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.
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?