When browsing the internet, have you ever noticed that some URLs start with 'https', as opposed to 'http'? This extra 's' stands for 'secure' and signals that the website has an SSL certificate installed, which creates a safe and private channel of communication.
Here we consider why SSL certificates have become a must-have for accountancy websites and why, if you don't already have one, you need to install one – now!
What is an SSL certificate?
SSL (short for Secure Sockets Layer) is a form of encryption technology that's used to create a secure connection between your website and a visitor's web browser. SSL encryption helps to prevent hackers from gaining control of the visitor's connection to your web server and stealing private information such as credit card details, passwords, names and addresses.
Websites with an SSL certificate installed are accessed through the https protocol, and you will usually see a padlock symbol next to the URL.
There are three main types of SSL certificate – Domain Validated (DV); Organisationally Validated (OV); and Extended Validation (EV). They all provide encryption technology but the validation process for each one varies according to the level of security required.
With cyber-attacks continuing to pose a major threat to businesses, it's vital that you take steps to protect your firm – and your clients – against a potential security breach. Despite this, research by Qualys shows that 28.9% of sites still have inadequate SSL security (figure correct as of 4th January 2020).
Cyber-attacks can be extremely damaging, both financially and reputationally. Put simply, SSL encryption is no longer a luxury – it's a necessity.
How SSL certificates can help your accountancy firm
As well as helping to safeguard against hackers, SSL certificates can also benefit your firm in many other ways.
They help to build trust
As an accountancy firm, you're required to handle confidential business and financial data on a daily basis. Naturally, your clients expect this information and any communication with you to remain private and secure. But if your website isn't protected by SSL encryption (which many aren't), can you really expect clients to trust you with their sensitive data?
Installing appropriate security, such as an SSL certificate, will help to build and preserve trust between your practice and its clients, which is essential to maintaining a good working relationship.
SSL certificates can improve your SEO ranking
Google have themselves confirmed that they now use https as a ranking factor for SEO. This means that sites with SSL encryption are likely to rank higher than sites without one, thus increasing their visibility to potential new clients. While an SSL certificate can have a positive effect on SEO, it's important to note that there are many other factors that Google take into consideration when ranking a website (more than 200 in fact!)
Sites without an SSL certificate are 'named and shamed'
In an attempt to make the internet safer for users, web browsers now publicly 'shame' websites that don't have a valid SSL certificate. Google Chrome, for example, penalises sites without SSL encryption by labelling them as “not secure” in the URL bar. This public shaming undermines the integrity of your business and is likely to deter potential new clients from visiting your website.
SSL encryption is essential if you take payments on your site
Installing SSL is imperative if your firm takes payments via its website, for example through accountancy packages such as Xero. In fact, if you collect credit card information on your site, you are required to have an SSL certificate under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
How to install an SSL certificate
*If you are a Mercia totalSOLUTION or Practice Track Online customer, you can skip this part as we install SSL certificates on your website for you*
There are numerous methods for installing SSL certificates and the right one will depend on the type of server your website is using e.g. Windows, Apache etc.
As each platform and system uses a different method of installation, it's not possible to cover them all in this post. However, we've linked to this handy guide, which provides instructions for each platform/operating system.
It's important to ensure that you install the SSL certificate correctly and keep it up to date, otherwise your website visitors may encounter a message like this when they try to access your site:
Clearly a message such as this does not create a great impression, particularly for a business in a professional industry such as accounting. Faced with a warning of this nature, website users are likely to abandon their visit and simply click on an alternative website in the search results.
At accSYS we take website security very seriously. That's why all of our websites have SSL encryption by default, giving you complete peace of mind that your site is safe and secure.
We understand that managing a website isn't necessarily an accountant's top priority or skill set, so if you'd rather leave the hard work to the experts, why not opt for one of our website solutions. Find out more about our accWEBSITE service here.