Trackbacks and Pingbacks 101 – The Things WP Users Need To Know!

February 4, 2013 · 24 comments

in WordPress

Trackbacks and Pingbacks 101 – The Things WP Users Need To Know!

wordpress logoDemystifying
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.

trackback-pingback-demo-3

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! 

trackback-pingback-demo-1

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! 

 

Trackback Spam

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!

trackback-pingback-demo-2

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. 

trackback-pingback-demo-4

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!

Fortunately, our good friend Andy Bailey, developer of Commentluv Premium, has hidden one of the biggest gems of spam fighting … “GASP Pro” right inside Commentluv Premium!

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)

2-4-2013 2-36-21 AMSet 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? 

~ Kim ~
Simple Tech Tips For Marketing 

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Rhonda Hurwitz February 4, 2013 at 6:43 am

great explanation … now I know the rest of the story:0

One of these days, do you mind explaining No follow and do follow links as they pertain to comments left on other blogs?

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Gene Call February 4, 2013 at 9:05 am

Thanks for the info Kim. It is difficult for those of us whose web presence is just one piece of what we do to find sources that keep us informed on the “techie side” Thanks!
G

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Carolyn February 4, 2013 at 11:36 am

Hi Kim, This is incredibly helpful. I had disabled trackback and pingbacks because of spam but your solution seems much better. I have implemented your suggestions and hope to be able to get trackback love without spammy links!

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Sergio Felix February 4, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Hey Kim, a little birdie told me you were speaking of… ME! ;-)

First of all, this is a fantastic explanation on trackbacks and pingbacks.

I do allow pingbacks and also display trackbacks on my blog and at the current time, I don’t spend much time dealing with false positives but I did update my GASP settings to match your suggestions here.

Now I’ll just wait and see how this new setting goes for me, thanks for the awesome shoutout and the great article! ;-)

Sergio
Sergio Felix invites you to read…Productivity Hack: The Lockdown MethodMy Profile

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Chery Schmidt February 4, 2013 at 5:52 pm

You did a great job explaining trackbacks & Pingbacks, I now know what they both are, but I did have to go and read your post twice :) I do have getting this CommentLuv on my to do list.. I took some notes but if I cannot figure out how to set this up the right way… I do know where to come to get my answers. Thanks for sharing Chery :)

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Maja February 4, 2013 at 9:51 pm

A good differentiation Pingbacks and Trackbacks. Before reading this article I can’t differentiate between these. Now I have concept of these terminologies.

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Sean Nicholson February 4, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Great tips, Kim! When it comes down to it, not every inbound link is a good thing and watching those pingbacks and trackbacks for spam is just as important is ditching spam comments.

Great examples!

–Sean

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Sherryl Perry February 5, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thanks for the explanation Kim. I understood what pingbacks were but I wasn’t clear on trackbacks. I just checked that setting in G.A.S.P. and I already had it checked on. I suspect you may have mentioned this before. I do listen to you. :)
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marquita herald February 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Wow this is terrific information and I’ve bookmarked it because I’m going to have to read it again (and quite possibly again) to make sure I understand it all – trackbacks are the part that I’m still struggling with a bit. Thanks!
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Sandi February 6, 2013 at 5:32 am

Thanks for your fantastic explanation. I’ve always been confused about trackbacks & Pingbacks ;-)

Now I will update my GASP settings as you suggest

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Julia Spencer February 6, 2013 at 11:41 am

Well, this post sounds really very persuasive! Some things have become quite clear for me, so thanks a lot for an explanation

Julia Spencer’s recent post.. How to Act to Make Your Brand Facebook Page More Engaging

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Dara Khajavi February 7, 2013 at 11:56 am

Wow, this was a very informational post! I have a WordPress blog, and I am always trying to think of new ways to increase traffic to my blog. I have heard these terms before. However, I did not realize how important trackbacks and pingbacks are. I will definitely start utilizing these techniques. Thank you!

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Lee February 8, 2013 at 2:37 am

Hi Kim
Really informative, I had heard about track backs but to be honest didn’t realise there was a difference between them and pingbacks presumed it was all in the terminology. As with everything though as soon as someone sorts something out spam is going to rear it’s ugly head.
Haven’t got either set so will now hopefully get them up and running and spam free well that will never happen but shall I say keep it down to a minimum.

Great info thanks lee

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Jacqueline Waters February 8, 2013 at 3:04 am

Kimberly,

Trackbacks and Pingbacks in Wordpress have much more meaning than I had realized until now.

Thanks for posting this. Before reading it, I never really knew what a trackback and was only somewhat aware of what a pingback is. The two cups and a string analogy is pretty much how I viewed it.

Before reading this article just now my response to getting notified of a pingback (and even trackbacks) was always “Oh, that’s nice”. I never really paid all that much attention to them unless it was obvious spam.

Thanks for all your help. Now, I know more about how to use pingbacks and trackbacks in wordpress.

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Kevin Martineau February 8, 2013 at 11:02 am

Hi Kim:

Thanks for increasing my understanding of these two terms! :) I use CommentLuv Premium and I love the features of the GASP component.

Kevin

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Dr. Erica Goodstone February 8, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Kimberly,

Great information. I am so glad I have been using CommentLuv. But I must admit, I am still not quite understanding what a trackback is. You said it is manual. Does the owner of the blog do it manually? From what you have shown in the examples, I may have received some legitimate pingbacks or trackbacks that I just assumed were spam. Usually they are obvious yet sometimes not as that example of the Russian one.

Warmly,

Dr. Erica

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Jupiter Jim February 9, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Kimberly,

Thanks for taking so much time and effort to explain just EXACTLY what a trackback and pingback are. I also use Andy Bailey’s CommentLuv Premium with the G.A.S.P anti-spam plugin baked right in!

So when I check my comments on my WordPress blog and I see the pingback in yellow (as in your article above) and I mark it as SPAM, then I am prevening my blog from linking back to the blog generating the pingback? Is that correct?

Very helpful to us all, as usual!

Hope you have a great 2013!

~ Jupiter Jim
Jupiter Jim invites you to read…Create Contact Page with “Fast Secure Contact Form” WordPress pluginMy Profile

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Dena-Lynn February 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Thanks Kim, I needed this info. I’ve had my blog for a few years now and never understood this, so I just ignored it. I’ve gotten this type of spam, sometimes a great deal, which I’ve simply deleted. Now that you’ve explained, I now know to pay closer attention – it just might be a good thing.

Always appreciate your insight, Kim! Thanks again.

Dena Lynn

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Michael Shook February 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Thank you for a great explanation in plain English, Kim. I had kind of gotten the idea that I understood trackbacks and pingbacks before but I didn’t really. I actually did not understand that trackbacks were manual, I had always kind of wondered what that section was for.

I have these turned on at my site, and I do get some junk, but not too much. And I really like the GASP function of Comment Luv – one of my favorite plugins of all time.

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Carolyn February 25, 2013 at 6:35 am

Hi Kim, I adjusted my GASP settings on CommentLuv and adjusted trackbacks. But I just got a spammy one. Do I just delete it and forget about it or should I do something else?
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Kim Castleberry February 25, 2013 at 6:37 am

Just delete it, no further action needed :)
Kim

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Carolyn February 25, 2013 at 6:59 am

Thanks, Kim! As always, you’re the best! Really appreciate the guidance.
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Steve eMailSmith June 11, 2013 at 8:12 am

Hey Kim…

Very well put – I was looking for some content related to this topic, to point my own subscribers to read from – yours looks very good!
There is always a big confusion – especially in new bloggers minds – about trackbacks and pingbacks, and very often they misinterpret them (or think of them exactly the other way around that they are)…

And to be entirely honest, I kinda like your style too… :)

Cheers,
Steve ✉ Master eMailSmith ✉ Lorenzo
Chief Editor, eMail Tips Daily Newsletter

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Kim Castleberry June 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Why thank you Steve, appreciate your kind words :)
Kim

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