Trackbacks and pingbacks were developed early on in the history of blogging as ways to notify editors when content has been published that their users might find interesting. These legacy tools are still available in WordPress but our goal is to explain what trackbacks and pingbacks are and why we recommend not using them.
What are trackbacks?
A trackback is a notification that WordPress sends to an external site when you link to it in your content. Let’s say that you’ve just published a new blog post on an upcoming music festival, which includes a link to another website that contains some additional information for your readers.
In this scenario, you could send a trackback ‘ping’ to that site, in order to get the owner’s attention. That person could then choose to approve the trackback. This would display an excerpt of your post and a link to your site in their comments section.
What are pingbacks?
Pingbacks in WordPress have a very similar goal, but they work a little differently. In fact, they were actually created to be a better version of trackbacks, in order to resolve some of the problems with the technique.
The key thing to understand is that while trackbacks are sent manually, pingbacks are automatic. To illustrate this, we’ll go back to our earlier example. Let’s say you have pingbacks set up on your blog, and you just published that article about the upcoming music festival (linking to the same external website as before).
In this case, a pingback would immediately be sent to the site you linked to – as long as it also has pingbacks enabled. That site would then automatically check to verify that the pingback originated from your post (and wasn’t some type of spam), before displaying it as a simple link in the comments section. In most cases, pingbacks won’t include an excerpt from the post in question, though this depends on the theme that a site is using.
The Pros and Cons of Using Pingbacks and Trackbacks
In order to understand why we recommend not using pingbacks and trackbacks, let’s discuss the pros and cons.
It’s easy to see why so many people have used both pingbacks and trackbacks in the past. The potential benefits of these technologies include:
- Increasing backlinks to your own site, driving traffic your way and improving your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
- Making connections with related sites, and encouraging them to share your content by showing your willingness to promote theirs.
- Offering more value to your readers, by introducing them to other content they may find useful.
The biggest issue with trackbacks is that they soon became used to send huge amounts of spam. As trackbacks can be sent manually to any site, spammers use them to get their links posted on as much content as possible.
Keeping these spam trackbacks off your site requires manually checking each one since there’s no other way to verify that they aren’t fake. Naturally, the time spent moderating these trackbacks could be better used elsewhere. It also makes them a lot less valuable than they could be in a theoretical sense.
As we mentioned earlier, pingbacks were designed mainly to resolve this spam problem. That’s why they work automatically, and require verification before they can be posted. In addition, they won’t even be sent unless both blogs have enabled pingbacks.
However, pingbacks soon fell victim to the same downsides as trackbacks. Many spammers were able to easily overcome the protections put into place. That resulted in a lot of fake and malicious pingbacks. Again, this means that sites with this feature enabled generally have to spend a lot of time moderating the resulting comments.
There’s been a lot of controversy over the years as to whether using pingbacks and trackbacks is worth the downsides. These days, however, it’s widely recommended that you avoid both techniques.
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