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Free SSL vs. Paid SSL: Which One Should You Choose?

Internet security is paramount to let users know that your site is safe for them. SSL acts as the gatekeeper to a secure Internet. It provides privacy, crucial security, and essential data integrity for both your site and the personal information of your users. This is why an SSL is vital for your online business.

What Is an SSL?

SSL stands for a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate, a type of website encryption key that is vital in order to protect your site and its visitors from hackers. With an SSL certificate in place, your data can only be read by the server you are sending it to.

Free SSL vs. Paid SSL: HTTP vs HTTPS

Caption: HTTP vs HTTPS (source)

It’s easy to spot an SSL-secured website as its URL starts with HTTPS rather than HTTP.

What Types of SSL Are Available?

Basically, you have two choices – A free (or, cheap) SSL certificate is available to anyone who owns a domain name. A paid SSL gives you the same basic service plus several additional features.

The following compares free SSL vs. paid SSL to help you decide which service is the most suitable for your website. However, first, it’s important to understand what validation is provided between free and paid.

Validation Levels

SSL certificates vary based on the level of validation they provide. There are three main validation options, each offering a higher level of security than the last:

  • Domain Validation (DV) (Free or Cheap)
  • Organization Validation (OV) (Paid)
  • Extended Validation (EV) (Paid)

Domain Validation SSL

A domain validation SSL (DV) certificate is quick and easy to get because all you need to do is prove your ownership of the domain you wish to secure.

Organization Validated SSL

An organization-validated SSL (OV) certificate provides validation and a higher level of assurance to your visitors that the website belongs to a legitimate business. OV validates website ownership as well as organization information.

Extended Validation SSL

An extended validation SSL (EV) certificate provides your customers with the highest levels of encryption, security, and trust. EV validates your physical, legal, and operational identity.

Free SSL

Free SSL is a popular option – you just can’t beat the price! However, currently, free SSL only gives you a DV certificate. While this is probably sufficient for smaller and more personal-oriented sites, larger organizations and e-commerce sites often need a higher validation level.

Here are the particulars of a free SSL:

  • It’s easy to source and install a free SSL and get your website up and running in no time. Plus, it’s simple to obtain free certificates for several domains.
  • A DV certificate only validates your ownership of the domain. It does not authenticate anything about your website. In other words, it doesn’t verify whether a particular domain belongs to the correct entity.
  • A free SSL does not provide direct support to users faced with technical issues. However, you can access a community support forum enabling users to assist each other. You also don’t get any warranty against data thefts or any other kinds of cybersecurity breaches.
  • Free SSL certificates are valid for a maximum of 90 days. However, renewing your certificate is automated, which means your site isn’t temporarily left without protection.

Paid SSL

A paid SSL is obviously not free. When deciding on a paid SSL, you will need to select a Certificate Authority (CA), the business you’ll buy your certificate from. Fortunately, many CAs offer reasonable prices for a paid SSL, starting at around $49.95 per year for a single domain.

Here are the main features of a paid SSL:

  • An OV or EV certificate not only verifies the domain’s ownership but also verifies the website’s business identity. This is an in-depth verification carried out by the CA.
  • If your site is secured with an OV or EV certificate, it is more likely to be displayed as secure in browsers, which improves visitor confidence in your site.
  • A paid SSL will typically provide you with some-level-of direct technical support. In addition, a paid plan generally provides a warranty – insurance against fraudulent transactions and other potentially problematic issues.
  • A paid SSL has a longer lifespan than a free SSL, usually between one and three years. Renewals may be effected automatically or manually, depending on your provider.
  • You will likely be required to go through some formalities before the certificate can be issued and installed.

More Benefits of an SSL

SSL certificates are the foundation of a more secure internet and protect sensitive information sent out over the web. In addition, securing your site this way can also result in the following benefits:

  • Enhanced Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and better rankings: Google regards sites with an SSL certificate as more worthy of trust and is more likely to rank them higher on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
  • Improved visitor trust: Adding an SSL certificate improves your users’ trust level since it proves that you or your business actually owns your site.
  • Reduced shopping cart abandonment: This problem will tend to decrease thanks to the increased trust of your potential customers.

Note: Google currently marks a site without an HTTPS connection as unsecured. Most users will be reluctant to make payments on a site with an unsecured warning. So not implementing SSL could result in a reduction in traffic and lost sales.

Free SSL vs. Paid SSL: Conclusion

Ultimately, your decision should be based on the needs of your site.

Free SSL is a good choice for small websites just starting out, especially if you’re not sure you’ll want to maintain the site over the long term. If your site is successful and begins to grow, you can always upgrade to a paid SSL.

The extra layer of security you’ll get from a paid SSL will enhance the protection of sensitive user and customer data, reassure your potential customers, and benefit your search engine rankings. If your site is used for business or e-commerce, especially if it has an “add to cart” feature and payment details, an investment in a paid SSL is likely to be well worth the upfront cost.

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