What is a Pingback and Why Should I Care? (Search Marketing 101)

What’s the definition of a pingback? Pingbacks are notifications you get from WordPress (and other similar blogging platforms) when someone links to a post on your blog.

Pingbacks and trackbacks (another form of linking between blogs) are important to search marketing because although many businesses use, or want to use, their blog for online marketing purposes, they usually have no idea what pingbacks and trackbacks are. Although pingbacks look like comments – and, indeed, they show up in the comments section of the WordPress Dashboard – they are quite different.

Publishing pingbacks without knowing what you are doing can have serious detrimental consequences for the search rank of your blog pages and for the search rank of your website as a whole (if it shares the same or a related domain).

I have yet to find a good explanation of pingbacks and trackbacks for newbies. If you know of a good one, please add a link in the comments below.

You can wade through this discussion of pingbacks, if you have time.

Pingbacks are turned on by default in WordPress and most major blog platforms so that if someone creates a link to one of your blog posts in one of their blog posts (rather than leaving a comment directly on your blog), you get a notification (depending on how you configure this in the WordPress Dashboard) and you can publish the pingback. You’ll get an email from WordPress asking whether you want to publish the pingback or not. If you decide to publish the pingback, it will show up at the end of your post along with the published comments. Your readers can then click the link in the published pingback and go see what that person who linked to you is saying about your post – on that person’s blog.

Displaying Pingbacks and Comments Separately

There are also ways to modify the comments.php file in your WordPress theme so that comments are listed first, and pingbacks and/or trackbacks are listed separately below the comments. Instead of leaving pingbacks and trackbacks out altogether, this allows you to publish them without confusing your less blog-savvy readers. This might also encourage readers to link to your posts, because they know they will get a link back to their blog in the form of a published pingback.

I looked for a clear explanation of how to separate pingbacks from comments, and I searched for a WordPress plugin that would do it for you, but I found no plugins and I did not find any easy instructions about how to modify the code in a WordPress comments.php file to accomplish this.

While we are on the subject of blog comments and rewarding commenters on your blog, I want to mention a great WordPress plugin called CommentLuv. As the developer says, the plugin rewards commenters by “automatically placing a link to their last blog post at the end of their comment.”

Should You Disable Pingbacks?

To disable pingbacks in WordPress, in the Dashboard go to Settings > Discussion > Default article settings. Uncheck the box for “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks.)” I prefer not to disable pingbacks. I like to know if someone, or some bot (spambot), has linked to my blog, so I leave this box checked.

Pingbacks and Search Engine Optimization

In terms of search engine optimization, link building and attracting traffic to a blog, it’s more beneficial for the person who links to your site to do so than it is to leave a comment on your blog (as long as you actually publish the pingback). Why? (a) It means your readers have to go to the other person’s blog to read what they are saying about your post, and (b) – more importantly – when you publish the pingback, you create a link to the post on their blog that is directly relevant to the topic of your post. Otherwise, when someone leaves a comment on your blog, they will typically only use their top-level domain as the URL along with their name.

For example, if you look at the comments below, each of the commenters’ names is a clickable link, but each of them has used a URL that is the general address of their website or blog, not the address of a post about pingbacks.

How to Disable “Internal” Pingbacks

It’s worth mentioning that, whenever you link to a page on your own WordPress site from one of your blog posts, you will get a pingback notification letting you know. Of course, you  don’t need to get these. You already know if you linked to your own site. There is a way to disable these internal pingbacks using a plugin or by editing the functions.php file for your theme.

Pingbacks and Spam

The most common use of pingbacks is for spam. By publishing a pingback, you give a “vote” to any link provided by the person or bot linking to your site, and you associate your site with the site you link to. If the pingback is spam, you are putting a spammy link on your blog. This is bad. It waters down the quality of your site in the eyes of search engines, and it looks pretty bad to human readers as well. It looks like you don’t know – and don’t seem to care about – what’s on your blog. In this sense, spam pingbacks and spam comments are very similar.

Since some blogs automatically publish pingbacks, a spambot can create a link to one of your posts and once it’s published, the bot/website creating the link to you will automatically get a link back to their site. Perfect! For spammers, that is. The image at the top of the page shows what pingbacks look like in the Comments section of your WordPress Dashboard. These happen to be spam pingbacks. The square brackets and ellipses [...] signify a pingback as opposed to a comment.

Should You Publish Pingbacks?

I don’t publish pingbacks, not even the legitimate ones from humans who link to my site. I think they are generally confusing to readers. Pingbacks are for serious bloggers – people who blog every day. If I were a big-time blogger, I probably would publish pingbacks so that other bloggers would reciprocate. But it’s worth noting that even a successful blogger (and very smart guy) like Ian Lurie does not publish pingbacks.

If you want to include pingbacks on your WordPress blog, as I said, you can probably use a plugin that will put them at the bottom of the page, below all the comments. (Although I have seen this done, I haven’t found a plugin yet that will do it.) That way people can read the comments before getting to the pingbacks and getting confused. In most cases, unless your readers are also big-time bloggers, they will get confused because pingbacks mixed with comments don’t make sense unless you already know what they are (or maybe your readers will just ignore the pingbacks). So why include them?

Comments: 25

25 comments

This discussion of pingbacks is quite helpful. I’ve wondered what to do with them, and fortunately, I’ve not published any of them. Additionally, I get pingbacks from Quora when I submit an article there, but I don’t receive any from the other social-media sites. Thanks for the insight!

@doug_eike – I appreciate the feedback! A lot of these blog features are still in their infancy. You can imagine lots of other uses for them, some that would be quite helpful to people looking for certain kinds of information or feedback. I prefer not to turn off pingbacks because, on more than one occasion, they have been a source of insight: finding someone who was blogging about one of my posts who turned out to be a great resource, or finding someone who was using one of my WordPress tutorial videos as a kind of advertisement without my approval, for example.

Great post about pingbacks. For the most cases pingbacks are helpfull for people to use. I also turn them off like mark just beacuse of personal prefference. But this is a very informative post. thank you

@Hugo – Thanks! To be clear, I leave the pingback function in WordPress turned on so I can see any new links to my site from other blogs or websites that also support them, but I do not approve any pingbacks, so they do not show up in the comments to my posts.

You information is no doubt helpful .But sometimes pingbacks or trackbacks open the chances of getting spammed by spammers . I used to enable this service previously .But now , I have disabled the service due to spamming problem .However , thanks a lot for your useful info.

Thank you for the very thorough explanation, I have had a blog for a few years now and never really understood what a pingback was, and know that I know, I will go make sure that feature is disabled! Thanks.

Thanks for that. I’ve been getting quite a few pingbacks lately as a result of publishing article to article directories who have been sending pingbacks to my posts, and I was unsure what to do with them.
This has cleared things up for me.

Thank you for explaining the purpose of pingbacks so well. I was wondering what to do with the pingbacks I get from some article directories I submit articles to. So far I have deleted all of them but I was wondering whether by deleting them, my articles were not going to be published by the directories concerned but I am relieved to know that’s not the case.

Hello.

I’ve searched for this topic because the comment section of my blog seems to be filled by pingback links from my other posts. And as what I understand, if links starting to have a behavior of pointing to a same domain or URL, it wouldn’t be so beneficial to that domain or URL when we talk about search engines. So I’m going to delete those pingbacks I published because as you suggested, pingbacks can hurt a blog sometimes.

@Jouie – You are wise to delete those pingbacks. You can use the “no self ping” plugin mentioned above to keep self-referential pingbacks from being generated by WordPress in the future. No Self Pings Plugin

Thank you for sharing this info. I am new to this and had no idea what ping backs were. I am happy I am being linked from other sites, but do not want to confuse my readers with other websites in my comments.

So, where do the pingbacks come from that just link from one of my pages to another? If they were because I had linked to Digg or Fark for example, would it say so?
(Sorry…. blonde!)

@Joanna – Can you show me examples of links you are talking about? “Internal” links are those that you create when you link from one page or post on your site to another page or post on your site. When I add a link like this http://www.mcbuzz.com/2011/using-footer-links-for-search-engine-optimization/ to a post, WordPress will generate a pingback message in my Comments that looks like someone left a comment. But it’s not a comment, it’s a pingback. It just means that a webpage somewhere on the Internet is linking to that Footer Links post. In this case, it’s my own webpage that has the link in it. The same thing happens when anyone else links to my site (and they are using a platform like WordPress with pingback and trackback notifications enabled).

You might get a pingback message if someone (including you) links to your site from Digg or Fark. Again, maybe you can make a screen shot (Windows or Mac) and show me what that looks like.

Mark…. thanks very much. I do have internal links between pages and to various points on various pages so it is prob that… although I do have quite a lot and only have two pingbacks appeared. But I will not worry about them now!
This is all good info… I can see me coming back again to find out other stuff.
Many many thanks mate :)
Joanna

@Joanna – See if the internal links are on Pages or Posts. I think you only get a pingback from a Post (on your blog), not on a “static” Page. For example, your “Free Bonus Offers” page is a static Page, not a blog Post. So an internal link on that page like the link “There really is a way to stop the tantrums!” would not generate a pingback.

Mark…. thanks for that. The pingbacks have all been post to post. Although I have added links on pages there are none which are either to or from a page so that makes sense.
You are a star! thank you – I am slowly getting through all the little problems and queries!
Joanna

Hey Thanks for the insight here….i checked for ping backs on wordpress site they have given info in technical terms after reading it here i understood wht is the effect of pingbacks on my site :-) thanks for sharing!!!!!!!!!

I just received a pingback for approval on my new site and I didn’t know what to do with it. With this helpful information has aided me what to do with it.Thanks for sharing this.

Thanks. That was very helpful. I couldn’t figure out whether to approve the pingbacks or not; now I know not to.

That is an excellent article! You really gave me a much better idea of what pingbacks are and what to do with them when they show up in my comments.

If it’s all right with you, I’m going to do a post about what comments to approve and which to trash and I’d like to link to you post. I guess that will be a pingback to you if I’m understanding everything correctly – right?

Thanks again for making it clear!

@Julie Larson – Glad you liked the pingback discussion. You are free to post about whatever you like. It’s a free country, as they say. The link will be a pingback. Much appreciated!

Brilliant Mark!! Thank you so much for explaining what pingbacks actually are, i got a few of them about 5 mins ago and i had no idea what they were! Great advice i’ll find the pingback off button now!!
Melissa

Thanks for the great post Mark. I think that it is best to leave pingbacks on in WordPress as it helps keep tabs on your incoming links.

Thank you for this pingback and trackback info – I want to pretend that I understand,,,, but not yet – My blog gets hit so many times I need to be more savvy as to what to do….
Jesse.

I enjoyed reading your post on pingback and trackbacks Mark. Very informative. Thanks for reminding me of CommentLuv. I forgot to install it when I moved my website to a new server.
Veronica Schultz aka The Soul Whisperer

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