Introduction to Trackbacks

2/22/2009 06:10:00 AM Posted by c3v3n

This is part of my Blogging for Beginners Series.

Summary: TrackBacks automate the interlinking of blog posts, but often don’t contribute to search engine ranking.

TrackBacks are notoriously difficult to explain and is an exercise that makes a great judge of the skill of any self-described ‘blogging expert.’ So here I go!

You get comments right? Easy enough. You write a post on your blog. Someone reads it and thinks you’re either sliced bread or vile ooze and comments accordingly. Just like having a mini-guestbook for each post.

What if I want to leave a comment about your blog post on my blog? That’s where TrackBacks come in.

Let’s say I read something pretty fantastic on your blog and so I write up a post about on my blog: “Hey you gotta check this out, here’s a quote from it and here’s the link to it.” And I link to that particular post on your blog. And I click publish.

Unbeknownst to most, your blog platform - whether it is WordPress or Movable Type or TypePad, scans all the links in a post each time a post is published. It finds my link to your post and then goes out to your blog and checks to see if your post is accepting TrackBacks. If so, my blog sends a little ping! to your blog as if to say, ‘Hey! Andy’s talking about you over on his blog.’ and your blog answers the ping and says ‘Alright, I’ll make a note of it.’ And then your blog makes a little note on that particular post that in effect says, “Besides all these comments under this post, here’s someone talking about this post on their own site - and here’s the link to it.”

So readers of your blog can see not just what the commenters are saying about it on your blog - but what other bloggers are saying about. I’ve seen a post’s list of TrackBacks described as ‘Other blogs linking to this post.’ Many blog tools, like WordPress, lump comments and TrackBacks into the same list.

You don’t have to know how TrackBacks work in order to use them, you can simply set a post to be able to receive trackbacks and set your blog to send them when you publish new posts. Your blog platform should do all the heavy lifting and email you when there are new TrackBacks - just like it does when there are new comments to a post.

TrackBack was first created by Ben and Mena Trott during the early days of Movable Type and has gradually been integrated into the features of most popular blog platforms. A similar technology is pingbacks which has the added security of checking to see if the pinging site actually exists.

Of course like anything fun or cool online, the evil bastard spammers got busy funneling their sewage into automated TrackBacks pingbots that left everyone’s blogs with dainty messages about mortgages, online poker and Viagra. Most comment spam blockers are now configured to also scan TrackBacks to help stem the tide of spammy TrackBacks.

One of the best parts about TrackBack is that it helped to increase your blog’s linked-ness and search engine ranking. With the introduction of the ‘no follow’ attribute, links in comments and TrackBacks are usually often not included in the calculation of your blog’s Google PageRank. I presume this applies to the other search engines as well. Still, the findability may not be in the search ranking - but links from other blogs is always a Good Thing.

In TypePad:

To enable TrackBacks by default in TypePad, go to Weblogs > (Your Blog) > Configure > Preferences > Comment and TrackBack Preferences: Check the checkbox ‘Hold comments and TrackBacks for approval.’ And set Default TrackBack Status set to ‘New posts accept TrackBacks.’ (for receiving TrackBacks)

In WordPress:

To enable TrackBacks by default in WordPress ,go to Options > Discussion: Check the checkbox ‘Attempt to notify any Weblogs linked to from the article.’ (for sending TrackBacks) Check the check box ‘Allow link notifications from other Weblogs. (for receiving TrackBacks)

In Movable Type:

To enable TrackBacks by default in Movable Type, go to (Your Blog) > Configuration > Preferences > Publicity/Remote Interfaces/TrackBack: Check the checkbox ‘Allow TrackBack Pings On by Default.’ (for sending TrackBacks) Check the checkbox ‘Email New TrackBack Pings.’ Check the checkbox ‘Enable TrackBack Auto-Discovery.’ (for receiving TrackBacks)


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