Blogging 118: Trackbacks

As I said in Blogging 117, blogs enable conversations, and one key way those happen is through comments. And comments you leave on other blogs have the additional benefit, if you comment thoughtfully, of encouraging readers of those blogs (and perhaps the authors) to visit your blog and see what you have to say.

Trackbacks are a special kind of comment that require special mention and explanation, because they involve some mysterious lingo that isn’t intuitive.

In essence, a Trackback is a comment on someone else’s blog post that you leave on your own blog. It’s sort of a mega-comment.

Here’s how it works.

When you comment on another blog, you add to the conversation there, and incidentally include a link back to your blog.

But suppose that post really got you thinking, and you have a few hundred words to say about the same topic. If you put your thoughts in the comments on that post, they’re somewhat buried. Readers won’t see your ideas unless they click through to the comments, and even then they might be lost among the others.

You’re better off writing a new post on your blog, and linking to the other post to create a Trackback. In this way you are doing favors both to yourself and to the author of the blog that inspired you to comment:

  1. You get credit for your thinking. If you’re going to do some significant writing, you should have it on your own blog, so that people who read your blog get the feel for your perspective. Your major writing is all gathered in one place and accessible to your readers.
  2. The other blog gets a link, which raises its search engine relevance, or “Google juice.” In essence, you are saying, “Hey everyone, this is a good post about (whatever term you use in your link.) This post inspired my thinking and is related to this topic.”

Everyone wins.

How does this work?

For many blogs, including this one and others on wordpress.com, all you have to do to trackback is create a link to the post from within your own post. So, for example, when I linked to Scott Meis on Social Media Snippets, an excerpt from my post appeared just as a regular comment, with a link to my post. It looks like this:

picture-16

Note: the top comment in the example above is a regular comment, while the second one is from my trackback.

When you see comments like that, you can click through to read the full related post. (And the fact that I’ve linked again in this post will likely create another trackback.)

Other blogs (like my friend Shel’s) have a separate URL for trackbacks. So in Blogging 117 I not only left a comment directly on Shel’s post, but also found the Trackback URL,

trackbackonshel

and pasted it into the Trackbacks field in my post. That looked like this:

enteringtrackbacks

So now, when you go to that post on Shel’s blog, at the bottom you see links where you can view either the comments or the trackbacks.

sheltrackbackandcomment

And when you click the Trackbacks link at the bottom of the post, you see this:

showingtrackbackonshelpost

Many blogs display the trackbacks separately from the comments, and often give the trackbacks more prominence.

Of course, trackback spam remains an issue, as you see from Shel’s warnings to spammers. Some bloggers even turn off the trackback function because the spam can be so tiresome. I wouldn’t recommend that, because you would be taking away incentive for people to link to you. Here again, the Aksimet anti-spam service “baked in” to wordpress.com (but available as an add-on for other blogging platforms) is extremely helpful. It not only catches comment spam, but also nabs trackback spam. Or at least make both much more manageable.

So the general rule for comments and trackbacks is:

  1. Make comments on blogs, but keep them short. Many blogs have up to 100 times as many readers as they do commenters. Take a minute and leave a comment of 2-3 sentences, and you’ll be among the “elite” participants in blogging.
  2. If you’re writing a longer essay inspired by someone else’s post, post it on your blog and trackback to the original post that was the source of your inspiration.

Assignment:

When you write your next blog post (You do have a blog, don’t you? If not, see Blogging 108 to get started!), include a link to this post, saying something like “I never really understood how trackbacks worked until I took this course at Social Media University, Global.” Feel free to gush about the general quality of instruction you find at SMUG and encourage people to enroll, too.

Then come back here and see an excerpt from your post show up in the comments as a trackback.

And by the way, when I get done with this post I’m going to update it by including a link to itself, so I can test whether self-referential links create trackbacks.

Update: I added the link in the paragraph above, and it didn’t trackback. Which is as it should be.

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Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of seven, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

3 thoughts on “Blogging 118: Trackbacks”

  1. Trackback! Thanks for the plugs Lee. I feel like trackbacks were nebulous for the longest time and this post does a really great job of helping a fresh blogger get a solid grasp on ways to connect and credit other bloggers and their posts.

  2. I have been visiting WordPress for over a year reading blogs and enjoying the subjects etc, even kidding myself that maybe one day I might blog myself. I have a question however. Why is it that the of the blogs I read on WordPress seldom recieve comments compared to other blog sites like Xanga etc? Is it just the subject matter I choose or what?
    Any thoughts?

  3. Brian – It completely depends on the subject matter. CNN hosts its Political Ticker blog on wordpress.com, and here’s one recent post that has 124 comments as I look this morning.

    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/11/10/biden-booed-at-eagles-giants-game/

    So stop kidding yourself and just start a blog! If you want to do it on Xanga, that’s fine, but if CNN thinks WordPress.com is up to snuff, I think it will meet your needs and mine.

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