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. Akismet catches most of them, but some will slip through.
To verify if a trackback is spam or not:
- Read it. If it looks like spam, mark it accordingly so it will go into the Akismet database. Do not delete it.
- 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.
- If it looks legit, but you are still in doubt, click the referencing source link to investigate it. Use your best judgment accordingly.
- 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.
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:
- What is a Properly Formed Link?
- The Power of the Link
- WordPress Trackbacks by Ana Hoffman and Traffic Generation Cafe
- Copyright: How to Quote and Cite Sources
- When Your Comment Inspires Posts – Blog Herald
- Changing a Life With a Link – – Blog Herald
- Why Writing a Link Post May Be Less Like Partying and More Like Work
- The Magic and Fun of Incoming Links
- Tracing Your Blog Links
- Trackback – Wikipedia
- Introduction to Blogging « WordPress Codex
- Trackbacks — Support — WordPress.com
- A Short Guide to Trackbacks | Wptuts+
- How to Separate Comments and Trackbacks [Wordpress Tips]
- WordPress Trackback Tutorial | Optiniche: Online Marketing for Brick and Mortar Businesses
- What, Why, and How-To’s of Trackbacks and Pingbacks in WordPress
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.