You need an SSL certificate for your website. And that’s not me telling you. That’s Google. Google has been giving search engine ranking bonuses to websites with SSL certificates since 2014. Three years later, if you haven’t gotten your certificate yet you’re behind the times (and probably behind the first search engine results page on Google). But if you’re asking yourself “Which SSL certificate should I buy?” that’s a valid question. But you also need to determine if a free SSL certificate is right for you. In this post, we discuss the pros and cons of free vs. paid SSL certificates.
What’s an SSL certificate?
SSL stands for “Secure Sockets Layer.” SSL certificates are used to authenticate a website’s identity and establish a secure, encrypted connection. Google is passionate about SSL certificates because they offer data security. Without an SSL certificate, users on unprotected sites are more likely to have information stolen from them.
You can verify that a website has an SSL certificate if it uses “HTTPS” instead of just the old “HTTP.” If you use a Chrome browser, you’ll see a green lock with the text that reads “Secure” next to it if a site is encrypted. Sites will also often have a seal of approval to let you know that a site is secure.
Why should I pay for an SSL certificate?
The biggest reason to pay for an SSL certificate instead of going with a free version is the liability protection. With a paid certificate, you’ll have better liability protection. This means that in the event of a data breach, you are insured based on your warranty level. Free certificates don’t offer the same advantage. This is particularly important for ecommerce stores where customers are entering sensitive information like credit card numbers and personal addresses.
Paid SSL certificates allow you the option of choosing 1-year or 2-year certificates. Free versions don’t give you the same option (more on that in a bit).
Also, consider choosing a paid SSL certificate if you’re setting this up yourself. If you or your team don’t have a ton of technical experience, you’ll want some help setting up your SSL certificate. Paying for an SSL certificate means you’ll be able to contact technical support with any questions you have—it will also help guarantee you install your certificate correctly.
Free sounds great, what’s the catch?
Free SSL certificates are enticing for small companies or independent freelancers who don’t want to spend if they don’t have to. And while free certificates can offer you similar protection to a paid SSL certificate, there are a few caveats.
Let’s Encrypt is one of the more popular free SSL certificates out there. One of the issues with Let’s Encrypt is the renewal process. You will need to renew your certificate every 90 days. Paid SSL certificates often renew every year or every 2 years.
Free SSL certificates currently don’t offer wildcard SSL certificates. Let’s Encrypt is working on it, but it’s not quite here yet. Wildcard SSL certificates protect primary domains and an unlimited number of their subdomains. If you have a large site with multiple subdomains, you’ll need to invest in a paid certificate until Let’s Encrypt unveils their free version.
Another negative of going with free vs. paid SSL certificates is the absence of customer support. Paying guarantees you some human contact if you run into any issues when setting up your SSL certificate.
How do I get an SSL certificate?
There are a variety of ways to get an SSL certificate. The easiest way to acquire an SSL certificate is from your hosting site. Some hosts will even include it in your service. Sites like WPEngine make it easy for you by not only including SSL certificates as a part of your service, but giving you the option between paid or free. You can switch to one or the other at any time.
Answering the question “Which SSL certificate I should buy” is completely up to you. But now that you know your options, you should be able to make an informed decision.