certification is to protect data and sensitive information. For websites that process credit cards and payments, an SSL is what keeps the customer safe. If you don’t use one then all information transmitted is visible to nefarious third parties.

You’re probably wondering what they are and how they work. SSL Certificates use a cryptographic key to bind together your domain, your organizations identity, and your location. In essence, the SLL creates a secure connection between your server and your customers browser.

The SSL provider is in charge of verifying the identity of the company before certifying them.

Do I need an SSL certificate?

If you are selling a product online then you need to make it a priority for your customers to feel safe. Even though the online economy is huge and customers are growing more and more accustomed to buying online, most people know someone who has been scammed through a site. There is a still a bit of hesitancy to providing your credit to a site that is not well known. Using an SSL and showing that your website is secure and safe is a key to having your customers actually check out instead of getting worried and leaving items in their online shopping basket.

There are theories that Google actually uses the presence of a secure connection in its page ranking algorithm, says SSL.com.

If I have multiple websites can I use a single certificate?

In general, no. An SSL is valid for one single domain. If you try to use a single certificate for multiple domains then your customers and website visitors are going to get a large warning message. This provides the absolute opposite effect that you want.

In fact, if you even have a mail subdomain then you will need either a separate certificate or a wildcard certificate. Basically, a wildcard certificate secures both your domain and all first-level subdomains. What is a first-level subdomain? An easy example is your mail subdomain which looks something like mail.yourcompanyname.com. This option will be more expensive than your standard cert.

Is buying a cheap SSL certificate a good idea?

One of the first things you need to know for your business is the SSL certificate cost. You need to know if you can get a SSL certificate for a reasonable price without sacrifice. Most small businesses can aim for the lower end of price. The general price differences come from the verification checks that the SSL provider enforces. By going with a cheaper option you skip the manual verification process. This results in a quicker, cheaper process. Choosing the right SSL is a simpler process than choosing the correct web hosting.

The real issue is with the Certifying Authority. If you are buying an SSL from a trusted CA then the price is less of a factor. The validity of the certificate is all that matters. Your customers and website visitors can easily see the certificate chain and decide if they trust the CA or not. By using a less trustworthy CA you can appear cheap and like you do not have your customers best interests in mind.