Trackbacks chart

This morning, I noticed Google Analytics had added a Trackbacks section to their Social Analytics data. This, to me, is very big news.

While bloggers will know all about Trackbacks and why it’s nice to get them, businesses may not be aware of their importance. Yet as the social web in particular continues to be graded, Trackbacks could become even more important, especially in the eyes of Google, as they look to rank the Authority of content and that content’s creators.

So why is this new Trackbacks edition to Google Analytics important and, more importantly, how can you use them to build your content strategy?

The Validation Factor of Trackbacks

For anyone who doesn’t know what a Trackback is, its definition is:

TrackBack is a type of peer-to-peer communication system that was designed to send notification of updates between two Web sites via a Trackback Ping. Ping in reference to TrackBack refers to a small message sent from one Web server to another. TrackBacks are useful for informing a Web site that you have referenced its Web site within your own Web site, and is popular with bloggers. TrackBack was first released as an open specification in August 2002. – Webopedia.

So, if I write a post and reference content elsewhere, that’s me providing a Trackback to the article. The reason bloggers like Trackbacks is simple – it offers validation that your content is seen as informative enough that someone else wants to share with their readers too (click image to expand).

Trackbacks  Links

The potential results of that share, or Trackback, are numerous.

  • New readers or subscribers;
  • New potential customers;
  • Growth of influence;
  • Identified as a thought leader in your industry;
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) benefits.

These are just some of the immediate effects; however, by understanding what Trackbacks are and the potential they offer, you can begin to identify opportunities for your business to use this new feature in your content strategy.

Using Trackbacks in Your Content Strategy

As brands begin to understand the importance of content as part of their marketing strategy, using every tool in your toolbox becomes key when it comes to standing above your competitors and attracting eyeballs to your content.

There are a host of ways to do this currently. For example, being part of Google+ Communities or Linkedin Groups, where you can share your content with regards a topic of discussion (in a non-spammy, relevant way, of course).

You can also encourage social sharing via the likes of Twitter, Facebook, employee accounts, etc, or you could join a blog aggregator service like Triberr to increase your content’s visibility.

However, with the new data on Trackbacks available in your Google Analytics dashboard, you can use this additional information to build a content strategy into the bigger picture.

  • Head on over to the blog or article in question, and thank the author, giving you more visibility to their audience, and showing you appreciate these referrals. It gives a good impression of how you do business.
  • Identify the most popular content when it comes to Trackbacks, and use that data to build a series (or series of series’) around these topics.
  • Identify the type of blogs that are sending readers your way, and determine if there’s any kind of partnership opportunity.
  • Identify blogs that send a lot of new traffic via Trackbacks, and begin to link to them as opposed to their competitors, building a relationship that could turn into future business.
  • Offer a value-added service to clients by filtering where they could improve their content and what type of information they could start to produce.

Again, these are quick, simple changes you can make now to start improving your own content strategy (and that of your clients). As the new Trackbacks service solidifies, expect more examples to become clear.

And when you tie that into the information available from the Data Activity Hub (click image to expand), that shows where your content is creating conversations elsewhere across the web, you can see the advantages your brand could begin to exert over your competitors.

Data Activity hub

As I’ve written many times before on this blog, understanding your traffic and how you can utilize that is key, for bloggers and brands equally. Google understands this, and is giving you all the tools you need to make better judgement calls as well as strategic decisions.

Are you taking advantage of these tools enough?

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  1. says

    I  have always used this as a form of “hello, I like your content,” or as a way to get someone’s attention and let them know I’m reading/listening even though I’ve not been commenting live. This is the ultimate form of high-five applause a blogger can give to a peer. Unfortunately, many bloggers seem to ignore them and never come over to acknowledge the gift. (Danny, you’re very good about acknowledging, and I thank you for that!).

    • says

      Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Agreed, it’s a great way of offering someone respect and kudos for a job well done, which at the end of the day is why we produce content mostly, no?

    • JasonBean says

      Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I’m curious, can you tell me how you track the success of the links you achieve through Zemanta? Do you track increases in keyword ranking or traffic to pages that you know have been linked to through Zemanta efforts?

      • says

        JasonBean Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Oh boy. Now my secret comes out…I am not a big data girl. It’s taken me a really long time to even care one iota about analytics and even now, it’s not tops for me. Sad, eh?
        When I get a new reader and commenter as s result of MY using their content (they get a pingback), that’s the sign of traffic. I use 3-4 Zemanta posts in every blog post I publish; typically average of 4-5. I may not be getting a bump, but I can attest to others using my works, too, and I jump right over to read and comment. 
        I know you wanted more analytical help on this, Jason…so sorry I just write already!

        • JasonBean says

          Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing JasonBean Thanks for your response. You’re actually using Zemanta differently than how I’m trying to track it. I also use Zemanta links in many of my blog posts, but I’m also a publisher of content INTO Zemanta, so I want to try and track the link and exposure I’m getting from that effort.

      • says

        JasonBean Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing You could check the Referrals analytics in GA. That would tell you where the traffic is coming from, and show how much comes from a Zemanta-powered link. Plus, Zemanta sends an email out to alert you who’s linked to you and – if you wanted the added legwork – you could then create reports in GA based on Zemanta traffic only.

        • JasonBean says

          Danny Brown JasonBean Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Yes, that’s more of what I was talking about. Just wondered if there was a better method of grouping posts that are being linked to via Zemanta efforts. Wasn’t sure if it would be better to track the post, or to track the domain that is the referral source for the link generated through Zemanta.
          Either way, seems like it’s going to be a very large Regex expression for matching multiple sources into one group.

        • says

          JasonBean Danny Brown Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Yeah, there would have to be something specific to Zemanta for it to work easily. I’ve seen platforms do this –, for example, gets picked up by GA as the Nster tracking code is in your site, so it’s easy to see how much traffic comes from the Nster site.

  2. says

    Very nicely done. Content is an immense part of our online marketing equation, yet we never thought to utilize trackbacks like this. Thank you for sharing.

    • says

      @Eagle Mat The best thing is, as Google expands the service and data around who’s linking to you and referring to your content, the more opportunities will become available to really start nailing strategic content. Which is a win-win for everyone.

  3. says

    I am not, but one of my goals this year is to better utilize Analytics. It ties into the larger goal of getting Write Right going full-time.

  4. kevinjgallagher says

    great post, thanks for bring this new feature to our attention. It is always great to find new ways to help with creating great content.

  5. adammbsmith says

    Thanks for sharing screen shots of your analytics.
    Our sites only have a few track backs and social mentions that we didn’t make ourselves, so it’s good to see a more naturally successful graph.

  6. says

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. I don’t know about other people, but I get obsessive over our site’s analytics – it’s a little sad sometimes! But I can see this will be so important in the future – its just another way of tracking your mentions in a Twitter-esque style but on a much broader platform,
    Thanks again! Amy

    • says

      @Amy Birch Thanks, Amy – you’re preaching to the choir when it comes to stats and analytics, I’m very much in the performance marketing school of thought versus brand marketing. And completely agree, I can only see this feature becoming even more ingrained and useful as Google advances its uses.

  7. msilva1 says

    I think a key comment that you made in this post is that this is a feature that is useful not only for bloggers but businesses as well (businesses especially in my opinion). I think that using the information from trackbacks is crucial for developing content strategies through Google analytics. It will allow businesses to tailor their content to what’s pulling people to them in the first place and maybe open doors for online partnerships. Thank you for this informative article!
    A.B. Freeman School

  8. AnalyticsNinja says

    justincutroni From what I can tell, this doesn’t need GWT integration, right? [also, how does GA trackbacks deal w/ subdomains]

    • DannyBrown says

      AnalyticsNinja Correct, GWT not needed, it’s an inherent feature in GA. Not sure about subs, mind you. justincutroni

  9. says

    Any thoughts on why a site would log Trackbacks up until a certain point and then fall off a cliff? We should have consistent trackbacks due to news coverage and such but looks like we flatlined at 0 back in September 2012. Appreciate your thoughts/help!

    • says

      C_Pappas Hmm, that sounds bizarre and not quite sure why that would happen. I’m guessing you haven’t placed any spam filters in place since then, or changed RSS feed that would redirect the trackbacks away from the referenced article?

      • says

        Danny Brown I just started with a new company and saw this. Not sure of the history with changes but something happened somewhere…

        What do you mean by ‘change the RSS feed’?

        • says

          C_Pappas Hi miss,
          If you’re running a WordPress site, and used Feedburner for your blog’s RSS feed, and then changed it to something like Feedblitz (when Google announced they were killing RSS Reader and probably Feedburner would fall into that decision too).

  10. says

    This is GOOD news. But on the other hand, spammers are starting to use this feature as well. I’m now starting to get “trackback approval requests” from sites like freedatingsites24 [dot] com via some of my clients’ sites. Grrrrrr!!! I just cannot understand why they need to link to commercial sites like a local steam cleaning service or a b2b industrial manufacturer. Seems to just create more work for our web team.

    Would you suggest that we TURN OFF the trackback approval – and just automatically deny them or ignore them all? Your opinions will help us make a decision. Thanks,

  11. Matt_PSI says

    Somehow not all of the trackbacks to my site are being captured by Google Analytics. I say this because there are websites out there that have links to my pages, but those site don’t show up in the trackback report. Perhaps I don’t understand some fundamental here.

  12. says

    Matt_PSI  Hi Matt,
    Do you know if the trackbacks are no-follow on the originating site? I’m guessing since you’re being alerted, they must be do-follow. Perhaps AdamSinger could expand upon.

  13. Matt_PSI says

    AdamSinger , Danny – Thanks. I set up a test page on another domain and it definitely does not have the nofollow set for the href. That said, I wonder if there is a global setting for the entire site that defaults to nofollow. For this test source, I do not see the source as a trackback, and therefore no visits from it either. 

    Due to your reply, I searched and found this useful tutorial:

  14. says

    Matt_PSI Solid find, Matt, cheers. I know I generally just leave do-follow as the default when linking out, but always looking to experiment based on any SEO best practices. AdamSinger

  15. daven2cm says

    Great article! Thank you.  

    I am unfortunately seeing ZERO trackbacks. I was seeing plenty of trackbacks and then made the following adjustments: 
    * transitioned to a new website on Drupal CMS
    * transitioned to Google Tag Manager
    * created an new Google Analytics profile (old agency creates the old one)
    * transitioned to Universal Analytics from regular Analytics.  

    From everything I have it sounds like I shouldn’t have to do anything for these to show up.  Is there anything that could have changed happened in this process? The sitemap lists the IP address rather than the actual URL..I’m not certain that would effect anything either though.  

    I have googled every possible variation of this that I can think of – any ideas?!  Thanks in advance :)

  16. says

    daven2cm Hmm, bizarre. The only thing I can think of is the CMS change. Trackbacks (as far as I know) are geared towards the domain, but are dependent on the CMS and how it handles trackbacks. So, for example, WordPress auto-pings, while TypePad may need approval, and same with Drupal or Joomla.
    Have you checked with your host re. the new CMS and how it’s set up for both auto trackbacks for new articles, and archived ones?
    Hope you manage to fix!