Google News HTTPS Upgrade in 5 Easy Steps

Many of the Google News publishers I work with have already upgraded to HTTPS protocol, but for those who haven’t, you’ve got until July 2018 to upgrade before Chrome will begin explicitly warning users that your site is “Not secure.”

Upgrading your website to HTTPS in Google News is pretty painless, but there a few things that can come up in the process that aren’t totally clear. If you’re a Google News publisher who relies on that traffic, doing anything that upsets the apple cart can be nerve wracking. Hopefully the information below helps you complete your HTTPS upgrade with confidence.

How to Do a Google News HTTPS Upgrade without Losing Traffic

Here are the basic steps to upgrade your site to HTTPS in Google News:

  1. Complete the actual content migration. Use 301 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS
  2. Verify your new HTTPS version as a new property in Google Search Console
  3. If you use a Google News XML sitemap, ensure the URLs are pointing to HTTPS
  4. Submit the updated Google News XML sitemap
  5. Update the protocol indicated in Google News Publisher Center to make it consistent with your sitemap

Easy, right? Let’s look a little closer at each step.

Content Migration

Planning for and implementing the HTTP to HTTPS redirect represents the bulk of the work for an HTTPS migration. For large publishers with complex websites, it can be a large undertaking. For smaller publishers running WordPress, for example, it might only take a couple hours.

Whatever amount of planning you have to do, make sure the end result is that you have a HTTP to HTTPS redirect that generates a 301 (permanent redirect) header response. You can test your HTTPS setup with a tool like this.

Verify in Google Search Console

People are sometimes surprised to learn that you need to verify your HTTPS version as a completely new/separate property in Google Search Console. In fact,  you should really have separate Search Console properties for each protocol, sub-domain, AMP version, language variation, etc. It can get pretty extensive.

Update News XML Sitemap

This one might seem obvious, but it’s one of those gotchas that easy to forget. Make sure all your new HTTPS URLs are showing up as such in your Google News XML sitemap.

Submit Your XML Sitemap to Google News

Now that your News XML sitemap is updated, you can add it to your HTTPS property in Google Search Console. Go to Crawl > Sitemaps and click the Add/Test Sitemap button in the upper right:

Add/Test Sitemap in Google Search Console

Note: even though you might have a “Sitemap:” line in your robots.txt file and Google may use that to crawl your pages, that’s not a reliable way to ensure your sitemap shows up in the Sitemap report in Google Search Console. Use the Add/Test Sitemap feature above to make sure you see your sitemap in the report along with any errors.

Update Google News Publisher Center

This is probably the most confusing aspect of this process since there’s conflicting information in the Google News Help Forums. Once you implement the HTTP to HTTPS redirect, Google News will pick up the change seamlessly and begin indexing your HTTPS URLs in Google News. However, when you see those properties listed in the Google News Publisher Center, the HTTP version will still show as “Included (News Index)” and the HTTPS version will have a “Request inclusion in News Index” button.

Naturally most people will attempt to request inclusion of their HTTPS version once they’ve switched. In fact, Google even states “The protocol you use in your sitemap should match the protocol of your site URL in the Publisher Center.”

Two issues that frequently come up here:

  1. Quite a few people have reported in the Google News Help Forums that clicking that “Request inclusion in News Index” for an HTTPS site that already has an approved HTTP version doesn’t do anything and they never receive a response, and
  2. There are rumors floating around the forums that requesting inclusion of the HTTPS version might trigger a re-review of your site that could potentially lead to removal from Google News.

I reached out to a member of the Google News team to get clarification on this. Bottom line: Google News recommends using the Update Domain form to let them know of the change from HTTP to HTTPS. Notifying them via that form will prompt them to update to the HTTPS protocol in the Publisher Center.  And with regard to a re-review that could lead to being remove from Google News, the answer from Google was clear: “no, that is not true for HTTPS migrations.”

It’s really a fairly easy process, but it’s those little unknowns that can be a source of concern when you’re making a change that could have direct revenue implications. For most publishers, following these guidelines will lead to a successful HTTP migration, but get in touch if you could use some help.

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