SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates are essential tools for ensuring the security and privacy of websites. They help to encrypt the data that is transferred between the server and the user’s web browser, ensuring that sensitive information such as credit card numbers, usernames, and passwords are protected from prying eyes. Any website URL that starts with HTTPS:// (notice the s) as opposed to HTTP://(no S) is secured by an SSL certificate.
Today, having an SSL certificate on a website is a must. If you don’t, visitors are most likely to leave your website, the web browser will raise warning about the authenticity and safety of your website and if you are concerned about Search Engine Optimization(SEO), then your ranking will severely be affected.
Luckily SSL certificates are very accessible today than they were 5 years ago. That’s because website owners have two options: free and paid. While both options offer secure encryption for websites, there are some differences between the two that website owners should be aware of.
Free SSL Certificates
Free SSL certificates are offered by Certificate Authorities (CAs) that provide SSL certificates for website owners. These certificates are typically domain-validated, meaning that the CA only verifies that the website owner has control of the domain name, rather than verifying the identity of the organization or individual that owns the website. For most website owners, having a domain-validated SSL certificate is enough. Users might care less about the actual identity of the organization or company behind the website. Besides, a lot of websites are owned by individuals.
Examples of free SSL certificate providers include Let’s Encrypt, Cloudflare, and Comodo. Let’s Encrypt is the most popular and you can read by comparison between Let’s Encrypt and Cloudflare.
One of the main benefits of free SSL certificates is that they are, as the name suggests, completely free. This makes them a popular choice for small businesses, non-profits, and personal websites that may not have the budget for a paid SSL certificate. Additionally, free SSL certificates are often easy to obtain and can be installed relatively quickly. In most cases your website hosting company is already providing it for you at no additional cost.
However, there are some potential downsides to using a free SSL certificate. For example, domain-validated certificates may not be suitable for websites that require a higher level of security, such as e-commerce sites that process sensitive financial information.
Paid SSL Certificates
Paid SSL certificates, on the other hand, are offered by reputable CAs that provide a more comprehensive range of certificate options. These certificates can be domain-validated, but they can also be organization-validated or extended validation, which requires more rigorous verification of the website owner’s identity.
The main benefit of paid SSL certificates is that they offer a higher level of security and trust. With a paid SSL certificate, visitors to the website will see a green padlock icon in their web browser, which signifies that the website is verified and secure. This can help build trust with visitors and increase the website’s credibility. They can greatly reduce Phishing from hackers and websites that pretend to the legitimate website.
Financial organizations such as Banks, Insurance companies, Payment gateways, and e-commerce stores usually have these extended validation SSL certificates. That’s because they require much higher levels of trust from their users. However, they are becoming less popular nowadays.
Paid SSL certificate providers also typically offer more comprehensive customer support, which can be particularly beneficial for businesses that require assistance with installation or troubleshooting. Companies such as DigiCert, Globalsign, and Godaddy, offer these paid Extended Validation(EV) certificates.
However, the main disadvantage of paid SSL certificates is the cost. Depending on the type of certificate and the provider, the cost of a paid SSL certificate can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars per year. For instance, an EV SSL certificate from Globalsign starts from $199/year. This cost can be prohibitive for some website owners, particularly those just starting out.
In summary, both free and paid SSL certificates offer secure encryption for websites, but there are some differences that website owners should consider when choosing which option to use. Free SSL certificates are a good choice for small websites that require basic security, while paid SSL certificates offer a higher level of security and trust, but come with a cost. Ultimately, the decision of which type of SSL certificate to use will depend on the needs and budget of the website owner.
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