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The checklist for installing an SSL certificate

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

SSL certificates have become an essential security element of every website. Whether you have just a blog or a large business site, HTTPS encryption is now mandatory for everyone. If you don’t add an SSL certificate to your site, browsers will mark it as not secure. Moreover, your website won’t appear on search engine results pages unless you switch to HTTPS.

Today, SSL certificates are accessible and affordable for websites of all sizes. However, if you’re not tech-savvy, obtaining and installing the certificate on your server may be tricky. That’s why we’ve prepared an easy-to-follow SSL installation checklist to help you secure your website in no time. 

1. Get the right SSL certificate for your site

Your website determines the type of SSL certificate you need. If you’re an official business, you may consider a Business or Extended validation certificate. For blogs and personal sites, Domain Validation SSL will suffice. To secure subdomains, you need a Wildcard certificate.

2. Generate the CSR and submit it to CA

To apply for an SSL certificate, you need to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) and submit it to the Certificate Authority (CA) for validation. The CA will use your CSR to verify your identity and issue the SSL certificate. 

The CSR is a block of encoded text with your contact information. You can generate it directly on your server or use an external tool such as our CSR Decoder. In the CSR, you need to enter the domain name you want to secure, a valid email address, and info about your country and company (for BV and EV certificates).

Along with the CSR, you will also generate your private key. Make sure you keep it safe and never share it with someone you don’t fully trust.

3. Prepare the SSL files for installation

After you pass the SSL Validation process, your Certificate Authority will issue the certificate and send all the necessary installation files via email. You’ll need to download the ZIP archive and extract its contents on your local device. 

Depending on your CA, you may receive the certificates in different file formats. Usually, the primary SSL certificate is in PEM format, while the intermediate and root certs are in a .ca-bundle file. Some servers require only the primary SSL certificate, but most systems will ask you to upload both primary and intermediate certs. If you need to convert your SSL certificate into a different format,  this guide will help you.

4. Ensure you have access to your server

To install an SSL certificate, you need access to your server’s hosting account. Most servers provide a control panel with a user-friendly interface to manage the server. However, on some platforms, the only way to add SSL is via SSH (secure shell) commands. If you don’t have access to your server or aren’t familiar with commands for the terminal, you will struggle with the SSL installation.

5. Install the SSL certificate

Once you have all the necessary installation files ready and access to your server, all you have to do is upload the SSL files from your local device to the server. The tricky part is that each server has its own rules and installation guidelines when it comes to SSL. 

Since there isn’t a universal guide on how to install your certificate, you need to follow specific steps for your particular platform. We’ve written over 50 SSL installation guides covering popular servers and email clients.

6. Test your SSL installation

After you install the SSL certificate, you should scan it for potential errors and vulnerabilities. If you don’t install your cert the right way, browsers will display a connection error to visitors. A common SSL error is a missing intermediate certificate. Thankfully, there are special SSL tools to help you pinpoint the exact issue. They provide instant scans and detailed reports on your certificate.

7. Optimize your HTTPS site for the best performance

Now that your site is secure, it’s time to add the final touches to your HTTPS migration. For optimal security and SEO performance, you need to avoid mixed content and force HTTPS connections. We’ve prepared a separate SEO checklist to help you optimize your newly encrypted site.

Final words

This checklist for installing an SSL certificate will help you smoothly secure your website. Whether you’re a complete novice to SSL certificates, or a more experienced user, having these installation steps by your side will ensure proper HTTPS migration and data protection.