Saturday, May 07, 2005

[misc] trackbacks (of my tears)

I'd love a plain language explanation of trackbacks and why I should care about them. Or if I shouldn't care. Or something. :-)

I get the idea that they provide linkage between posts and other blogs that reference those posts, but why? Is it sort of a modern equivalent of calling cards--like "Sam came to visit today and wrote something about this post on her blog." Does it make any difference in (gee, I was going to say rankings, but...I am not even sure if that would apply here) anything external to the blog? Act as a useful traffic driver? Let you know your fellow bloggers are thinking and writing about the same topics as you?

I am technical enough that if I care about them I am sure I can figure out how to use them, but I apparently need to be shown the light on them.
  • What's the point?
  • What's the payoff?
  • What's the downside?
  • What's the frequency, Kenneth? (mass creds to those who get the reference)
Thanks in advance for your help clearing the fog that surrounds the mystery of the trackback...


Sam said...

great question. i don't understand it all either, or even how to use it.
I just use technorati to find out if anyone links to me.

kitchenmage said...

oh good! i feel so much better if you don't get them either Sam! I understand them as "ego" devices, yet I am thinking there are real reasons--technical, PR, something...

McAuliflower said...

More than just a calling card, trackbacks help form an information web. A listed trackback (usually in with comments) lets the readers of your site know that:

hey, here's another site that possibly expounds on this interesting topic

This allows your readers to find websites similar to the ones they are currently reading, and also just help round out your readers knowledge on a particular topic by also perusing through the trackbacks.

Trackbacks make blogging more interconnected... they decrease the isolation of your blog as the only person talking about a certain topic.

Sam said...

as a blogger blogger I don't get how to use it cos we don't have it.
do i simply link to the
instead of the

for example
if i try visiting
is is just an error page

i link to other blogs all the time, but I somply dont understand how to trace back

Owen said...

By the way, if you want to track who links to you, a really good way is to do a google search with the ink: command - so I type "link:" into google and get a big list. Bt there is one bug/feature - you get a second set of results if you do it without the space after the colon.

And no - I don;t get trackbacks either - even though I have them - they come free along with comments from Haloscan so I just said yes - some people use them but I don't know how or why either

McAuliflower said...

On a side note: the google-link search that Owen brought up doesn't reflect your true list of sites that link you, but it definitly is fun to play with.

I use Urchin to monitor site traffic and can see what urls refer traffic to my site. I'd guess that when using google to search who links to me, I get maybe 20% of my referers listed.

I *love* using Urchin. I've found some really fun instances of people linking and commenting about my blog:
One weekend I was having some bad business interactions with a shoe website. I sent a complaint to their customer service and was done with it. A couple days later when tracking my referal traffic I noticed a new site popping up. It was the woman who answers emails for this shoe website... she followed through the websites I have listed in my email signature and got a kick out of my fake ipod entry!

Anyway, this isn't about trackbacks... I'm sending my expert over to elucidate :)

Sweets said...

How to explain this... it needn't be an ego thing, and it is like a calling card.

The real purpose is to help third party readers find the rest of the conversation out in the blogosphere.

SEO impacts: (SEO is for Search Engine Optimization -- another way of saying "brings traffic in from Google") reciperocal linking is known to be ranked well, esp when the link appears in a gramatical context that suggests similar topics between the pages... and trackbacks provide an easy way to generate those strong reciperocal links.

Let's say you want to write an in-depth comment about an entry you read about on my blog. This is an opportunity for you to write an entry for your own blog. A trackback helps you to do both.

You post on your blog, keeping your content fresh, keeping your regular readers up on all the things on your mind and fingertips. It also leads your regular readers to the rest of the conversation, but normal linking already does this: not a lot of added value here.

The trackback adds your thoughts (and possibly an exerpt of your entry) to the comments of the blog entry you are posting about, helping maintain the continuity of the conversation.

The folks who are reading the comments on the foreign blog get a cue that there is more on the topic over here on your blog.

Use em if you got em and you like em. If not, don't. The point is to facilitate conversation. Do they work? I don't know that we have the data on that yet. In some blogging communities they are quite widely used. In others, not so much.

Hope this helps,

P.S. what sort of Monster wouldn't REMemeber the source of that reference kitchenmage? :)

McAuliflower said...

But... will we ever know who Kenneth is?

Culinary Fool said...

I always think of a trackback as a way to let the original poster know that I found their post interesting or useful enough to comment on in my own blog. It's sort of like a different way of commenting - the comment is just on your site instead of their's.

And, as Sweets points out, it lets readers of that original post click on the trackback to see what else has been written relating to the original post, which can bring people to your site.

And I think Owen and McAuliflower are talking apples and oranges. Google (I believe) will show sites that have physical links to your site. Urchin shows referrers which shows all the ways people get to your site - some may be from physical links (someone has a list of blogs or mentions you in one of their posts), but some may come from searches like google or yahoo or aggregators, etc.

Kelli said...

I find that trackbacks are useful within my site. It's a way to automatically link together related posts, which is quite convenient.

kitchenmage said...

ahhh, i feel so enlightened...

sweets, part of what i was missing was the Google linkage (so to speak), thanks for the insight into more Google arcana...

culinary fool, this "It's sort of like a different way of commenting - the comment is just on your site instead of their's." was helpful in pulling it all together...

i hadn't thought of using them within a site at all, kelli, but it's a great idea!

the google search Owen talked about is a really handy one, i use it to search huge sites with lousy internal search engines...

and mcauliflower, you win for the link to the origin of Kenneth...

McAuliflower said...

>>and mcauliflower, you win for the link to the origin of Kenneth...


Sam... we forgot to mention that you don't link trackbacks.

Unlike in blogger, my "write a post page" in Word Press includes an input field where I would put in a trackback url, if one would apply to my post subject- but you don't link it. I hope this is making some sense... as it is a bit confusing.

I personally haven't used trackbacks on my site (well... except Word Press has a little feature where I can trackback automatically to my own blog if I refer to myself in an entry... see my April 28 entry's comments. It's all a bit meta).

I just may well go do an intentional trackback now...

Cate said...

Interesting topic. As a blogger blogger, right now, I have the code in so I can see where my last 24 hours of links came from. Aside from that, though, is there a way to track or trace when people refer to you before the links come in? For example, Chef Joanna referenced a recent entry of mine on her website and I just happened to stumble on it. Just to keep track of "press," would love to find a way to find out when people talk about my blog... possible?

Anonymous said...

Sam...I'm just back from five weeks stateside and wow! As ever, you've had another brilliant idea! Thanks a mil for starting Food Blog S'cool!

Excellent topic, kitchenmage- I've wondered myself about trackbacks, and this 'conversation' was very enlightening!

Sweetnicks, an excellent resource for tracking mentions is:

(sorry, I don't know how to post a link in Blogger)

Just put your blog address in, and it throws up a pretty comprehensive list (you must click on each engine for a report) of links or mentions of your blog. Hope this is what you were looking for!

(Who Wants Seconds?)

Elise said...

I wrote a post about TrackBack here: What is Trackback? for Movable Type and Typepad users.

The benefits have been discussed in this thread so far. The problems are that 1) spammers have discovered trackback and are abusing it even more than comment spam. There aren't the built-in moderation capabilities for Trackback as there are for comments. 2) After a while, the links that show up in Trackbacks placed on your blog can get stale. People move their sites, change the URLs etc. So, now you have lots of links on your blog that lead to 404 error pages. If you are concerned at all about your ranking in Google, Google does penalize sites that have dead links.

kitchenmage said...

elise, good points... thanks for the post about learning to use trackbacks... i am betting it'll get a lot of comments like the first one where people use it as their first real inspiration to trackback something... (oooh, do i get points for verbizing it?)

the stale trackback link issue seems like it'd be fixable if you can kill trackbacks... or maybe i just think that because i recently recreated my blog and only have ~4 entries... LOL (but it actually seems like there's be a way to fix it if you had access to the raw database (like w/MT)... probably not so much w/Typepad, Blogger, and other hosted blogs...

I have to admit, I expected everyone else to have this topic down cold and wasn't expecting it to be such a group enlightnment experiment; very cool that it is though...

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