Mastodon Is Using Rel Noreferrer On Outbound Links Causing Visits To Appear As Direct Traffic In Google Analytics

Nov 10, 2022 - 7:38 am 9 by
Filed Under Web Analytics

Google Analytics Mastodon

With all of the Twitter chaos over the past few weeks, many have been flocking to Mastodon. I signed up last week and many other SEOs have signed up as well. Although there’s a bit of a learning curve, and it feels like Twitter in 2010, I must admit I’m really liking it.

The founder and CEO of Mastodon just announced this week they hit the 1M monthly active user mark, which is great to see. If you haven’t signed up yet, you should try it. And if you're wondering how to find people to follow, Jon Henshaw created a list of SEOs that are on Mastodon with links to their profiles. He even explains how to import that list and follow those people automatically.

Where's the Mastodon traffic?
As I’ve been sharing on Mastodon more, and as activity on the social network surges overall, I’ve been trying to track visits to content from Mastodon. Digging into Google Analytics yielded nothing in the past from Mastodon, so I decided to quickly check what’s going on from a tracking standpoint.

I ended up testing the tracking situation by sharing some links on Mastodon and seeing how that was tracked in Google Analytics. If you’re a user of Mastodon, and want to analyze traffic from the growing social network, I don’t think you’re going to like what I found.

Mastodon is using rel noferrer on all outbound links:
When a site owner employs the rel=“noreferrer” attribute on a link, that tells the browser to not pass the referrer via the header. So, when someone clicks a link to your site via a link with rel=“noferrer”, those visits will show up as Direct Traffic. That’s why you will not see any referrals from Mastodon (unless that changes in the future).

Here is what an outbound link looks like on Mastodon:

Mastodon No Referrer

And here is what a visit from Mastodon looks like in Google Analytics:

Mastodon traffic in Google Analytics

Is hidden Mastodon traffic a problem for the growing social network?
With Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks, you can see the traffic from those sites in your Google Analytics reporting. That surely helps site owners, social media marketers, and others better understand the value from that social network (traffic-wise, conversion-wise, etc.) With Mastodon using rel noreferrer, that traffic is mixed in with Direct Traffic, so it surely muddies the waters from an analysis standpoint.

If anything changes on that front, I’ll be sure to add to this post. And if you end up trying Mastodon, you can follow me and Barry (both of us are pretty active there now).

Update: Someone pinged me on Twitter that adding campaign parameters enables GA3 to track visits from Mastodon. I was referring to normal links posted there, which will appear as Direct Traffic. Also, it sounds like GA4 is still tracking those visits as Direct, even when campaign parameters are being used.

Here is what I see in GA3 when using campaign parameters. I included Mastodon as the source and Social as the medium:
Tracking Mastodon traffic using campaign parameters


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