Google will now give preference in its search rankings to websites that are more secure, particularly highlighting pages that have HTTPS encryption by default.
The search engine has been testing the possibility of giving prominence to encrypted pages, and will now roll out the results across its algorithms.
The decision could encourage more sites to turn on encryption, which makes them less vulnerable to hacking.
Encryption is used to digitally scramble data as it passes between a user’s device and an online service in order to prevent others eavesdropping on the information.
It is used by many, but not all, sites that show a little padlock and use a web address beginning HTTPS. The “S” stands for secure.
However, the changes won’t take hold instantly. Google said that – for the time being – whether a site was encrypted or not would not be a crucial factor in how they ranked sites.
“For now it’s only a very lightweight signal – affecting fewer than 1 per cent of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content – while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS,” Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji and Gary Illyes said in a blog post.
“But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”
David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, has previously said the US needed to change its approach to intelligence to restore trust in the internet.
In 2011, Google introduced HTTPS by default on its popular Gmail service.
Yahoo moved all its users’ data to secure servers in March 2014, and Facebook committed to secure browsing by default since July 2013.