Monday, August 29, 2005

How Many Backs Could A TrackBack Track If A TrackBack Could Track Backs

A word you see a lot is on blogs, and a source of irritation to many, is "TrackBacks."

Just what is a TrackBack? Go ahead. Explain it to me. I'll wait.

I'm waiting....

Not all that easy to explain, is it? So, I'm going to take a shot. And, perhaps, make an ass out of myself. If you learn something, great. If not, well you can laugh at my pathetic attempts to explain TrackBacks. So, this post ought to be a winner either way, huh?


You're a blogger. It's three years ago (several lifetimes, in the blogosphere). You read something that someone wrote and are inspired to write about their post, or the same topic, or another topic that you think the other blogger's audience might have an interest. The bottom line is, you're writing something, and you want to notify the other blogger (and his* readers) of it.

What do you do? Send an e-mail? Okay, that requires him to read your mail and to edit his post with a link to your post. Lot of work. Not gonna happen.

Leave a comment? Perhaps. If he allows HTML in his comments, you can leave a link. If not, you can hope that his readers will copy and past the URL in their browser. More likely than the e-mail method, but still, not the most efficient way.

So, what to do? Well, three years ago, you're options were limited to that kind of stuff.

Then came TrackBacks.

SixApart Offers A Solution

SixApart, the company that makes MovableType (and TypePad hosting service) implemented a feature in MovableType that was also released as a blogging standard.

It allowed communication between blogging software to accept information about one post and list it with another post.

Using TrackBacks, you could send certain information to the other blogger's post and (assuming he accepts TrackBacks) his software would accept it and add the information to the post.

The information sent to the other blog would be your blog's name, the URL to your post, and an excerpt from your post. That information would be sent to the other blogger's TrackBack URL and processed for inclusion.

Two-Way Street

Since the impetus for TrackBacks is your writing about another blogger's post, it's expected that you will have linked to the other blogger's post. That should be obvious. But to some, it isn't. If it wasn't obvious to you, go get a Coke, sit in the corner, and think about it. Then come back here and finish reading.

So, let's follow this next bit real careful, okay?

If you've written about another post, you should have linked to it. You're wanting the other site to know about it and you'd like a link back to your post. And the TrackBack does that.

Read that again. The TrackBack is the return link. It's a reciprocal link.

I emphasize this again: You've linked to a site and you're getting a link in return.

That means that the TrackBack is the courtesy link, not yours. Your link is the original, the TrackBack is the "returned favor" link. It's a courtesy.

Yes, it's automatic and no work is required of the other blogger, but that's because he has enabled TrackBacks. He is offering them as a courtesy to you!

That is the point. TrackBack links are a link given to you in return for a link to them.

I trust I've made the point clear.

Open TrackBack Posts

Several sites offer "Open TrackBacks" to other bloggers. One of the biggest blogs to do this is "Outside The Beltway" which has a daily (Monday - Friday) "Traffic Jam." Open TrackBack posts are simply posts with no specific topic that are "open" for you to leave a TrackBack to your post.

Since the TrackBack is the courtesy link back to your post, it should be obvious that it is in return for a link to them.

Using OTB:TJ again as an example, if you add your post there, you should have a link to that post in yours.

What? How do you do that? Well, the simplest way is to insert a line (you can place an <hr /> tag in your HTML, or simply draw a line by with hyphens like this: ------------------------). Under the line, add something like "Listed on Outside The Beltway Traffic Jam" with a link to that OTB:TJ post.

Doing that does not detract from your post. If you think it does, and you think it just ruins your post, go get yourself another Coke and go sit in the corner again and think about it.

Let me put it this way: If you don't want to include a link to the "Open TrackBack Post" then don't list yourself. OTB (and others who offer them) say they'll delete your post. And they'd be well within their rights to do that without apology. If you don't link to them, you've abused the whole concept of TrackBacks. Remember, they are a courtesy.

Sending TrackBacks

Okay, now that you understand the concept and history of TrackBacks, how do you send them?

Well, I'll cover a three different methods: MovableType/TypePad, HaloScan, and Third-Party TrackBack Forms.

First, we need to gather some information about the post we're linking. For our example, we'll use a post over at the Alliance. Let's use the Alliance FAQ page, which is actually a post.

The post is located at

Go ahead and click on that link. It will open in a new window, because we're going to refer to it a couple of times. Click it, then come back here and follow along.

Now that we have the post we're linking to, let's find its TrackBack URL. Scroll down to the bottom of our example post. You'll see that it gives the TrackBack URL as

That is not the URL to the post! It is the URL that's used by the TrackBack system to accept TrackBacks.

Now, let's see what's involved actually sending a TrackBack.


When you create your post with MovableType or at TypePad, there is a box that, by default, displays near the bottom of your page. In MovableType, it's probably labeled "URLs to Ping" while in TypePad, it says "Send a TrackBack to these addresses."

You remember the TrackBack URL we found for our example post? It was

That's what we enter in the TrackBack box (labeled either "URLs to Ping" or "Send a TrackBack to these addresses").

When we publish our post, the MovableType or TypePad system will attempt to send the TrackBack information. If everything works, the box will be empty if it's accepted. More about this later.

Oh, if you decide to enter a Open TrackBack Fest, you can go back to the "Edit Your Post" page, add the link to the Fest, and enter the TrackBack URL of the Fest in the box, then republish.

That's it for MovableType/TypePad!


While MovableType/TypePad sends the TrackBack info when you publish, HaloScan requires that your post already be published before you use its system. So, in addition to the TrackBack URL of the post you're linking (the post on the other person's blog), you need some information about your post:
  • Your blog's name. That should be easy.
  • The Permalink of your post. The link to your post, not your TrackBack URL. And not the URL of the other blog's post. The URL to YOUR post.
  • The title of your post. If you didn't title your post, you might want to come up with one.
  • An excerpt from your post (255 characters max). You can instead, provide a summary. Your choice.
Now that you have that information, open HaloScan. In the "Members" box, click on "Manage Trackback."

On the "Manage Trackback Pings" page, click on "Send A Trackback Ping."

You'll get a page with a form. Notice the little "?" next to each field label. Those are "Help" buttons. And they're pretty good. Use them.

Now, fill out the form.

Your Blog Name should be obvious. That's the name of your blog. You should know that. You named it, didn't you?

Your Permalink URL is the link to your post. Not the TrackBack URL to your post. Not the link to the other blogger's post. This is the link to your post. Not to your blog, but to the post itself.

Your Post Title is the name of your post. You named it, remember? Put that here.

Your Excerpt is where you put an excerpt or a summary of your post. There is a limit of 255 characters, remember.

URLs to Ping is where you put the TrackBack URL of the other blog's post. Not the link to the post itself, but the TrackBack URL. Remember, in our example, it's

Not that with HaloScan, you can enter up to five TrackBack URLs. But only if you have links to up to five different posts. If you have more, you'll need to do them five at a time.

Click "Ping Now" and you're done. Yeah, it's a little more complicated than using MovableType/TypePad.

Third-Party TrackBack Forms

For Adam Kalsey's Simpletracks form, you'll need the same information as the HaloScan form. You just enter it in a different order.

Same thing with Kevin Aylward's Wizbang Standalone Trackback Pinger.

Here's where you put the information you have collected:
  • TrackBack URL of the other blog
    • Simpletracks: Trackback URL
    • Wizbang: Trackback Ping URL
  • Your blog's name
    • Simpletracks & Wizbang: Your Blog Name
  • The title of your post
    • Simpletracks: Entry Title
    • Wizbang: Title
  • The Permalink of your post
    • Simpletracks: Entry URL
    • Wizbang: Your Permalink URL
  • An excerpt or a summary of your post
    • Simpletracks: Entry Excerpt
    • Wizbang: Excerpt
Once you have entered the information in the form, click "Send Ping" (Simpletracks) or "Submit Trackback" (Wizbang). Note that unlike HaloScan, you can only send one at a time with these forms.

What Else?

In each of these instances, you'll get a notification that all is well. In MovableType/TypePad, the TrackBack URLs will disappear from the box and show up on the "View Previously Sent TrackBacks" link.

But there's a catch. Sometimes, the TrackBack goes through but your submission tool indicates it wasn't accepted. Before you resend, verify. That's a topic we covered earlier over at the Alliance.

Oh, and if you find that whatever system you use doesn't work, try one of the third-party forms. Personally, I use the built-in TypePad system. But sometimes, the TrackBack pings don't go through. Then, I'll use either the Simpletracks or Wizbang form.

Yeah, today's topic and post was a little long. But I hope it contained some good information and good advice for you.

Cross-posted at The Alliance of Free Blogs.
Listed on Mudville Gazette Open Post.


  1. As many backs as a trackback could track if a trackback could track backs. Er, yeah.

    There is a setting in MT that allows the software to automagically discover trackback URLs for posts linked with in the article. This would seems like a great feature. The problem is when MT does not know that it already sent a successful trackback. Even if you verify and remove the URL from the trackback box, MT will still autodiscover the trackback - again. I finally turned this feature off in the general preferences.

  2. Track Back Woes

    It seems that Basil’s Blog is the only one that is accepting my track backs lately for the open track back posts. OTB and Mudville Gazette will not accept my track backs at all.

  3. An Angel Sells His Wings For A Good Cause

    And his comics
    OK it's started...
    The STA Rummage Sale and Fundraiser.

    Items for sale, go check them out...

  4. An Angel Sells His Wings For A Good Cause

    And his comics
    OK it's started...
    The STA Rummage Sale and Fundraiser.

    Items for sale, go check them out...

  5. Is it Saturday yet? Friday, atleast?

    Today's dose of NIF - News, Interesting & Funny ... It's Kerry-180 Tuesday

  6. More good reporting from Crawford, and a CUG

    Gunner of Target Centermass went down to see the hoopla in Crawford and came back with a great post.
    Meanwhile, Jimmy"First!"B the Conservative UAW Guy, combines history and SciFi with Asimov and the Star Spangled Banner.

  7. Thanks for the info. I don't have a MovableType site (it's a TypePad site), but I have guest-blogged on an MT site.

    I wasn't aware of how the autodiscover processed worked. Or didn't work.


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