Demystifying Trackbacks & Pingbacks for WordPress Users!
Sometimes scary sounding words can be to blame for a whole lot of new blogger confusion that doesn’t need to exist!
This post is aimed at WordPress users who are trying to make sense of some technical jargon and will provide you with a general overview of what you need to know while skipping the technical details that you can delve into later if you’re particularly curious!
What Is The Difference Between Trackbacks and Pingbacks?
First, let’s remove some confusion….
What Pingbacks are NOT!
Pingbacks are NOT related to “pinging” a new site or new post and do not have anything to do with the “ping list” that you have likely seen in your settings area or with getting a site/post indexed by Google.
This right here is the root of most of the confusion. Sadly, they didn’t ask my advice when naming these things! ;)
One Thing Or Two?
The second leading cause of confusion is that, although there IS some key differences between the two, we WordPress bloggers almost always say “trackbacks and pingbacks” as an expression. Using it almost as one word doesn’t really help clarify what is meant!
However, for the most part, particularly when it comes to spam which I’ll talk about in a moment, it’s usually perfectly fine to consider them as “one thing”.
What The Have In Common
Trackbacks and Pingbacks (there’s that expression again!) are a geeky feature that for the most part you actually don’t need to know too much about… except that they work!
The role they serve is in one blog talking to another and saying “Hey, you were mentioned or referenced, over here, you may want to be aware of this item.”
Sounds good right? It’s useful if I write a post about my friend Sergio and link to his blog post … that My WordPress blog is going to automatically tell HIS WordPress blog that something is going on over here related to that post!
Fortunately, it’s a little more advanced than two tin cans and a string though!
And, not only can they notify you of these things… but the pingbacks you send to other blogs can be a very lovely source of traffic!
(Hopefully Jennie is ready to receive a pingback… you’ll giggle and know what I mean when you read the article!)
How Are Trackbacks Different (Than Pingbacks)?
Trackbacks are a manual system and it is very possible that you will go a year or more without ever generating a trackback!
They are sort of the equivalent of a tap on the shoulder or a Facebook poke to let someone’s site know about an article or post that may be relevant to them or that references them.
You will find the “Send Trackbacks” box, below the writing area, of your WordPress page/post editor assuming you have it enabled it in the “Screen Options” tab.
WordPress has pingbacks built in so it is not necessary to send a trackback to a WordPress blog that you have linked to in your post.
How Are Pingbacks Different (Than Trackbacks)?
Pingbacks are a WordPress to WordPress automated communication method of saying “hey, you were mentioned here”!
A pingback is sent to the recipient blog, from the blog doing the writing, any time an internal article (not the home/blog page) is linked to from the content.
So… my link I made earlier to Sergio… automatically generated a pingback… with me doing nothing more than linking to him!
So What Does A Pingback Actually DO?
Sergio is about to find out that I was talking about him, I’m about to have him be thankful for the link/reference, he’s likely to come visit and leave a comment, and when he approves my pingback I’ll get a link from HIS post (the one I linked to above).
Wow, that’s a lot of stuff! And it’s stuff that is really good for me and him both!
You may have thought your links were just links… but they’re quite powerful stuff!
Trackbacks and pingbacks are actually a very important part of how the web became what it is today and are important for inter-site communication (as well as SEO and social proof).
An Example of a Valid Pingback (That I Approved!)
I think it’s important by taking a look at a very useful trackback I received!
At first glance, you might think this is spam… but it actually is a Russian blogger who linked to me from a very good article, which I never would have found by any other method!
I got to his site by clicking the link contained in his pingback which you will see under the post title/name.
Yes, I approved that trackback (pingback actually!) and am happy to give them a comment-variety backlink from the post they reference.
I WANT others to know that people are writing about my stuff!
When Bad Things Happen To Good Systems!
You likely connected the dots earlier when I mentioned “automatic” and “SEO” …. and realized that spammers were going to be all over this like bees to sugar!
The last thing we wanted was spammers getting into our very important communication channel and screwing things up for us… but that’s exactly what has happened!
Introducing spam… Yuck!
I first need to clarify that “Trackback Spam” is actually “Trackback and Pingback Spam” and the two are both dealt with the same way.
Here is just one example of Trackback (actually Pingback) Spam that looks legit but is not!
In this particularly example, which is just one of many ways to abuse the system, the blogger is intentionally utilizing a plugin designed to exploit the trackback system and trade half-hidden, no-follow, non-relevant, never seen, half-assed crap links for highly valid trackback links from YOUR blog.
(Oh yeah, and if you don’t approve the trackback, that plugin removes the link and adds in another link to try to fool a different blogger.)
But sadly, that’s only one of dozens of potential ways to abuse the system and fighting spammers can seem like a constant game of whack-a-mole.
But you know, people that can’t produce really valid content and inbound links, have to resort to spam tactics
… and it’s highly aggravating for those of us that work hard to protect our SEO!
Going To Extremes – Disabling Trackbacks/Pingbacks
If you’re really desperate to stop the flood and put the brakes on the spam, the simplest and easiest approach is to disable the ability of your blog to RECEIVE them.
This will however also mean that you do not know when you have been linked to… particularly in foreign language sites where you may not easily detect it with a Google Alert.
This is the preferred method of some sites like WP Beginner who say: “In short, we have found 99% of all trackbacks/pingbacks to be SPAM. This is the reason why we have disabled it entirely. It is not worth the time to moderate a lot of SPAM like this.”
They obviously won’t be getting my pingback! ;)
By the same token though, by denying me a trackback links, they also may make me less inclined to WANT to link to them. See what I’m saying?
Getting Serious About Fighting The Spam!
The magic you seek… dear self-hosted blogger… comes in the form of the GASP feature right inside CLP! This is a VERY upgraded version of the free GASP plugin which does not handle trackback spam but does a great job knocking out bot spam.
Keep in mind that using ALL of the options, as I have marked for an example in this graphic, may generate some “false positives” where some valid trackbacks go into the spam folder.
I definitely suggest checking the “Remove Digi Auto Links” checkbox to knock out the spam we saw in the graphic above.
(click on the image for a closer view)
Set things up like that and BOOM – a SUBSTANTIAL reduction in the amount of trackback spam you will receive.
No, it won’t get “everything” but it will get enough that it becomes a much more rewarding venture to filter through the remaining ones to find the real trackbacks… and then go meet the people who are talking to or about you!
And Now You Know!
By now, Trackbacks and Pingbacks should make a lot more sense!
If they don’t, go back and read it all again! ;)
Do you allow trackbacks and pingbacks on your blog? How do you combat spam? What tips have you learned?