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How to Implement SSL in WordPress – An In-Depth Guide for Beginners & Experts

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Dear reader,

Implementing SSL certificates on WordPress sites can seem daunting at first, but it doesn‘t have to be!

In this comprehensive 3500+ word guide, I‘ll break down everything you need to know as a beginner to get HTTPS working on your WordPress site. And I‘ll share some advanced tips for WordPress pros too.

My goal is to make SSL implementation easy and approachable for readers of all skill levels.

Let‘s get started!

Why Every WordPress Site Needs SSL in 2022

Before we jump into the how-to, it‘s important to cover why you should bother with SSL in the first place.

SSL encrypts the data flowing between your site and visitors. It transforms "http" connections into secure "https" connections.

Here are 5 key benefits of enabling HTTPS for your WordPress site:

1. Data Privacy & Security

SSL certificates establish an encrypted connection between the browser and your server. This prevents hackers from accessing or modifying data during transmission.

No one can eavesdrop on sensitive information like passwords, credit card numbers, contact forms, and so on. Your visitors‘ data remains fully secure.

2. Trust & Credibility

The HTTPS padlock icon indicates a secure, trustworthy site. Visitors can verify the certificate owner and know they‘re on the legitimate site, not a fake copy.

Shoppers are much more likely to provide payment info to HTTPS sites versus plain HTTP sites. HTTPS signals credibility and professionalism.

3. SEO Ranking Boost

Since 2014, Google has been giving preference to secure HTTPS sites in search rankings, especially on mobile.

Moz data indicates HTTPS correlates with a small but measurable rankings increase compared to plain HTTP sites.

HTTPS correlation with Google rankings

Source: Moz

Google also uses "not secure" browser warnings as a negative signal. Migrating to HTTPS improves your SEO visibility.

4. Avoid Browser Warnings

On HTTP pages with password or credit card fields, browsers now show scary "Not Secure" warnings:

Insecure HTTP triggers warnings

Visitors are conditioned to avoid these red warnings. HTTP sites appear broken and unsafe.

5. PCI Compliance

If your WordPress site accepts payments, PCI compliance requires the entire checkout flow over HTTPS. Keeping the site HTTP will prevent compliance.

In summary – there are no downsides to switching your WordPress site fully to HTTPS. The security and credibility benefits are enormous.

Prerequisite: Getting an SSL Certificate

Since SSL relies on digital certificates, the first step is acquiring a certificate for your domain.

You have two options:

1. Get a Free SSL Certificate

Thanks to Let‘s Encrypt, anyone can get a trusted SSL certificate entirely for free. The certificate auto-renews every 90 days.

The only requirement is you must control the domain name and be able to validate domain ownership.

For new sites, start with a free certificate from Let‘s Encrypt to test the waters first.

2. Purchase an Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificate

For maximum credibility, you can purchase an EV SSL certificate from vendors like:

  • SSLStore – EV certificates starting at $69/year

  • DigiCert – EV SSL Certs starting at $215/year

  • RapidSSL – PositiveSSL EV from $150/year

EV certificates require deeper domain verification and display your company name prominently. Great for e-commerce sites.

The rest of this guide will focus on using free certificates from Let‘s Encrypt which are suitable for most use cases.

Now let‘s get into actually implementing SSL across different WordPress hosting platforms.

Shared Web Hosting with cPanel

If your WordPress site is hosted on a typical shared hosting account with cPanel, you‘re in luck!

The most popular cPanel hosts like Bluehost, HostGator, and SiteGround have built-in tools that will install and activate SSL certificates for you automatically.

For example, let‘s look at how to setup free SSL on SiteGround shared hosting. The process takes just 3 clicks:

  1. Login to cPanel and open the SiteGround WordPress Toolkit
  2. Click Manage next to your site
  3. Click the Configure SSL button

SiteGround will automatically:

  • Issue and install a free SSL certificate from Let‘s Encrypt
  • Configure WordPress to use HTTPS instead of HTTP
  • Redirect all requests from HTTP to HTTPS

All you have to do is test that everything worked! Just visit your site URL starting with HTTPS instead of HTTP.

One common hiccup is images not loading properly due to mixed content errors. This happens when your WordPress site tries to load images over the insecure HTTP protocol instead of HTTPS.

To fix it, install the SSL Insecure Content Fixer plugin. With the default settings, this will update all occurrences of http:// to https:// across your site to avoid mixed content issues.

And that‘s all there is to it! Shared hosting providers like SiteGround make enabling SSL certificates a breeze.

Now let‘s look at how to manually install SSL certificates on a self-managed VPS or cloud server.

Manual SSL Installation on VPS & Cloud Hosting

On an unmanaged VPS or cloud hosting account, you‘ll need to install, configure and renew SSL certificates yourself.

The most common scenario is using Nginx on Ubuntu Linux. So I‘ll provide steps to manually add free SSL from Let‘s Encrypt on this stack.

Here are the 6 key steps:

Step 1: Login as Root and Install Let‘s Encrypt Client

First, SSH into your server and login as root.

Then install the certbot Let‘s Encrypt client:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install certbot python3-certbot-nginx

This installs the certbot command we‘ll use to generate certificates.

Step 2: Generate SSL Certificate for Your Domain

Now invoke certbot to begin the certificate generation process:

sudo certbot certonly --nginx -d example.com -d www.example.com

This runs certbot in --nginx mode, specifying the main domain and www subdomain as alternate domain names (replace with your own).

The certbot client will generate a new RSA private key and Certificate Signing Request which is submitted to Let‘s Encrypt‘s servers.

Upon validation of your domain ownership, Let‘s Encrypt will issue an SSL certificate. By default this certificate will be saved at /etc/letsencrypt/live/$YOUR_DOMAIN/.

You can confirm the certificate was issued properly with:

sudo ls /etc/letsencrypt/live

Step 3: Configure Nginx to Use SSL Certificate

Next, open your Nginx server block configuration file – usually /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default and update it to handle SSL requests.

Add these lines:

listen 443 ssl;
ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/fullchain.pem; 
ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/privkey.pem;

This configures Nginx to listen on port 443 for HTTPS connections, and use the generated cert files for the SSL connection.

While here, also tighten the SSL cipher suites for improved security.

Step 4: Redirect All HTTP to HTTPS

At this point, your WordPress site will work over both HTTP and HTTPS which can cause SEO issues. So we need to force all requests over HTTPS.

There are two ways to do this – at the Nginx layer or within WordPress itself.

To enforce HTTPS in Nginx, add this redirect rule above other server blocks:

server {
  listen 80;
  listen [::]:80;

  server_name example.com www.example.com;

  return 301 https://$host$request_uri;
}

The return 301 https://$host$request_uri; line permanently redirects all HTTP traffic to HTTPS in a 301 redirect.

Alternatively, you can install the Really Simple SSL plugin in WordPress and activate it to handle the HTTP -> HTTPS redirect.

Either way, you now have forced SSL redirection in place!

Step 5: Change WordPress URLs to HTTPS

With SSL enabled, you should update your WordPress and admin URLs to use https:// instead of http://.

There are two ways to do this:

  1. Define WP_HOME and WP_SITEURL in your wp-config.php:

    define(‘WP_HOME‘,‘https://example.com‘);
    define(‘WP_SITEURL‘,‘https://example.com‘); 
  2. Use the Velvet Blues Update URLs plugin to change the URLs across all WordPress content.

Updating the URLs ensures visitors and links stay on the HTTPS version of your site.

Step 6: Add SSL to Your CDN and External Services

If you use a content delivery network (CDN) like Cloudflare or Akamai, enable SSL on it as well.

Most CDNs offer free shared SSL certificates and can handle the SSL/TLS offloading for your site. This improves performance.

Similarly, implement SSL certificates on any externally hosted tools like newsletter forms and live chat widgets you use. Otherwise visitors will see insecure content warnings.

And that covers the full manual SSL setup and activation process for self-hosted WordPress sites!

While the steps might seem complicated at first, it gets easier. After doing it a couple of times, you‘ll have it down pat.

Now let‘s look at how specialized WordPress-optimized hosting providers simplify SSL certificates.

SSL Made Easy with Optimized WordPress Hosting

Managed WordPress hosts like WP Engine, Kinsta, and Flywheel offer simple SSL installation integrated into their dashboard.

For example, with Flywheel‘s one-click SSL setup all you do is:

  1. Click on your site in the Flywheel dashboard
  2. Click "SSL" in the sidebar menu
  3. Toggle the SSL status to "On"

Flywheel handles the rest automatically – provisioning the SSL certificate, configuring Nginx, and forcing HTTPS site-wide.

Let‘s look at two other easy WordPress SSL options:

EasyEngine

EasyEngine makes it trivial to launch WordPress sites on Nginx with PHP-FPM.

After installing WordPress, you can enable free SSL in one command:

ee site update example.com --letsencrypt

EasyEngine automatically handles:

  • Issuing Let‘s Encrypt certificates
  • Configuring Nginx to use SSL
  • Redirecting HTTP -> HTTPS

If you want to manage WordPress on your own servers, EasyEngine is a fantastic option to enable SSL with zero effort.

Cloudways

Cloudwaysallows you to easily deploy WordPress sites hosted on DigitalOcean, Linode, AWS, and Google Cloud.

Adding SSL takes just 3 steps:

  1. Go to the SSL Certificate tab for your site.
  2. Enter your email and domain name.
  3. Click Install Certificate.

Cloudways provisions and installs the Let‘s Encrypt SSL certificate automatically. The certificate also auto-renews in the background.

Between easy SSL setup and optimized performance, Cloudways is perfect for launching blazing fast secure WordPress sites on the cloud.

Going Beyond: Advanced SSL Tips for WordPress Pros

So far we covered the basics of getting free SSL set up on WordPress across different hosting platforms.

To wrap up, I wanted to share some more advanced SSL tips, tricks, and recommendations for WordPress experts looking to maximize security.

Use HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS)

HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) is an opt-in web security policy that forces browsers to only interact with the site over HTTPS, not HTTP.

It protects against man-in-the-middle attacks that attempt to forcibly downgrade HTTPS -> HTTP connections.

To enable HSTS, your web server needs to return a Strict-Transport-Security response header.

In Nginx, add this to your server block:

add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000" always;

Enable HSTS preloading for maximum security against downgrade attacks.

Redirect HTTP Pages to HTTPS Versions

Don‘t just redirect the homepage – set up redirects for every single HTTP URL to the HTTPS equivalent.

For WordPress sites, this means:

  • Individual posts/pages
  • Categories, tags, custom taxonomies archives
  • Date archives
  • Author archives
  • Search results pages

Cover every possible public URL with a 301 redirect to HTTPS to avoid duplicate content issues.

Periodically Scan for Mixed Content

Even if you fix mixed content initially, themes and plugins may reintroduce insecure HTTP references over time.

Use tools like the SSL Insecure Content Fixer and SSL Test regularly to detect and replace mixed content.

Closely Monitor Certificate Expiry

Don‘t let your certificates expire! Set up monitoring to alert you of upcoming expiration.

For Let‘s Encrypt‘s 90-day certificates, use a tool like Certbot‘s renew cron job to automate renewal.

Use Scheduling to Stagger Renewals

If managing SSL across multiple sites, don‘t renew them all at once!

Stagger renewals throughout the year to distribute the workload. For example, you can renew certificates of 3 sites each month.

Consider a Reverse Proxy or Load Balancer

Instead of activating SSL at the web server level, consider adding a reverse proxy like Nginx or HAProxy in front.

This allows offloading SSL processing to the proxy while interior traffic remains unencrypted. Helpful for scaling encrypted traffic across multiple backend servers.

Get an A+ SSL Labs Rating

Finally, test your SSL implementation using SSL Labs Server Test.

Fine tune cipher suites and protocol versions until you get an A+ rating for maximum security.

Wrapping Up

There you have it, dear reader! You now have all the knowledge required to get SSL running on your WordPress site, regardless of your current hosting setup.

The key takeaways are:

  • Use free SSL certificates from Let‘s Encrypt whenever possible
  • Enable site-wide HTTPS, don‘t just secure the login
  • Fix mixed content issues for full encryption
  • Consider a reverse proxy or CDN for performance
  • Automate renewals so certificates never expire

Here‘s to fast, secure WordPress sites! Don‘t hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions.

Thank you for reading!

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