How much do I miss the track back feature by going with Blogger? Not at all. Why? New information shows just how non-helpful, and perhaps even damaging it can be. Perhaps even Blogger never implemented TrackBack intentionally, due to possibly knowing what was coming down the pike from parent Google—especially in light of the Jagger update from last November. Reciprocal links were penalized—or at least stopped delivering as much value as they used to. If every link you receive is reciprocated, you’re a link farm—at least as far as the Web topology you’re creating.
To deal with this aspect of TrackBack, it’s generally all-or-nothing. You can use TrackBack or turn it off. The second strike against TrackBack is, of course, spam. People link to you and send a TrackBack ping specifically to get a link from your page, even if their site is totally unrelated. The reciprocal links with the unrelated sites goes even further to create that terrible link farm topology. There’s a thin line between the organic pattern created by a genuinely popular site, and the pseudo-organic pattern created by link farms.
My money is on Google getting better and better at recognizing these automatic cross-link patterns. And like every other spam trap, there’s some sort of threshold. Stay below that threshold, and you’re golden. Go over that threshold, and your site is flagged for human review, or possibly even automatic banning.
The real way these blogging software companies should implement TrackBack is to get rid of the silly pinging and TrackBack codes. Blog posts don’t need a unique identifier. The permalink page has a URL! That’s unique enough. The code system is too geeky, and can be automated. Analytics-like Tracking systems built into blogs should simply recognize people following links. If it’s a first-time referrer, it should send a crawler out to check the validity of the page (not all referrers are accurate), and put that link into an inbox queue in the blog user interface. The person running the blog can then go and visit each of the sites and make a human evaluation whether it’s worthy of receiving a link back. If it is, they checkbox it.
This has a number of advantages. First, the human checking process will block spam. Second, it will pick up much more referrers than the TrackBack system in its current form, which requires action on the part of the person linking to your blog. This information is already being passed back and forth. Why not use what’s already there? Third, it serves as a sort of competitive intelligence gatherer for the blogger. They get to see all referring links to their blog as a matter of interest, without necessitating that they receive a link from you.
The time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of many things. The do’s and don’t of SEO, of tracking-back and pings.
An addendum to this post, moments after I published it: in going into Blogger’s settings, I discovered the “Backlink” feature. It sounds like it’s implemented much like I imagined. No codes are necessary. You just turn it on. So, I did (to get the experience). If I think it’s starting to create a link-farm pattern, it gets turned off, pronto. It will be interesting to see what happens. It says that it uses the “link:” feature, which makes me think that the referring site has to be in the Google index, and perhaps even have passed whatever criteria they use to reduce the number of actual results reported by it. That would perhaps deal with the spam issue, if the site linking to the post needs to have, say, a PR of over 4.