What do ‘pingback’ and ‘track back’ mean?

Cross-linking is one of the most important success factors for a blog. Expanding your reach, i.e. your audience, can be difficult without the cooperation and support of partners and other bloggers. By submitting content in the form of guest commentaries or links to other blogs, you may be surprised how quickly this extra coverage can have a positive impact on your blog’s visitor numbers. Allowing external content to be posted on your blog may also help; if nothing else, it might act as a source of inspiration for your own future content.

One popular method for building up such connections between other blogs relies on two linking techniques known as pingbacks and trackbacks. These allow you to link relevant content from your own blog in the comments section of other blogs by sharing your opinion or offering additional information. This linking process happens automatically with the help of pingbacks, while trackbacks - and embedding a link from an external blog into one of your own entries - are manually placed. As a side benefit to this process, readers are given access to additional information on the topic they’re reading about, meaning all parties benefit.

What’s a pingback? What’s a trackback?

Trackbacks were originally developed for the blogging software Moveable Type and implemented for the first time in 2002. In subsequent years, the method has been made available for other blogging software. Their function is best explained using an example. Essentially, trackbacks enable Blogger A to inform Blogger B whenever they’ve referenced one of B’s articles. To this end, Blogger A inserts a notice in the comments section of the original blog entry indicating that they’ve also produced some interesting content on the topic. As a part of this process, Blogger A also attaches their trackback URL, which can then be read under Blogger B’s entry. Generally, Blogger A will have also included a link to Blogger B’s weblog in the text he’s produced for his own blog. In order for a trackback to be placed, both parties have to support and activate the function.

Pingbacks are a newer, automated version of trackbacks, and they’re placed via blogging software whenever a blogger makes a reference to external content in one of their articles. The author of the original, linked content also automatically receives a generated notice of the link placed in the comments section. In order for this procedure to work, both blog systems need to support and allow pingbacks; some popular names that support this feature are SilverStripe, Drupal, and WordPress. What’s more, internal blog entries are also linked with pingbacks. These so-called ‘self-pings’ can be deactivated at any time if they’re no longer desired. 

Why pingbacks are better than trackbacks

A direct comparison between these two blog-linking procedures demonstrates why pingbacks play a substantially larger role today than trackbacks. The automatic nature of pingbacks alone is one major advantage of this function: as the replying blogger, it spares you of the effort of having to track down the necessary trackback URLs and stops you from forgetting to link content. The general preference towards the newer method can also be understood after taking a better look at one of the trackback method’s less favorable characteristics: given that this procedure requires users to place links themselves, the trackback function is particularly attractive for spammers looking to leave behind references to content that clearly lack any consistency to a given blog’s theme. What makes this all the more irritating is that these links don’t generate any valuable backlinks for the original author. Removing such spam trackbacks can be a time-consuming endeavour and also requires the support of additional plugins.

There is, however, one crucial advantage to trackbacks—at least when it comes to the referring blogger: given that they, unlike pingbacks, only act as a notification for the external blogs they’re found in and also display the blog’s name, URL, and an excerpt of the related content, trackbacks provide much greater advertising opportunities. In principle, these additional comments can also mean more content for blog operators. But there’s also the potential threat of cyber criminals using this method to sneak malicious code into the comments section. Maintaining a constant vigil remains the only preventative measure for such risks. 

Trackbacks and pingbacks as SEO factors

Both methods for linking blogs are attractive when it comes to search engine optimiation. In terms of link building, you’d be hard pressed to find a more efficient solution for bloggers, provided that trackbacks and pingbacks, including their interconnected themes and links, have been properly implemented into the blogs they’re supporting. The biggest problem is that bloggers are increasingly tagging their published trackbacks and pingbacks with the ’nofollow’ attribute, which causes them to no longer be included into a search engine’s link popularity calculation. If both bloggers and their blogging systems support these methods, then the following factors have a positive effect on their blogs’ respective rankings:

  • The author that’s cited as a source builds a backlink, which is implemented into the blog entry of another blogger. Through the commentary provided in that same entry, the cited author also receives additional content for their own blog.

  • The blogger who referred to the original author by citing them as a source in their entry builds a backlink, which is placed in the comments section of the original blog. 

Both pingbacks and especially trackbacks have experienced a considerable decline in their significance as link-building instruments. This is partly due to the fact that the blogosphere in general has taken a backseat to social media over the last few years. The fact that these cross-linking procedures are dependent on the comment sections of blog entries remains an unappealing factor given their propensity to attract spam. Trackbacks and pingbacks have also developed negative reputations because they are very difficult to get rid of. The result is that very few bloggers today make use of this traditional cross-linking method. That being said, they remain among the most convenient methods for generating additional backlinks and, at the same time, offer a free solution for increasing your blog’s prominence.

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