Thoughts About Trackbacks

Trackbacks are those links that show up on your blog as comments whenever someone has linked to you in some fashion from their blog. WordPress gives you the option of whether you want to accept trackbacks or not, as well as the option of whether you want to send a trackback to someone else if you link to one of their articles.

by Eero Mäensivu via Flickr

There’s this theory about trackbacks that they add a lot of value to your blog. You’ve probably seen the talk about “one-way” links, which is when someone uses a link to your content without expecting one back from you. If we’re being genuine, most of us will link to source material to help explain or enhance something that’s in our articles from time to time. I often link to another blog when it offers me inspiration, but I will also link to something like CNN if they post an article that makes me think of something to write as well. To a website it’s not quite a trackback, just a link.

The thing about trackbacks is that they’ll show up on the post on your blog that someone has used for their article. It’s flattering in a way because it means that in some way, good or bad, you’ve touched someone, got them thinking, and made them just have to write something.

However, the problem these days is that most trackbacks seem to be spam. I wrote about trackback spam back in March and even shared what I was seeing. For awhile I turned it off through the GASP/Antispybot plugin and felt pretty good about it.

Recently I decided to turn trackbacks on again to see what I might be getting. I did that because I haven’t been seeing any new connections to or about me through the Dashboard – Incoming Links area. What I’m seeing are blogs that I’ve commented on at some point, but no one actually using one of my links in their post. I thought it might be because I’d turned off the trackbacks feature and wanted to see what came up.

Unfortunately it’s all garbage that’s coming. Only one legitimate trackback came through in two weeks, and it was from a blog post from me on one of my other blogs. Frankly that’s not really worth it in my opinion; I could get that same effect just in linking to myself on my own.

I bring this up because I remember some time last year talking to someone who felt that you honored other people by allowing them to have a trackback in your comments back to your blog. I said I wasn’t sure it was worth this new spam that comes, even if most of it goes to the spam filter. I think I’m going the route of totally eliminating it once more, and then hoping the incoming links module will show me if someone ends up talking about me. After all, I think when people do include links to your content that it’s an honor most of the time.

22 thoughts on “Thoughts About Trackbacks”

  1. Interesting. The spam filter on my blog seems to be able to tell the difference between a legitimate trackback or not. Either that or I only get a few trackbacks which are from other blogs. Others show up in the Spam bin.

  2. Well, thank you for this timely post, Mitch, because I’d just published a post and realised as soon as reading yours, that I’d intended to turn on trackbacks and had forgotten!

    I have trackbacks turned off globally, but I turn them on, on a post by post basis. So, if I’m doing something like a giveaway or a meme, I’ll turn them on but generally I have them off. Not, however, for the same reason as you because my experience is like Scott’s in that on Akismet can generally tell the difference between spam trackbacks and genuine ones and in the two years I’ve been blogging I’ve only had one spam trackback.

    I don’t like them on more personal posts, I find they sort of interrupt the flow of comments. They don’t need replies so they just sort of sit there. What does do my head in is that my own trackbacks appear in my blog wherever I’ve done an inlink that has trackbacks turned on and a link to that post from another post, and so whenever I turn them on in a post I’m frequently deleting my own in previous ones!

    Can you do the same, maybe and turn it off globally and turn it on in some posts and not others, or are dashboard modules not set up like that? (We’ve got a ‘discussion’ module that has them).

    1. Val, I think there is an option to do that; I might have to check it out. Then again, I can’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t want it on all the time or off all the time with the types of posts I write. I used to get lots of trackbacks; seems most people don’t like linking to someone else’s blog posts anymore.

  3. I did turn off track backs on most of my blogs, those based on WordPress and other blogging systems. I think this is a good way to reduce SPAM.

      1. There is something interesting, I just checked few customer blogs which are not using native WordPress commenting system. It seems that trackbacks are active there, but SPAM levels are lower, just a guess probably those platforms footprints are more difficult to be found.

      2. But Carl, I’m using the native comment system and it’s kind of ridiculous. Then again, maybe it’s tied in to the rankings and traffic in some fashion, eh?

  4. Yes, most of the time it is an honor. However, be careful not to give away unnecessary link juice. Some apps automatically pull relevant posts too and that is a way to build two way traffic. Be sure that you only allow links to quality blogs.

  5. I don’t waste my time with trackbacks. All I seem to get when I have them turned on is bucket loads of spam and stuff that doesn’t really add any value. I like to keep it simple with comments & standard links. Glad I’m not the only one that finds limited use with trackbacks 🙂

  6. I think that’s good to have enabled the trackback system, because although it can bring spam, it also can bring valuable links. Somehow i think it’s worth the try.

  7. It is discouraging that I can’t use trackbacks like I used to before. Spams are just pouring in these days and it is really not worth it to turn the trackback on. I hope things get better and solution to this will be found.

  8. Hi, Mitch!
    I agree with you that when people include links to your content it can and should be considered an honour. However, I generally do not have the trackback on – I, too, as many commentators here do not see a point to it. Yes, you might get some real trackbacks after a while, but it is more likely you will be getting spam…so why bother?

  9. I have trackbacks enabled but VERY rarely do I get a legitimate trackback. I have three ‘scraper’ blogs that duplicate every single post I publish word for word and then link to my blog post in an attempt for a backlink. They never get published as they are filtered into the spam box before I even see them. I found a post recently that discussed how to handle these but with all that’s going on I’ve lost the link.

    1. Brian, do a search on this site because I wrote about it as well, since I had that same issue. Just put in, I believe, DCMA and it should come up fairly high since I haven’t written about it all that often.

  10. I share your opinion of track-backs, Mitch. I do try to credit others if I mention an article of theirs or have named them in an article, but most of the track-backs I get are either comments I’ve made elsewhere using ComLuv (these show up in my dashboard) or flat out trash that show up in the comments and I just delete them. Since they don’t seem to serve any purpose I’ve thought about just refusing them all together.

    1. I’m with you Allan and it’s too bad because back a couple of years ago that was something that made me smile, but the stuff wasn’t spam back then. Spammers always seem to mess up a good thing.

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