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Blog Exercises: Trackbacks

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Trackbacks are like an invitation to a party. It is also like legitimate gossip. Trackbacks are notes telling you that someone is talking about you. Trackbacks are part of the important connections that form the true sense of the “web” on the Internet.

WordPress and most modern publishing platforms generate trackbacks automatically. As common as they are, they are often misunderstood.

When you include a link to a site, to the root domain address of the site such as lorelle.wordpress.com, an incoming link or pingback is generated. The pingback sends a note to the referenced site advising them of a link from the original site. These are tracked by stats and analytics and called incoming links, linkbacks, or backlinks. We covered incoming and backlinks in the Backlinks Blog Exercise. It’s time to tackle trackbacks.

Trackbacks are generated automatically through the publishing of a link in a post or Page that points to another post or Page on your site or another site with trackbacks enabled.

Is that clear?

A backlink or incoming link is from one site to another.

A trackback appears in your blog comments as a trackback and must be from one post or Page to another, not the root domain address.

A trackback tells you that someone has published a link to that article.

Primarily, a trackback works like a citation in academia. Search engines emulated the idea in search engine algorithms.

If a scientist or researcher publishes a paper, and someone finds it qualified enough to site in their paper, it is called a citation, the academic equivalent of a trackback. If ten people cite that original paper, that’s 10 citations.

The more citations, the more valid and supported the theory of the paper, in theory. The real magic happens when other papers start citing the papers citing the original, lending their weight to the process. The more citations and references by third and fourth parties, the more likely the original paper will not just receive awards and recognition, in the higher sciences it could mean a Nobel Prize.

While site trackbacks only track citations from immediate sources, the more trackbacks, often the wider circle of influence.

There is another aspect unique to trackbacks. In today’s open conversation, social media world, a conversation can start anywhere and go any place. You could start a conversation on your site and continue it on another site referencing your post. The trackback is a notification that the discussion continues elsewhere, and you had better follow it, or at least track it.

There is etiquette to trackbacks.

If someone generates a trackback to one of your posts, you should check it out and comment on their post to thank them and continue their part of the conversation on their site.

If they said something witty and brilliant that expands your point, consider editing your article to reference theirs with an update to encourage your readers to check out what they have to say.

If you get many trackbacks and comments on your post, consider publishing a second post on the subject highlighting and blockquoting their thoughts on the subject, generating trackbacks to their articles, connecting the dots across sites.

If someone references your post in their conversation on social media, it’s up to you to track it and participate or not. Social media services currently do not support trackbacks, though I wish they would. It would make tracking the conversation easier. We’ll cover tracking the social web conversations in and around your site later, but I can always dream that things like social media trackbacks would make life easier for bloggers.

In WordPress, a trackback is identified by ellipses, three dots in brackets at the beginning and end of the trackback.

A properly formed trackback captures the 100-200 characters before and after the link to your post or Page. If the trackback link is too close to the beginning or end of the article, it may also grab code from the area on the web page near it, causing the trackback to look broken. There is a difference between a spam trackback and a broken trackback. Check the originating source and if it is legit, edit the trackback to better reflect the trackback comment so you do not leave garbled code on your site in the comments.

Spammers have been using trackbacks for many years, trying every angle they can to spread their nasty business across the web. catches most of them, but some will slip through.

To verify if a trackback is spam or not:

  1. Read it. If it looks like spam, mark it accordingly so it will go into the Akismet database. Do not delete it.
  2. If in doubt, check the referencing source link in the trackback. If the link looks legit, great. If it doesn’t, if it references a suspicious site address, mark it as spam.
  3. If it looks legit, but you are still in doubt, click the referencing source link to investigate it. Use your best judgment accordingly.
  4. If it proves legit but the comment picked up code or is poorly formed, edit it to clean out the code and make the trackback text appear more in line with its intent.

This is part of the downside of trackbacks, as well as with comments. The evil doers in the world invaded our open discussion areas over a decade ago, and like in our email inbox, there seems to be no escape. Just remember to use Akismet to crowd source the comment spam prevention. Currently it is the best tool we have.

Blog Exercise Task from Lorelle on WordPress.Your exercise today is to generate trackbacks.

Search through your competitor sites, those publishing content similar to yours. Find something of value and write a post about that article, referencing it in a link.

If you need help with quotes and blockquotes, see the blog exercise on quoting and blockquotes from yesterday.

Don’t use Reblog if you are on WordPress.com. Write an article about them, expand upon the point they are making, and include the link manually, in a properly formed link in your post.

Track whether or not the author of the article comes to your site to say thank you and comment on your post. Be sure and thank them for being a good resource. This is how great relationships start on the web.

For more information on trackbacks, see:

Remember to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback here – another part of your exercise – or leave a properly formed link in the comments so participants can check out your blog exercise task.

You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.


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7 Comments

  1. Rob
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Great job explaining the benefits of trackbacks. I’ve tried using trackbacks on several of blog articles. Not sure how well it’s working. Is there a way to track how well or how many viewers trackbacks bring to your site. I’m doing everything possible to attract more viewers. slow process and a lot of work.

    • Posted February 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Are you using trackbacks to link to articles from within relevant content on your site, or putting them in using the post trackback feature without links within the content?

      As mentioned in the article, just check with the article you’ve linked to to see if the trackback is there.

      As for attracting more viewers, called “readers,” you need to create a community around your site. That means you must concentrate on developing original, inclusive content and a wide, and appropriate, social media circle. Spamming, blatant begging, and SEO myths will never work. As stated earlier in this series – repeatedly in fact – you need to find like minded folks to build your community, not just anyone.

      Thanks for inspiring me to emphasize this.

  2. Susan
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Finally, someone explained this and it makes sense. Site to Site, post / page to post / page. Really, why couldn’t someone tell me that before. And now add “citations” to the whole picture and I get it.

    But here’s my one question. I’ve got about looking at them, marking as spam as appropriate. But, do you ever delete legit or not, just to clean up what you see when you look at your comments? OK, so I’m just getting started and it’s not really an issue, but I thought it would be nice to plan ahead a bit.

    I found you through an article by Ana at Traffic Generation Cafe and since you nailed trackbacks for me, I’m going to be spending some more time looking around your site. Thank you… Susan

    • Posted March 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Always glad to help.

      As for deleting comments and trackbacks, my policy has always been “if in doubt, edit.” You have the right to edit any comment to meet your comments policy. Delete the website link, taking away visitor’s ability to click through to their site, and leave their comment. Change their name to a real one if they are ignorant of the fact that their name is appearing as their admin name or some other silliness. Edit the comment itself to make sure it make sense if there are grammatical or spelling errors. These things happen. But if it is crap, delete it. Don’t mark it as spam as the person might be legit, just…ignorant of how to comment and interact on the web. If it is spam, blast it away as spam.

  3. Papizilla
    Posted March 2, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Ranting Papizilla and commented:
    Here is a really good explanation of Trackbacks. Check it out people.

  4. Branden
    Posted August 7, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I put up CommentLuv on my primary blog site the other week and its incredible to see the traffic boost
    – definitely recommend it for bloggers planning to raise their individual feedback

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      Comment love is an long time tool and has yet to be proven to work for anyone. I do not recommend it.


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