Trackbacks vs Pingbacks vs Webmentions for WordPress
Wouldn’t it be great it there was a standardized way to notify other websites when you link to them? It’d be even better to get an automatic notification when someone else linked to your site. Linkbacks do just that, and there are three different types of linkbacks you can use with your WordPress website.
If you’ve spent any time at all using WordPress you are at least vaguely familiar with Pingbacks. Enable pingbacks on your site and you’ll start to see automatic comments that consist of just a link distributed to, from, and between the pages and posts of your site.
Trackbacks were the predecessor to pingbacks and now webmentions are moving in and taking market share from pingbacks. But what exactly is a trackback, pingback, and webmention? And which, if any, should you use on your website?
Why Even Worry About Linkbacks?
You’re not alone if you’re wondering why even bother thinking about linkbacks. Many popular blogs and websites don’t use any linkback mechanism. Why should you consider using one? There are a few instances where enabling some sort of linkback system makes all the sense in the world:
- When your website doesn’t get a lot of traffic, linkbacks can create a modest traffic boost. If you write about another website and they have a linkback mechanism in place, using it is a legitimate way to create a link from the comments section of their website back to your own site.
- When your website includes content of a nature that is likely to be cited by other websites, linkbacks provide an easy mechanism other websites can use to acknowledge their use of your expertise.
- When virtual conversations spill from your website onto other platforms, linkbacks can help visitors follow the conversation from your website onto other platforms.
In case your SEO-spidey-sense is going off right now, you should know that virtually all linkback techniques are posted with a
rel="nofollow" attribute to discourage abuse by spammers. So linkbacks aren’t an effective way to improve SEO, but they do let visitors to one website know about another website that they might want to check out.
Trackbacks, You’re Out! Pingbacks, You’re In!
Trackbacks were the first linkback mechanism implemented by WordPress. When a Trackback was sent it included a link to the website that generated the link and a short excerpt of the content associated with the link. The link and excerpt would appear as a comment on the receiving website.
The problem with Trackbacks is that they can be faked. In other words, just because you receive a Trackback notification in your WordPress website Comments, doesn’t mean the sender actually wrote anything about your content or linked to your site. A knowledgeable operator can send out Trackbacks without holding up their end of the bargain by writing about and linking to your website.
Enter Pingbacks: the linkback mechanism that was supposed to put an end to Trackback abuse by automating the linkback process. Since they are automated, Pingbacks are tougher to fake. However, all good things come to an end, and spammers did eventually find ways to game the Pingback system as well. Even worse, the Pingback system can be hijacked for use in a DDoS attack, making Pingbacks potentially even more problematic than Trackbacks.
Despite concerns about security, Pingbacks are built into the WordPress core and enabled by many WordPress websites.
WebMentions: the New Kid in Town
The newest addition to the linkback scrum is Webmentions. Surprisingly, even Pingback’s inventor, Stuart Landridge, is a convert to the new linkback method and has implemented it on his own website (a screenshot of which you can see above). Why the change of heart? In addition to the security issues presented by pingbacks, webmentions have several things going for them:
- Webmentions are easy to use. Depending on the implementation they are either completely automatic or you may be able to manually add a webmention by dropping your URL in a Webmentions prompt in the comments section.
- Webmentions can be used to pull in social sharing of a piece of content. Take a look at the Webmentions section of Stuarts’s website to see this in action.
- While they would seem to fall victim to spam attacks due to their ease of use, webmentions are actually pretty well-protected against spam.
- Depending on how they’re implemented, webmentions may look more natural than Pingbacks or Trackbacks.
The only drawback to webmentions is that they are not yet broadly implemented across the web, so the average website visitor may not yet recognize, comprehend, or interact with webmentions.
Let’s say you aren’t sold on the merits of webmentions and you want to stick with a proven WordPress linkback system: Pingbacks. If you’re going to enable Pingbacks on your WordPress website, make sure you take two steps to protect your site against the downsides of the Pingback system:
- Use a spam-combating plugin like Akismet or Anti-Splog to filter out spam.
- Install and configure a security plugin that can handle brute-force attacks like Jetpack’s Protect module or Defender.
With spam and DDoS protection in place, enabling pingbacks in WordPress is easy. You have two options: enable pingbacks by default on all future posts and pages, or enable them on each post and page individually.
To enable pingbacks for all future posts navigate to Settings > Discussion and select the first two checkboxes. The first checkbox enables the sending of Pingbacks when you link to another website. The second checkbox tells the WordPress comment system to accept Pingbacks and Trackbacks when other websites send them to you.
If you don’t want to enable Pingbacks and Trackbacks on all future pages and posts by default, you can still enable them from the post or page editor. To see this in action, go to Posts or Pages and open an existing or new page or post. Next, scroll until you are past the editor and look for the Discussion settings box.
If you don’t see the Discussion box you may have to select the Discussion checkbox in the Screen Options menu to display the box.
Once you get the Discussion box to show up, just select the checkbox to Allow trackbacks and pingbacks on this page and WordPress will automatically generate Pingbacks and send them to any websites you link to within your page or post content.
Incoming pingbacks will show up as comments. Spam pingbacks should be filtered into your spam queue – you can safely ignore those. Take a look at incoming pingbacks that make it past your spam filter and approve them if they look legitimate. You can always follow the link in the pingback to verify that it’s a legitimate hit before approving it.
WordPress and WebMentions
If you’re sold on implementing webmentions on your WordPress website, let’s get down business. Thankfully, there’s a plugin for that.
First, install the webmentions plugin and activate it. You can use your preferred plugin installation method. There are no configuration or settings to worry about; just activate the plugin once the installation is complete.
Next, go to Settings > Discussion and make sure the top checkbox is selected so that your website will Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from the article.
With just those two steps WordPress will start sending out webmention-format linkbacks when you link to another website within a page or post. To receive webmentions on your own site you have to take one more puzzling step: make sure each post or page where you want to allow webmentions is set to Allow trackbacks and pingbacks on this page.
I realized this while testing out the new plugin. If the checkbox to allow trackbacks and plugins is left unchecked, the post will not accept webmentions when linked to by another post. However, if I checked the checkbox and updated both posts, the webmention would pop up as a comment that required moderation.
Right now, the webmention plugin options are a bit sparse. However, as this linkback technique becomes more prevalent, I’m sure plugins will appear that work even with Trackbacks and Pingbacks completely disabled. Until then, if you want to use a plugin to accept webmentions, you’ll have to enable Trackbacks and Pingbacks.
Wrapping it Up
Linkbacks are controversial. Some high-profile websites use them, but most seem to have the feature disabled. However, if you’re building a new website, careful implementation of the right linkback mechanism can help spread the word about your venture.