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Blog Struggles: Trackbacks Count

Blog Struggles Article SeriesAt a blog conference recently, I overheard the following exchange over a laptop as part of a blog review exercise:

“For your blog to be successful, you need more comments on your blog posts.”

“I have plenty of comments on my blog. See, this one has 14 comments.”

“That post has only one comment. The rest are trackbacks. They don’t count.”


Since when do trackbacks not count as comments? Are you judged only by your comment count and not your trackbacks now? As part of my ongoing series on blog struggles, let’s explore the difference and why and how trackbacks and comments should matter, and how they influence your blogging style.

What is the Difference Between a Comment and a Trackback?

Example of trackbacks and comments separated on a WordPress blog ThemeA comment is when someone leaves a message on your blog post.

A trackback is when someone writes something with a link to your blog post, and the evidence appears in your blog comments.

There is a lot of debate over how to display trackbacks and comments on your blog, whether trackbacks should be included in comments or separated from them, or whether or not they have any validity today. When I overhear someone discounting trackbacks, I fear they are losing their value.

Why? Why should trackbacks lose their integrity to speak loudly from those recommending your blog’s content?

Many think that comment spammers abusing trackbacks nullify the value of trackbacking links. They do if you allow such spam to clutter your blog’s comments.

Too many beg for links as Page Rank and SEO games, using trackbacks to build link juice and link bait and encouraging traffic to their site through the trackbacks, but the art of backlinking is one that gives credit where credit is due, back to the source, going beyond any juice or baiting games.

The bigger picture of trackbacks is the feedback and information they supply. We can learn a lot from trackbacks that help us manage our blogs and blog better.

What Can We Learn from Trackbacks?

Links change lives. In Changing a Life with a Link, I wrote about the impact of a link to a series called “WordPress for Churches” by Cory Miller of Church Communications Pro that I made in my weekly , an impact the author claimed changed his life, and bears repeating:

I think … blogging MUST be like farming. You work and work and work that old brown soil … then months later stuff starts popping up.

Today … well, I had a watershed moment.

Yeah, Lorelle of Lorelle of WordPress fame, who writes for the renown Blog Herald linked to Church Communications Pro.

I have no idea who might actually want to click on a “church” blog like mine from her post. But all I know is … a bunch of those nights where I had “idea insomnia” paid off in part today.

To be linked from someone like Lorelle, who is a WordPress guru, is like being validated in some way … it’s like being told, “You actually exist on the blogosphere … and you have interesting, useful content.”

These downpours after the drought are confirmations that somehow, in some way, you’re doing something worthy of being read.

A link is a powerful tool. A trackback is also a powerful tool. It’s validation.

and I have been linking back and forth to each other for years, since he started offering quality content on the lessons he was learning from blogging for a living. It wasn’t until a trackback arrived from his article, WordPress Plugins for Monetizing Your Blog, to mine on Monetizing WordPress Plugins in February 2007 that I realized what link power he had finally developed. My stats soared through the roof for that post. It continues to be in the top 25 referrer links of all time on my blog.

The same month, Smashing Magazine included me in their “Best of January 2007” websites on design for Designing a WordPress Theme From Scratch. I was startled to see their trackback in my Comments Panel and jumped through the trackback link quickly to find out what they had written. I was pleased to find it was featured as a hands-on fast way to begin designing a WordPress Theme from the ground up. What a top notch list of sites to be included among. Imagine my shock when the same article was listed again as a trackback two days later in 83 Beautiful WordPress Themes You (Probably) Haven’t Seen. These two articles from Smashing Magazine continue to bring the most consistent traffic into my site over the years.

Links from these two top sites validate the content on those pages, but they also lend credibility to my expertise. Darren doesn’t link to just anyone, and Smashing Magazine might link to anyone, but they have a reputation for quality and unusual recommendations. That’s a good recommendation.

As someone new to my site reads through the comments and trackbacks, and notices an incoming referrer link (trackback) from Problogger or Smashing Magazine, it speaks loudly. If “they” thought this post was worthy of a link, then there is something special here, right?

A link is a mini-letter of recommendation. Who links to you is just as important as who you link to. A trackback carries that recommendation weight in its link.

What Are They Saying About Us?

Trackbacks help us learn what others are saying about us. Sometimes the telling words are within the trackback content. Other times, we have to visit the post to find out what the blogger is really saying.

In this way, trackbacks are like answering machine messages or the old time calling cards. They tell us that someone stopped by and was inspired enough to blog. Sometimes I’ll find whole posts dedicated to the inspiration of my little post. Other times, I’ll find that my post is just a little mention in a bigger article, one that will get me thinking, and sometimes blogging.

Trackbacks continue the conversation when the blogger takes your point and makes another. It’s a compliment when they write, “XYZ mentioned this and got me thinking…” Being used as a reference such as “X, Y, and Z brought this issue to my attention and…” is another compliment by citation.

When the blog conversation moves from blog to blog, it’s often hard to track the conversation. In People Are Commenting On Your Blog Posts – On Other Websites, Where Do You Leave Your Comments?, and Do You Care Where Your Comments Are?, my fellow authors tackled this question, with guidelines and the acknowledgment about how hard it is to track not only our comments but the conversations across the web from blog to blog.

Sure, there are new comment tracking services coming out, but what about when the response is not to another comment but a whole new blog post? How do you track that? Through trackbacks.

Trackbacks help you learn what others are saying about this blog post’s content. Click through some trackbacks to see where the conversation went across the different blogs. It’s an amazing thing to explore, one few take the time to do. We learn by reading blogs, but we learn more by reading what others have to say about your blog and its content.

Trackbacks Keep the Conversation Flowing – Between Blogs

For one of the two people in the conversation above, trackbacks don’t count. To them, it’s all about the conversation. The point they are missing is that sometimes the conversation begins with the blog post and continues elsewhere, beyond the comment box.

If it weren’t for a trackback, how would you know the conversation moved off the blog?

Trackbacks Track Fellow Bloggers Reading Your Blog

Do you know which bloggers are reading your blog? When a blogger finds something worth sharing, they share it. You know. The trackback tells you so.

I’m always stunned by who reads my blogs. I can talk to a client about my blogs’ demographics with stats to back them up, but the trackbacks give me insights no web analytics program can give me. It shows me not only those who read, but those who do something with what they read on my blogs.

I can do all the surveys and polls I want, but my trackbacks tell me more about what’s behind the numbers than any questions I ask.

Bloggers who link to my blog cover a wide spectrum of types, styles, and experience, especially those linking here to . Many are new bloggers, struggling to find their way into this new Web 2.0, Social Media, Virtual Networking, bloggy thing world we live in. Some are pros and experienced bloggers inspired by my ideas. As a team, we sing on the subject like a choir, each with our own harmony line.

I don’t get a lot of time to just read blogs for fun, so trackbacks motivate me to find out what the bloggers who read and link to my blog posts are saying. I learn about all kinds of different topics, from knitting and genealogy to science and ecology, with a lot of business practices thrown in.

Often, I stumble across a blog that jumps off the screen and into my head. These I add quickly to my feed reader so I can keep up with their wisdom and insights, helping me to blog better and understand how all of this works.

Trackbacks Track Trouble

One of the greatest benefits of trackbacks for me is how it helps me to track trouble and put a stop to it, if need be, fast.

There are two specific troubles trackbacks bring to my blog’s doorstep: Content Theft and Trolls.

In What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content (with almost 300 trackbacks now), I describe how trackbacks help track down content theft. This is usually the first sign that someone is stealing my content. I check out all trackbacks to my blog posts and respond with a fast copy and paste copyright violation in the plagiarizer’s post comments.

Trackbacks also help me track trolls, the mean spirited creeps who just love to spread negativity, hate, and nonsense around the web. While I rarely respond to online bullies, I pay close attention to their actions and words.

Sometimes the people who say mean things actually help me. They help me watch what I blog, how I blog, and help me to blog better, clearer, and more passionately. We can learn from the negative often more than the positive.

Most often, though, trackbacks bring kind news, thanks, appreciation, and positive reinforcement that you are blogging right, and well.

When We Dismiss Trackbacks, We Lose

As I struggle to blog better, I’m dismayed by those who dismiss trackbacks and only embrace comments as a quality metric for how one blogs. Not every blog post deserves a comment, but really good blog content worth sharing is rewarded by trackbacks, proof that the content was shared with others.

The things bloggers write about my blog, my content, and about themselves and their thoughts means a lot to me and my blogging style. While I blog for comments, I mostly blog for trackbacks, encouraged by those who link to my blog’s content, confirming I’m on the right track.

When I overheard that conversation, a “blogging expert” condemning a new blogger for not having enough comments and too many trackbacks, I wanted to jump in and do some brain rearranging. Trackbacks give so much more than the occasional evil trackback takes.

Trackbacks connect us in many ways, from our blog to other blogs, from their blogs to more blogs, all of us blogging and linking, connecting thoughts and ideas. I cherish the lessons I learn through trackbacks. Trackbacks count.

Make your trackbacks count, and honor your blog’s trackbacks.

Blog Struggles Series

This is one of an ongoing series of articles on blog struggles, the challenges of blogging as I see them from 15 years of experience.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, the author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.


  1. Posted December 16, 2008 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Great post. To the contrary of the opinion espoused in the overheard conversation, I think that trackbacks are *superior* to comments.

    In the blogosphere “community”, a trackback indicates that a conversation is extended beyond a single blog – that the issue has “legs” and its conversation is being carried out by multiple bloggers. Such a conversation has far greater weight/importance/significance when carried out among several blogs.

    A trackback also indicates that one’s content is being seen by more than the readers of one’s own blog.

    While active commenting indicates a certain “stickiness” (is that even still a buzz word?) for one’s blog, a trackback represents an opportunity for increased readership.

    I actually prefer trackbacks to comments (though I appreciate both, being as far out on the long tail as I am).

  2. Steve Wood
    Posted December 16, 2008 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Grate post enjoyed reading it.
    Bloging is grate. but having your own website and being able to play with it whenever you want to brings much more satisfaction in my opinion. Bloging is now getting so popular that soon blogs will no longer get the sort of respect they receive from the top search engines they do at the present time.

    If Google decided tomorrow to make something out of nothing and said trackbackes no longer carries any weight then thousands of bloggers would be suicidal.

    • Posted December 16, 2008 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      You are talking spammy SEO techniques, not the value of trackbacks to the blogger and the reader. This article isn’t about the SEO games people play based upon assumptions.

  3. Posted December 16, 2008 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    🙂 Yes! absolute “yes” to your words Lorelle.

    [my technique heart would like to say: ]
    If someone spent a link in a post it is a ping not a trackback
    [/technique heart over and out]

    This days I found a prominent WP Blog without Pings/Trackbacks. He doesn’t show them – his commenters do not like them. I think this is the best way to kill every network.
    I’m writing a new articel and my first impulse was to link back to one of his articles, but than I remember he doesn’t show Pings/Trackbacks and so I would not like to link to him because he wouldn’t be a part of my network. I feel he refuse me.

    kindly regards

    • Posted December 16, 2008 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      A ping has a variety of definitions, including an alert to search engines and directories to send a web crawler in your direction. A trackback carries the words in and around the link to your post back to your post. That’s what we’re talking about here.

  4. Posted December 16, 2008 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    You won me over. I’ve had trackbacks turned off for … *cough* A long time. I never saw them as having value past being a way to fluff myself. But a blog is not an island, and even though I’ve been running my site for 11 years (and damn that makes me feel old), I still learn a lot every day on how to make it better and more accessible!

    I’m in the process of turning them back on and if you’re like me, you’re wondering this: Do I REALLY have to edit every stinking post? No! If you have access to SQL (like through phpMyAdmin) you can send this query:
    UPDATE wp_posts SET ping_status = replace(ping_status,"closed","open");

  5. Posted December 16, 2008 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I see comments and trackbacks as carrying similar weight/value. Comments are great because folks are participating in a conversation on your site, and trackbacks are great because it means someone is continuing the conversation elsewhere.

    I’m excited when I see a trackback… it tells me I should go check out that site and continue the conversation.

  6. Posted December 16, 2008 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I definitely think that most people judge your post and your blog by how many comments you have. I really don’t think that people care about trackbacks anymore.

  7. Posted December 16, 2008 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I have trackbacks turned off, and doubt that I will ever have them turned on. When I see track backs in someone else’s blog, I figure that they’re new to the game and have no clue how unprofessional it all looks. The only time that it’s acceptable to see trackbacks is if they are separate from the comments and not spamming up the comments section.

    Generally when I see a trackback it looks like:

    […] am on December 10, 2008 | # | RC2 […]
    […] Ya está el anunció oficial titulado “2.7 Release Candidate Two” en la bitácora oficial de […]
    […] 2.7 Release Candidate 2 Now Available! WordPress 2.7 RC2 Now Available for Download! [Source] This is kind of disappointing as I figured the main release would be ready by now, but I suppose […]

    Those were taken from the WP 2.7 RC announcement. That page is ONLY trackbacks, but my point stands, with all those track backs gumming up the comments section, it’s incredibly difficult to follow along with the discussion that’s supposedly happening on that same page.

    Also, 99% of all trackbacks that my blogs receive are from sblogs that are simply republishing the content, which honestly I’m fine with, I have links set up in the rss feeds so that there’s always a link back to my site.

    So what I would suggest is that IF you decide to permit trackbacks, keep them separate from the comments, and keep a close eye on them for spam, as akismit has never been able to catch trackback spam to my liking.

  8. Posted December 16, 2008 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    To say that “people [don’t] care about trackbacks anymore” seems to me to be an awfully short-sighted statement. That statement may be true for us long-tail bloggers, but it is certainly *not* true for top-tier blogs (or for anyone with aspirations for such blogs).

    To say that bloggers with trackbacks enables are “new to the game” is awfully ironic. To argue that trackbacks shouldn’t be used because of “how unprofessional it all looks” is to conflate the significance of the trackback with issues of style/aesthetics/presentation – and under no circumstances does bad presentation of trackbacks diminish their importance.

    I’m not surprised by such attitudes, though; I think it is a symptom of both the explosion of popularity of blogging combined with a misunderstanding of blogging (e.g. many people believe that commenting on a blog post makes one a “blogger”, while in reality a blogger is one who maintains his own blog).

    The ‘sphere is at its heart a *network* of bloggers carrying on extended conversations and propagating memes, which is why a trackback carries inherently more significance than a comment. Trackbacks represent that the issue about which a blog post is written is important enough to transcend both the original blogger and the original blog post.

  9. Posted December 17, 2008 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    I’m not a techie guy nor anything close to expert in any field (including my poor english) except my rc hobby but this post really made me wanna say something too. For me, trackback is important, in fact very very important. I have enough comments in my boring post but nothing beat trackback, other blogger or anyone out there talking about you, linking back to what we’ve just posted. I really appreciate that. I totally agree with what you said here Lorelle. I’m glad I subscribed your rss for 1st reason of course of how great WORDPRESS is.

    For me, Trackback rules same like WordPress rules the blogging world. Amen. 🙂

  10. eric
    Posted December 22, 2008 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    A lot of people do use trackbacks as a spammy way to get backlicks. I for one never understand the reason to have trackbacks in the first place.

    • Posted December 23, 2008 at 12:49 am | Permalink

      I think the article explains why trackbacks are so important, hearkening back to the path one took to being honored for the Nobel awards and other scholarly honors. While many abuse trackbacks, more abuse comments. I don’t see us turning off comments, and trackbacks are often more significant than comments like “Great article” or “Very useful, thanks!”

  11. Posted January 30, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I think trackbacks are great as long as they are not abused. It is a shame that people do. I still feel bloggers should accept trackbacks and just maintain their websites.

  12. Posted February 9, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Nice post, Thanks for sharing. I feel trackbacks and comments are both similar. However… Trackbacks has a far greater advantage and they increase the possibility of your site being visited.

  13. Posted August 14, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Well, I think most commenters got it already, but here’s my opinion:
    Trackbacks can’t be counted as comments, and comments can’t be counted as trackbacks.
    Maybe that’s what the initial statements meant to say.

    Both have it’s upsides and downsides, both can be used to spam useless stuff.

    I still think they are better separate. But as long as you can keep them that way, there’s no need to disable completely.

    My major problem with Trackbacks and the reason why I reached this blog, is because I’m trying to find a way to insert them on a separate part of the post (just like here), and give commenters the option to hide them.
    Unfortunately, I’m using Intense Debate, so I’m still not shure how it affects the whole thing, and I dunno which files I’ll have to try to edit… maybe the IntenseDebate plugin files.

    Trackbacks can be very annoying for commenters, even though some can take advantage of it.
    It’s useful for the poster and blog admin to estabilish that connection between bloggers Lorelle talked about, but to be quite frank, as a commenter and not an admin, I couldn’t careless about them. If I’m visiting a blog I like, I usually judge it by the content, writers and editor style, etc… I don’t even look the trackbacks to see who quoted this post or not, mainly because I don’t like the elitism among top bloggers.

    But that’s just me. I won’t deny it’s also a way people can judge your blog or not…

5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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