“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?
A 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 Blog Herald WordPress News, 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.
Darren Rowse of Problogger 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 Blog Herald 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 Lorelle on WordPress. 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.
- Blog Struggles: The Search for Blog Content: We put so much energy into “finding” blog content that we often forget the best source for good blog content: from within us. I offer tips and techniques for pulling content from your head.
- Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts.
- Blog Struggles: The Blog Focus: As part one in a sub-series of posts on Blog Struggles, I look at the issue of the blog focus, your blog’s ability to turn you from a blogger into an expert.
- Blog Struggles: Why Should Your Blog Have a Focus: Your blog doesn’t have to have a focus, but if it does, these are the reasons, and benefits, of why it should.
- Blog Struggles: Finding Your Blog Focus: Continues the Blog Focus theme and offers tips for finding your blog’s focus and direction.
- Blog Struggles: Changing Your Blog’s Focus: Once you find your blog focus, how do you change your blog? Or should you start a new blog? I cover the tips you need to know to redirect your blog.
- Blog Struggles: When Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation Interferes With Your Blogging looks at the issues around the impact of poor writing habits and skills and whether or not they impact the success and reading of your blog.
- In Blog Struggles: When Are Too Many Comments Too Many Comments?, I share a struggle I faced not long ago about an over-enthusiastic commenter who left a ton of comments on my blog within a few hours, making me very suspicious. We are often faced with suspicious comments, so what do we do? How should we handle them?
- Blog Struggles: Taking The Moral High Blogging Ground addresses the issue of deciding which ethical and moral road to take on your blog.
- Blog Struggles: Blogger’s Depression looks at the rarely discussed by normal aspect of blogging: depression. When the enthusiasm for the effort is lost and apathy sets in, and how to overcome it.
- Blog Struggles: It’s The Rituals That Help Us Focus: I share some of the rituals I use to get me “in the blogging mood” and ask you to share yours.
- Blog Struggles: When An Old Post is New Again takes a look at some of the struggles I’ve had when a past post suddenly gets picked up and sensationalized. I discuss the methods I use for keeping my old posts up to date, especially when fame comes knocking.
- Blog Struggles: Recovering From a Traffic Spike really touched a lot of people as they related to the addiction that traffic spikes bring, as well as the hassles.
- Blog Struggles: Surviving the When Blogging Goes Bad Blues look at how to keep on writing when life gets in the way.
- Blog Struggles: When Is Your Blog Focus Too Narrow? What happens when you set your blog purpose and focus too narrow – is there room to grow and change?
- A Blogger’s Life: Why Blog and When Do You Stop Blogging? There comes a time when you may choose to stop blogging. Before that time comes, ask yourself, really, why do you blog?
- Blog Struggles: Negative Campaigning Isn’t Just For Politicians looks at the power of the negative and how it holds the attention of so many in the world, not just in the blogosphere. Is it really necessary? Can we blog with positive optimism again soon?
- Blog Struggles: I Just Need Two Seconds of Your Time is a look at the demands of social media on our time, when everyone wants just two free seconds of your time that never is just two seconds. Are you being overwhelmed by the social of the web?