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I do back-end work work for a couple of fairly knowledgeable people in the SEO field (i.e. not people off the street just claiming to be SEO experts). One of them is advising that HSTS improves SEO, while the other asserts it makes no difference.

I have found some articles on the web talking about HSTS and SEO, but it seems to me that they are low quality articles, or articles pushing an agenda. The best take-away I could get from these articles is that SEO reduces page load time by doing away with the time for a 301 redirect. This does not make sense to me as I would assume that Google would just index the HTTPS site.

Does anyone have insights into whether Google takes HSTS into account when doing SEO, and relatedly, does implementing HSTS preload have any impact?

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    SEO is a moving goalpost, but I have discovered the official advice from Google - at 24 July 2018 is that Google do not use HSTS as a ranking signal - youtube.com/watch?v=a9dzpSfFVvc
    – davidgo
    Oct 22 '20 at 10:19
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To my knowledge Google does not give any special weight to HSTS as a ranking signal, though they do recommend using it. They do use HTTPS as a ranking signal.

The best take-away I could get from these articles is that SEO reduces page load time by doing away with the time for a 301 redirect. This does not make sense to me as I would assume that Google would just index the HTTPS site.

There is some merit to the idea that avoiding the redirect is helpful, though for a site already established on HTTPS I'd expect it to be a small consideration.

While you're right that Google will only index HTTPS if it's being enforced with permanent redirects, they still have to crawl HTTP URLs if there are links pointing to them — and as a result, of course, the bot is redirected.

There are basically two reasons why that's undesirable for SEO:

  1. As you've noted, it's an unnecessary addition to the load time.
  2. Google's equation for PageRank includes a damping factor (good explanation here). It's understood that this "damping" applies not just to the link itself but also to any redirects along the way, effectively multiplying the decay of value that reaches the destination.

Again, in most cases I'd expect these things to be relatively minor considerations.

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    Bear in my mind also that header-based HSTS has no impact on the initial visit, because the browser has never seen your site before, unless your site is included in the preload lists. Oct 23 '20 at 8:02

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