WordPress Trackbacks and Pingbacks: What Are They and How Do They Affect SEO?

One of the decisions you’ll have to make when building a WordPress website is whether to enable or disable trackbacks and pingbacks. Trackbacks and pingbacks have been around since 2002. During that time, they’ve become synonymous with the WordPress platform. What are trackbacks and pingbacks exactly, and how do they impact your website’s search engine optimization (SEO)?

What Are Trackbacks?

Trackbacks are manual comment-based notifications that websites send to other sites when linking to them. Enabling trackbacks on your website will make it eligible to receive these comment-based notifications. A blogger, for instance, may link to your website in a blog post. The blogger may then send a trackback to your website notifying you of the link.

Trackbacks are essentially comments. Rather than being created by visitors, though, they are created by websites that link to your site. Trackbacks contain an excerpt from the page that links to your website. They also contain the URL of the respective page.

What Are Pingbacks?

Pingbacks are automated comment-based notifications that websites send to other sites when linking to them. Trackbacks and pingbacks serve the same purpose of notifying websites when they receive a link. The main difference between them is that trackbacks are sent manually, whereas pingbacks are sent automatically.

Bloggers and other webmasters can send pingbacks automatically. To send trackbacks, conversely, they’ll have to enter the URL of the external page to which they link in the trackback field of their content management system (CMS). As stated, pingbacks are sent automatically. If a blogger or webmaster links to your website, their CMS will send a pingback automatically.

Pingbacks are also simpler than trackbacks. While trackbacks contain an excerpt and URL, pingbacks only contain the latter. A pingback is nothing more than a URL in the form of a comment. It contains the URL of the page that linked to your website.

How to Enable Trackbacks and Pingbacks

You can enable trackbacks and pingbacks in the “Discussions” section of the WordPress dashboard. It’s available under “Default post settings.” Clicking the box for trackbacks and pingbacks will place a checkmark in it. All of your posts, as well as pages, will now have trackbacks and pingbacks enabled. To disable these link notifications, remove the checkmark by clicking the box a second time.

Alternatively, you can enable trackbacks and pingbacks on individual posts and pages. The “Discussions” section of the WordPress dashboard is for site-wide settings. To enable trackbacks and pingbacks on a specific post or page, pull up the post or page and click the “Post” tab on the right-hand column of the Gutenberg editor. Toward the bottom of this tab is a “Discussions” link, which you can click to reveal a set of new commenting-related options.

If you use the old editor rather than Gutenberg, you can enable trackbacks and pingbacks at the bottom of posts and pages.

WordPress doesn’t offer separate settings for trackbacks and pingbacks. You can’t enable trackbacks and disable pingbacks, for example. These link notifications come as a package deal. You can either enable both of them, or you can disable both of them.

How Trackbacks and Pingbacks Affect SEO

Trackbacks and pingbacks aren’t organic ranking signals, so they won’t directly influence your website’s search engine rankings. Nonetheless, they can still affect SEO.

Your website may become a target for spam if it has trackbacks and pingbacks enabled. According to WPBeginner, approximately 99 percent of all of these link notifications. Only about one in 100 trackbacks and pingbacks is a legitimate link notification. The overwhelming majority are spamming attempts to secure links from websites with trackbacks and pingbacks enabled.

Your website may lose some of its link juice with trackbacks and pingbacks enabled. Most themes are coded so that they apply the no-follow tag to all comment links, but some of them don’t. Without the no-follow tag, link juice will flow through comment links. Websites that send trackbacks and pingbacks to your site will receive some of this link juice. As a result, they may rank higher while your site ranks lower.

Trackbacks and pingbacks are considered reciprocal links. After all, they are link notifications. A website may link to your site, after which it may send a trackback or pingback. The trackback or pingback will contain the URL of the external page. Assuming you publish the trackback or pingback, your website will link to the external page, and the external page will link to your site.

Reciprocal links such as these are of little SEO value. They may, in fact, hurt your efforts to secure higher search engine rankings. Google cites the creation of excessive reciprocal links as a link scheme. If you enable trackbacks and pingbacks on your website, your site will probably have a lot of reciprocal links, which could land it in hot water with Google.

Another SEO concern when enabling trackbacks and pingbacks is the potential for self-pingbacks. Self-pingbacks are pingbacks that websites create and send to themselves. If you link to another website, you’ll automatically send a pingback to that site if it has this feature enabled. If you link to your own website, you’ll automatically send a pingback to your own site. Known as a self-pingback, it will create an extra internal link.

Each self-pingback will create an internal link. Unfortunately, these internal links typically aren’t helpful to visitors. Pingbacks and self-pingbacks only consist of a URL; they don’t provide any context, so visitors don’t know whether they should click them.

Moderating trackbacks and pingbacks is time-consuming. As comments, they’ll typically appear in a moderation queue. Your website won’t immediately publish new trackbacks and pingbacks. Instead, new trackbacks and pingbacks will be added to a queue in the WordPress dashboard where you’ll have to moderate them. You can approve, delete, or mark them as spam.

Trackbacks and pingbacks are link notifications that leverage the commenting system of WordPress. When enabled, your website may receive a comment-based notification when other sites link to it. Trackbacks are manual link notifications that contain an excerpt and URL, whereas pingbacks are automatic link notifications that only contain a URL.

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