Given how much time we spend on the internet each day, we might sometimes take for granted the role of website security in protecting us from anything malicious. For web users all across the world, one of the first things that stands out about a company's website is the small padlock icon by the address bar, indicating that you've got a safe connection to their site.
Still, without an SSL certificate installed, there's always the risk that you're on a potentially dangerous website. In essence, an SSL-secured website encrypts all of the data that are transmitted between a user's browser and your website, making it a lot more complicated for hackers to seek out any sensitive customer data.
Still, you don't need to go out of pocket when looking for website security — there's a wide selection of free SSL certificates that you can apply to your WordPress website in order to give it some added protection. Throughout this article, we'll be exploring how you can get a free SSL certificate for your website, covering all there is to know about the benefits of having one and the steps necessary to obtain one.
Whether you're using your WordPress website as a business to sell goods or you're a blogger, consumer safety should always be of paramount concern. Let's get started!
Table of Contents:
Why Do You Need An SSL Certificate? 🔎️
Prior to explaining the installation process, it's important to provide some context around SSL certificates and what they're actually doing to protect your website/customers.
What Is A Generated SSL Certificate?
You've probably seen the term “SSL” when searching for a web hosting company, but have you considered what it actually means? SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer — a form of security protocol that encrypts all the data transmitted between the web server you're hosting your site on and the browser on the client end.
By having one of these for your website, you can ensure there's no unauthorised party that can intercept the data at any point, or in simpler terms; it basically adds another line of defence to your website. Without the certificate files, all the customer data is transferred in basic text, so hackers can have a field day when looking to commit some form of fraud.
So, for any business owners that'll be collecting sensitive information for your website (whether that be phone numbers, emails, credit card info, etc.), SSL certificates are especially crucial for customer safety, not to mention the knock on your reputation if there are any leaks.
How Do SSL Certificates Actually Work?
Like you've done many times, every time you click on a website with an SSL certificate (which is most mainstream sites), your browser sends a request to their server in order to establish a secure connection. Next, the server responds back with its SSL certificate, including a public key. This key is then automatically used by your browser to encrypt any of the data you provide before handing it to the website's server.
Finally, the server receives the encrypted data sent from your browser and uses its own private key to decrypt it, allowing it to read and understand the message.
Although this might sound slightly complicated, the whole ordeal takes place in a matter of milliseconds and is entirely transparent to the user. As a result, you're able to facilitate a smooth connection that allows for private communication between the user and the website, protecting the data for both parties.
Statistics & Examples
If you still need convincing on the importance of having one of these certificates for your WordPress site, perhaps it's worth appealing to some useful stats that help demonstrate the point.
Firstly, according to an insightful report published on Statista, global cybercrime is expected to cause damages of up to $10.3 (£8.16) trillion by 2025 - a significant jump from the $1.16 trillion lost before the pandemic in 2019. This study is based on the current growth rate in damages, as well as the ongoing innovation and developments when it comes to ways for hackers to extort data.
Naturally, there's nothing like a free SSL certificate to provide solace for you and your customers due to the added protection for both parties involved.
Furthermore, you might even be viewing this article on one of the most popular web browsers, Google Chrome. If so, you might notice the “not secure” warning for any websites that you go on that don't have an SSL certificate. If you don't yet have one, this warning will obviously discourage any users from visiting your website, which can lead to a loss of web traffic and overall revenue.
Benefits Of Using A Free SSL Certificate ✅️
Though a lot of the benefits we've covered already are implied, let's take a closer look at three ways your WordPress site could benefit from an SSL certificate.
Improved Website Security
The main attraction of these security protocols is naturally the improved website security provided. As we've already explained, the data exchanged between your customers and your WordPress site is encrypted, so only each other can communicate with each other.
Better Search Engine Ranking
In 2014, Google made an announcement that indicated a boost in ranking for any websites that have an SSL certificate. Basically, this means that if your WordPress site has one of these, you stand a much higher chance at appearing towards the top of their search engine result pages (known as SERP) in comparison to a site that doesn't have one — especially given how Google Chrome notifies you when you're on a risky website.
One of the key metrics for ranking higher across search engines is your website's trustworthiness and security, which are both recognised by Google when using an SSL certificate.
Increased Trust From Website Visitors
And lastly, it's naturally comforting for anyone that visits your website to know that you've got an SSL certificate, as it shows you're taking proactive steps to help protect their data. What's more, it also shows that you're investing in their security and privacy, which makes them a lot more confident to stay on your website and hopefully spend money.
In essence, an increase in trust from your customers has the potential to translate directly into an increase in conversions.
Examples Of Tangible Results
So, how do all these benefits produce results for your website? Let's take a closer look.
Imagine if the roles are reversed, and you're the customer. Say you launch Google Chrome and are about to navigate through a website when suddenly you're struck with a red screen warning you of your security. Still curious, or are you simply going to turn back and look for an alternative site? If you would choose the latter, why would your customers choose any different?
Having an SSL certification stops customers from turning away before they've even had a look at your website, so these can be crucial for generating revenue or traffic for your online business or blog.
Improved User Experience
Similarly, your customers are also receiving an overall better shopping experience as they know their personal information is never at risk. Though there's a huge list of benefits this can bring for the customer, it all comes together to increase engagement, the length of time people visit your website, and repeat visits too.
Furthermore, it's a lot easier to build a loyal audience and form an air of authority around your site when you've got an SSL certificate.
Free SSL Certificate Options For WordPress Websites ➡️
Now we've got an overall understanding of this commonly used security protocol, let's have a look at the different ways you can implement it into your WordPress site. For the sake of this article, we'll be focusing on two popular options for free SSL certificates: Let's Encrypt and Cloudflare.
Option 1: Let's Encrypt
Kicking things off, we'll begin with Let's Encrypt — the free, automated, and open certificate authority that gives SSL certificates to websites. Specifically for WordPress websites, this option is a fairly popular choice due to the ease of installation and level of security provided.
To get Let's Encrypt up and running, you'll have to carefully follow these steps:
First thing first, we've got to install the Let's Encrypt plugin. This plugin automates the whole process of obtaining and installing the SSL certificate, so the whole procedure is actually more streamlined than you might have expected.
To install the Let's Encrypt plugin into your website, head over to your WordPress dashboard, navigate to Plugins > Add New, then simply search for “Let's Encrypt,” and click Install Now.
2. Activate The Let's Encrypt Plugin
Once you've fully installed the Let's Encrypt plugin cleanly and without any hiccups, you will need to activate it by clicking the big obvious button with “Activate” on it. Remember, rather than having to fiddle around with the relevant files and learning how to install these manually, the WordPress plugin section does this all on your behalf.
Naturally, this makes it incredibly straightforward for anyone who may not be particularly savvy with technology, which might be the reason you've opted for a WordPress hosted website in the first place. As such, it's vital to take advantage of all the various plugins on offer while you're here to see if there's anything else that might be useful for customer retention.
3. Generate The SSL Certificate
Once you've activated the relevant plugins on your WordPress dashboard, go over to settings and look for the plugin you've just installed. Once you've clicked on it, the plugin will automatically obtain and install the SSL certificate for you.
4. Verify The SSL Certificate
And that's it! After you've fully set up Let's Encrypt, it's worth checking if it's actually working before launching your website and opening it to the world. There are various online SSL checkers you can use if you want to verify that this certificate has been installed correctly and is working as normal.
Although this is a free and incredibly intuitive plugin to set up, it still might be slightly incompatible with every kind of website (which is why we included two separate options.
For example, some users have reported several issues when using the plugin for a WordPress website, citing things like difficulty renewing certificates as instances where the plugin isn't working correctly.
Option 2: Cloudflare
Though there's nothing particularly wrong with Let's Encrypt, it's still worth knowing all your different options when it comes to your website's SSL certificate. “Cloudflare” is another hugely popular option known as a content delivery network (CDN). These work in all the same ways — providing free SSL certificates for any WordPress user with it installed.
This is a pretty similar setup as the last option, but you'll need to take a more manual approach to get everything up and running. Don't worry, though; we'll walk you through every step.
1. Sign Up For A Cloudflare Account
The first step is to sign up for a Cloudflare account. Go to Cloudflare's website, click Sign Up, and follow the prompts to create an account.
2. Add Your Website To Cloudflare
After you've successfully made your account, you'll have to add the domain name of your website by clicking Add Site and following all the subsequent prompts.
3. Change Your DNS Settings
Once your website has been added to Cloudflare, open your DNS settings and change them so they're pointing towards Cloudflare's servers instead. They'll give you the specific DNS settings you'll have to use, so don't worry if this feels slightly complicated.
4. Enable SSL
Once you've changed your DNS settings, go to the SSL/TLS tab in your Cloudflare dashboard and select the SSL/TLS encryption mode you want to use.
5. Verify The SSL Certificate
As with Let's Encrypt, you always want to make sure you've verified that your SSL certificate has been installed correctly before doing anything else.
When it comes to drawbacks, performance issues appear to be one of the largest concerns for past users. This might happen if your website wasn't properly optimised for Cloudflare or if the website's server is not located near Cloudflare's data centre. Still, they offer a bunch of performance optimisation features that can help mitigate this issue, so don't let this turn you off before even trying it.
In addition, it's worth reiterating that any issue you might face with Cloudflare regarding website speed or performance is more than made up for in the added security these plugins can provide for both you and your customers.
What Should I Do If I Encounter An SSL Certificate Error On My WordPress Site?
If you encounter an SSL certificate error, it's important to investigate the issue promptly. This could involve contacting your web host or certificate authority, ensuring that your certificate is up to date, or troubleshooting any other issues you might have on your web hosting control panel.
How Often Should I Renew My SSL Certificate On My WordPress Site?
While the lifespan of SSL certificates can vary depending on which option you've chosen, they all typically need to be renewed annually. Some certificate authorities might even offer multi-year certificates, so ensure you're checking the expiration date regularly so you can renew it in advance and avoid any interruptions.
What Is A Self-Signed SSL Certificate?
This specific form of SSL certificate is generated and signed by the website owner rather than a trusted certificate authority. So, while these are free and easy to set up, they're generally not recommended for production use as they don't provide the same level of trust and security as the average certificate.
Will An SSL Certificate Slow My Site Down?
Though there is some overhead associated with SSL encryption, most of the modern SSL certificates are optimised for speed and should have a negligible impact on your website's performance. Additionally, the benefits of having a secure website with SSL encryption far outweigh any potential speed issues.