Update: TinyMCE, the plugin mentioned in this article, has reversed the change that was causing the referral data to be lost. Once WordPress has updated their distribution to utilise the latest version, and websites update to the latest version of WordPress, this issue should be resolved - great news!
A recent change to WordPress may lower the number of reported referral visitors to your website.
An update to a plugin - TinyMCE - that is widely used by WordPress (a CMS that powers 24% of all websites) has been updated. This is a positive change that resolves a potential security exploit that could allow an attacker to steal your details. This security fix has, however, caused a change that affects how web analytics software can report the number of referrals your website receives.
The security fix applies the attribute rel="noreferrer noopener" to all external links from a WordPress website. The "noreferrer" attribute advises web browsers to hide the originating website URL from the destination website (i.e. when you click on a link on a WordPress website the site you visit will not know that you came from the originating source). Web analytics software vendors rely on this field to provide referral website data, and without it will not be able to provide data on these referring visitors. Instead, it will track all of these visits as "Direct".
This has no effect on SEO
This attribute, although similar to "nofollow", is completely separate and will not impact your websites' SEO efforts. Backlinks from websites that contain the "noreferrer noopener" attribute will continue to provide their full SEO value.
Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to avoid losing this data, in a similar way to the (not provided) change to organic keywords a few years ago. Without a change from WordPress, and/or TinyMCE, that reverses this change, the data will be lost moving forward and any website that uses WordPress will not show up in your referral logs - even if they do send significant numbers of visitors to your website. We suggest you keep this in mind when reviewing your data, it may not be showing you the whole truth.
This post was created in 2017 and some of the content may no longer be relevant.
If you’re interested in learning more about WordPress and website development, see our website development services.
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