Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is a term used in many web development discussions and carries a high level of importance for any website owner (especially those running eCommerce businesses). As with the large pool of technical terms we live with today, SSL is something we all know we need, yet don’t often fully understand why we need it. Today, I’ll be demystifying the importance of an SSL certificate and why you need one.

SSL, and the more modern Transport Layer Security (TLS), are protocols used in an attempt to maintain security and privacy while transferring data over the Internet. Using cryptography, the data is encrypted, transferred, and then decrypted at its destination. Web browsing, email sending, instant messaging, and VoIP all make use of SSL.

SSL for website owners

For a website owner, security is often not the first thought until their website is hacked. For any website, from a basic blog, to a high volume eCommerce store, security should be a top priority. Applying an SSL certificate to your website helps ensure that data is securely transmitted from your visitor’s browser session to its destination. Whether this is leaving a comment on your blog post or making a purchase at your store, ensuring your visitors and customers are safe is of paramount importance.

SSL for website visitors

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If you’re visiting a website and don’t intend to engage at all (via comment or purchase), your web browser is interacting with the website, regardless of your intention. Over time, seeing indications of an SSL certificate (a green lock icon in the Google Chrome address bar, for example) has come to provide a feeling of safety and trust. While it certainly benefits the website owner as well, the feeling of trust is extremely important for the visitor.

Purchasing an SSL certificate

An SSL certificate is a digitally signed addition to your domain name, which is renewed at regular intervals, usually annually. While there are companies who specialize in selling SSL certificates, it is often easiest to purchase directly through your domain name registrar or web hosting company (if they do your domain name as well).

Executive summary

If you’re running a website where your visitors are your customers or are interacting with you via the transfer of sensitive data (logging in to your membership website, paying with their credit card information, etc.), an SSL certificate is a must-have. Understanding the underlying technical details isn’t necessary to get started. The most important takeaway is the purpose for having an SSL certificate and keeping it renewed; your customer’s protection and well-being while making use of your website.

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