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Blogging: What is a “Trackback”?

The idea of great tech writing isn't to take something complex and make it simple, it is to take something complex and make it simple to understand! As someone who has used Blogger ferever – this TypePad environment I am in is new. I had used MoveableType years ago – but I found it weird for my uses. Alan Langford and I hooked up on Twitter some time back – love his posts.( Follow him at @FxNxRl.) I posted a quip on Twitter eluding to a senior moment I was having re Trackbacks. Alan to the rescue!

Most bloggers have seen the word “trackback” in their blogging software. If they've turned the feature on, they might even have noticed a list of trackbacks at the bottom of some of their posts. It's fairly easy to figure out what they do, but it's not exactly obvious what purpose they serve and how to use them.

Like all social media, blogging is at its best when it results in a dialogue between people with a common interest. Trackbacks are designed to help readers follow a topic of discussion between different blogs and different authors.

When a blogger mentions another blog, they usually include a link to the related post. That's good in itself, but the problem is that it's a one-way connection. There's no link from the older post to the new one. One way links don't foster communication.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was some sort of automatic mechanism that detected when another blogger linked to one of your posts, and it automatically added a link from your site, so that people who read your post could see what other bloggers were saying about it? The answer is yes, and that's exactly what a trackback does.

Six Apart, creators of Movable Type, created the trackback standard now used by most major blogging software (Blogger is a notable exception). If your software supports trackbacks, then when you finish a post, your blog software checks all external links for a “pingback” URL. If the other end has trackback support, then your blog sends information about your post to the pingback URL. This information includes a link to your post, and can include other tidbits like the title of your post, an excerpt, and the name of your blog.

The blog on the receiving end of the pingback records this information. It's common for the trackback to be held in a to-be-approved state, to prevent spam. Once the trackback is approved, it shows up at the bottom of the post, and the blogs are linked to each other.

Trackbacks improve the reader experience, encouraging them to engage more deeply and explore what people have to say about your posts. Trackbacks also tend to link pages of closely related content, something that scores well in search engine ranking algorithms.

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