Hackernoon logoIs "no-referrer" back-linking harming your SEO? Learn tag differences that make you rank higher! by@briandordevic

Is "no-referrer" back-linking harming your SEO? Learn tag differences that make you rank higher!

Brian Dordevic Hacker Noon profile picture

@briandordevicBrian Dordevic

10 years of Strategic planning for Search Engine Marketing and Technical Lead for web apps.

This article will present you with the differences of rel attributes and how you can use them either to boost and protect your SEO ranking positions.

Backlinking is still one of the most commonly performed practices for boosting your website and acquiring high ranking positions in search engines.

Google has listed more than 200 ranking factors that participate in deciding which page to put on a first, second, or third position on the first page, and one of the most important factors that influence Google's algorithm is backlinks.

Search engines consider the backlinks as votes. The more relevant backlinks you have from the websites with the high domain authority, the higher your ranking position will be.

This shows that quality is still more important than quantity. Too many acquired backlinks in some short time, according to search engine standards, can harm your website ranking positions more than you could imagine. In addition to this, the more backlinks you have from websites that are more relevant and not easy to get the link from, the more search engines will appreciate it.

In order to attain more backlinks, many top-rated websites started to use black hat SEO strategies by implementing spammy websites and links, creating an artificial environment for link building. This was a sign to Google and other search engines to change the ranking propositions and set the algorithm differently.

Launching the rel attributes inside HTML supported Google to manage and estimate the backlinks correctly, allowing the website owners to defend its ranking positions and protect it from spammy links, but also use some of those attributes as a way of a link building strategy.

Google strikes back: Enabling rel="nofollow."

When in 2005, Google finally noticed an incredibly enlarged comment spams traffic, used by people who wanted to find a shortcut for reaching the first position in SERP, Google, as an answer, enabled the rel="nofollow."

By introducing a rel="nofollow," Google supported its users with an option to defend their SEO rankings results, and furthermore, to block those spams and disable them to get any credit in the search results.


Hence, adding a rel "nofollow" to the hyperlink allowed users for the first time to instruct the search engines not to pass any page rank to a malicious website and signify that this specific webpage is not trustworthy. More precisely, using a rel="nofollow" instructed the search engines to neglect that link for SEO purposes and put the attention where it is actually needed.

Is rel="nofollow" impacting the SEO results?

In 2019, Google changed the rules connected to the "nofollow" attribute. Not recognizing the "nofollow" tag as a strict directive, but as a hint, gave Google the right not to follow the "nofollow" tag directive. Although the users still can mark the "nofollow" attribute option, Google has not the obligation to follow this rule.

On March 1, 2020, Google declared that the "nofollow" attribute has become only a hint for crawling and indexing purposes and that this attribute can positively affect your ranking positions on Google.

Furthermore, Google has introduced two new options connected to the "nofollow" attribute. Since it has endorsed a specific need for paid quality links, Google has presented rel="sponsored" that can be added on the "nofollow" tag, implying that a specific link is a sponsored content or a promoted post. Google decided to introduce the rel="sponsored" because it supports it to make a difference between paid and organic traffic.

The second newish option stands for User Generated Content, such as comments, forum posts, and links within user-generated content. Adding the rel="UGC" on the "nofollow" tag is enabling the identification of the links created by users, which are necessarily not completely trustful.

How using the rel="no referrer" can hurt your ranking positions?

A very useful insight in the analytic reports provided by Google can be an Acquisition report that shows the referral traffic, apropos, from which source the traffic is coming to the particular website. At a technical level, using the rel="no referrer" instructs the browser to eliminate the traffic source from the HTTP reader.

To prevent the referrer information transition and remove the referral info is allowed by using the rel="noreferrer" tag, which is an HTML attribute that is usually added to link tag <a>. This implies that Google Analytics, for example, will recognize this traffic as direct instead of referral.

Let's see an example that will describe in-detail how rel="noreferrer" functions.

Imagine that you set the link from website A to website B, not using the rel "no referrer." When checking out the Google Analytics Acquisition Report, the website's B owner will see that traffic is coming to its website as referral traffic and will exactly know from which source those visitors are referred.

On the other hand, if the owner of website A decides to use the rel "noreferrer," the owner of website B will not have an opportunity to see the exact source from which the visitors are coming. Instead of it, the traffic is categorized as a direct one in Google Analytics Report, which means that there will be no provided exact address from which the traffic is derived from.


Hence, whenever you don't want to provide the source address to the website you are linking to, you will use the rel "no referrer.

The only situation when you should avoid using the rel "noreferrer" is internal linking because using this option could make a real mess in Google's report.

Is rel="noreferrer" really impacting your SEO results?

Adding the "noreferrer" tag to your links does not directly impact your SEO results. As you guess, setting the "noreferrer" tag to your links affects it indirectly in terms of link building and paid ads.

As Google states, the transparency of the used data source on your website can be very useful. Once the quoted website owner notices the link, it could be an inspiration for setting a backlink back to your website and returning you the favor. In this case, a positive influence on your SEO results is guaranteed.

Be aware that using the "noreferrer" tag means that this information will not be visible, and thus the possibility of backlinking to your website will be significantly reduced.

When it comes to the question if the rel "noreferrer" has an impact on Affiliate links, the answer is pretty simple. Since those reward programs are mainly based on the affiliate ID that is already included in the link, using the rel "noreferrer" can not impact the Affiliate links in any way.

What is a difference between rel="nofollow" and rel="noreferrer"?

The essential difference between rel="no follow" and rel="noreferrer" is in the enabled feature for tracking the link. While the rel "noreferrer" provides information to the search engines, and the link is followed, the rel "nofollow" is suspending it.

Let's summarize it. Usage of rel "nofollow" on the external links is a perfect fit for the links you don't trust or want to block and give a directive to search engine neglect those links for SEO purposes.


Using rel="noreferrer," on the other hand, is a good choice whenever you want to cover the referred links' information and hide the source of the traffic. However, you should be aware that this could indirectly affect your SEO ranking position.

Understanding the interaction between HTML and SEO is of essential importance because HTML provides multiple options to search engines to better understand the data on the specific website.

Considering HTML as an SEO tool will be a wise decision that can positively affect your SEO strategy and boost your rankings beyond expectations.

Brian Dordevic Hacker Noon profile picture
by Brian Dordevic @briandordevic. 10 years of Strategic planning for Search Engine Marketing and Technical Lead for web apps. Make It.


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