Pingbacks and trackbacks: What are they and how do they work?

If you allow commenting on your website, you’ve probably received some odd-looking notifications before for something called a “pingback” or a “trackback.” If you’ve wondered what pingbacks and trackbacks are or how they work, here’s a short explanation.

Pingbacks

This is an example of a pingback. It displays a short amount of text around the link to your site with a bracketed ellipsis before and after.

This is an example of a pingback. It displays a short amount of text around the link to your site with a bracketed ellipsis before and after.

A pingback is an automatic notification sent to a website to let it know another website has linked to it. So, for example, if you link to a New York Times article in a post you write, that article on the New York Times website will receive a pingback from you. WordPress supports pingbacks and sends and receives them automatically. Several other popular blogging platforms do the same thing, so you can send and receive pingbacks from sites that aren’t using WordPress too as long as their CMS supports them.

If you receive a pingback, you’ll see it show up in your comments. Because pingbacks are automated, the formatting sometimes looks odd. You’ll generally see a few words before and after the text of the link to your site with a bracketed ellipsis before and after the text.

Trackbacks

Because trackbacks are not automatic, they are rarely used anymore. The Send Trackbacks box appears to have been removed in Gutenberg, but if you’re using the Classic Editor, it’s easy to send them. The box is hidden by default, but if you click the Screen Options button at the top of the page, you can then check the box next to Send Trackbacks to enable this box in your editor screen. You can then include the URL to send a trackback to when you publish a post.

Advantages to using pingbacks and trackbacks

Pingbacks and trackbacks can be a great way to find out what other sites have linked to yours. They can also help boost your SEO as well, as backlinking is one of the best ways to build authority in the eyes of search engines. Site stats can help you determine where your traffic is coming from, but pingbacks and trackbacks can provide you more specific information to help you narrow down the source of your site traffic.

Disadvantages to using pingbacks and trackbacks

While pingbacks and trackbacks do offer several distinct advantages, these can be leveraged by spammers as well. Since backlinks build SEO authority, spam websites will attempt to use these technologies — especially pingbacks, because they are automated — to try to trick search engines into thinking they’re legitimate websites.

Some websites see very little pingback and trackback spam. For example, we’ve only ever seen one such attempt at a spam pingback to the MPWR Design website. However, some websites get spammed with a lot of pingbacks. This can happen with comments as well, but it can be even worse with pingbacks. If you find yourself receiving a lot of spam pingbacks, you may want to switch them to require moderation or turn them off entirely.

You can turn pingbacks and trackbacks on or off from Settings → Discussion in your WordPress Dashboard. Simply check or uncheck the second box, labeled “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks) on new articles.” You can also turn them on and off on a per-post basis in the Discussion box, located under the Document tab on the right side of the screen in Gutenberg and at the bottom of the screen in the Classic Editor.

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