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Let’s Encrypt: What Is It, and How It Compares to Paid SSL?

  • Apr 14, 2017
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  • by Brad Litwin

These days, website encryption is no longer reserved for only e-commerce and enterprise sites. With security remaining a top concern among users and search engines alike, it’s important you let people know your site is secure. Plus, it’s never been easier to obtain and set up a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate.

That’s where Let’s Encrypt comes in. This fledgling Certificate Authority (CA) has disrupted the industry during the past year by offering free Domain Validation (DV) certificates to any qualifying site. You get to protect your visitors’ security, they get more peace of mind, and you don’t have to spend a dollar while you’re at it. It’s a winning proposition.

In this article, we’ll discuss Let’s Encrypt’s history, what it can offer you, and how it compares to other CAs in the field. Let’s jump right in!

An Introduction to Let’s Encrypt

If you’ve ever had to obtain and set up an SSL certificate for a website, then you know the process could stand to be simpler. Let’s Encrypt launched in April 2016 with the sole intent of simplifying this procedure.

To that end, the project sought to automate the process of issuing and renewing DV certificates, and has been a great success. The focus on making encryption accessible to the masses has made Let’s Encrypt incredibly popular, even though the project is barely a year old.

In fact, plenty of popular web hosts these days are recommending their users set up SSL certificates through LE. In our case, we’re happy to set up an Let’s Encrypt certificate for most of our plans at no additional cost.

What Let’s Encrypt Offers You

As mentioned, Let’s Encrypt’s major goal is to simplify the process of obtaining and installing an SSL certificate. If you’ve done this through other CAs in the past, the major benefits of using Let’s Encrypt are evident – not only does it save you a lot of hassle, it also means you won’t have to pay for yearly renewals.

On the other hand, if you haven’t dealt with SSL certificates before, here are some of the most important features Let’s Encrypt can offer you:

  1. Heightened security. An SSL certificate enables you to use the HTTPS protocol throughout your site.
  2. Less micromanaging. Obtaining and renewing certificates is usually a hassle, but Let’s Encrypt keeps things simple.
  3. Better Search Engine Optimization (SEO). These days, search engines are strongly encouraging website owners to use the HTTPS protocol on their sites. In practice, this may translate to better SEO results.

At this point, Let’s Encrypt might sound like the perfect option if you’ve never dealt with SSL certificates before, but let’s see how it holds up against other authorities.

How Let’s Encrypt Compares to Other Certificate Authorities

Of course, while there are clear benefits to using Let’s Encrypt, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider other options. In this section we’ll talk about three major differences between Let’s Encrypt and other CAs, including where it shines and where it falls short.

1. The Number of Options Available

The biggest difference between Let’s Encrypt and other major CAs is that the former only provides its users with DV certificates. These are fine for most simple websites, but they’re not the only type available, and they aren’t enough for certain operations. For example, if you’re running an e-commerce or enterprise site, you’ll probably want to opt for an Extended Validation (EV) certificate, which comes with higher verification standards.

2. Issuance and Renewal Processes

The process of setting up a certificate using Let’s Encrypt is a lot simpler than with other DV options. Also, many web hosts offer to set things up on your behalf, which isn’t the case for many others CAs. Let’s Encrypt does require you to renew your certificate each 90 days, although the process can be automated. On the other hand, other CAs typically offer certificates with much longer durations (up to three years in some cases).

3. Price

It’s difficult to compete with a $0 price tag, especially when other CAs charge arguably high rates for similar certificates. Here are a few examples:

With those kinds of prices, it’s no wonder that Let’s Encrypt is gaining traction quickly among web hosts and users alike. It’s worth noting however that since Let’s Encrypt certificates are free, you don’t get access to any type of insurance to cover you in the event of a security breach, which is something other CAs offer.

In short, as long as you’re happy with a simple DV certificate, Let’s Encrypt is a reliable option.


Let’s Encrypt may not be the perfect solution for every website, but it’s a great alternative for many of them. Furthermore, this service makes setting up an SSL certificate remarkably easy, which means you have no excuse not to do it. Not only will it enable you to keep your visitors’ information safe, it may also help with your SEO efforts.

Best of all, obtaining a Let’s Encrypt certificate won’t cost you a penny. With other CAs charging up to hundreds of dollars per year for some types of certificates, opting for a comparable free alternative might be the smart choice.

Have you already set up SSL for your website, and if not, what’s holding you back? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

Image credit: Pixabay.

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