Remember blogrolls? Those lists of recommended links to other websites usually placed in the sidebar used to be ubiquitous. You don’t see them as much nowadays. And that’s a good thing. They are bad for your website in many ways and should be left in the 1990s where they belong.
Some argue that providing your visitors with a list of links to interesting sites is a useful service. It helps build the community spirit that fuels the blogosphere. It allows you to thank other site owners for their content or any other reason by giving them exposure. It demonstrates generosity and knowledge of your online ecosphere. It gets you noticed (blog software notifies you of incoming links). It supposedly helps your Google ranking by encouraging reciprocal links.
Blogrolls certainly haven’t disappeared. Some very big photography sites still have them including The Lens, Lightbox, Vincent Laforet’s and John Harrington’s blogs. I’m pretty sure Chase Jarvis had one too but it seems to be gone. A few clients have told me early on that they had planned to include one.
I always advise against it. There are many reasons to avoid blogrolls.
By far the most important argument against theme is that they provide almost no value to the visitor. Listing a website without providing any context or justification for the recommendation is pretty much pointless. It tells visitors “You should click on this link” but without explaining why or what is to be found on the other end of the link. A fundamental rule of good UX in web design is that a link should leave no room for doubt in the visitor’s mind as to its destination. No-one will click on a link to find out where it will send them simply because it’s there.
Even if your visitors hold you in great esteem and follow your advice religiously you are still leaving them in the dark about why you think this site is so fantastic. In fact they don’t even know if you think it’s that fantastic at all. Maybe you included that link because the site’s owner is a friend or because he links back to your site. Maybe he even paid you to be listed.
If you genuinely recommend a site to your visitors write a post about it explaining why you think they should pay a visit, use their services, hire the owner, etc. Now that’s a useful service for your readers.
Who doesn’t like incoming links? Dishing them out is generous, no doubt about it. The problem is your site has an audience and that audience doesn’t care and shouldn’t be expected to care that you wish to thank X, Y or Z. It’s simply irrelevant to your visitors.
Google doesn’t like site-wide links much and blogrolls – at least on traditionally formatted blogs – blogrolls tend to appear in the sidebar or the footer which are displayed on every page. In addition links in blogrolls will frequently be reciprocated often artificially, some will be purchased, both of which will hurt your SEO. In all cases they are low quality links and Google knows that.
And there are still more reasons to ditch your blogroll. They take up valuable real estate particularly on a minimalist site, as a photographer’s website should be. They require you to keep checking the links to make sure the sites are still worthy of your recommendation or simply still active. They can upset the owners of sites that have been left out. They belong to the Web 1.0. They are ugly.