Q: Are link pages useful?
The slightly longer answer:
It depends what you mean by links page.
What I mean by link page is a page on your site that is dedicated to listing various websites that you have linked to in exchange for them to publish your link on a similar page on their website.
If that is what you have a links page, I would say that is definitely not useful. Search engines will at best see it as redundant, at worst spam. Anyone visiting your site will likely do the same. It’s especially true for users if the web page is completely divorced from the main functional purposes of your website. Because people will likely never bother to look at it.
I think the mythical value of links pages was born from two things:
1. Links are good for SEO
True, but even in the original conception of Google’s PageRank algorithm, it was never just about links per se, but links from quality sites. As the granularity of the various search engine algorithms has increased over the years the idea of what constitutes a valuable link in terms of SEO has also become ever more sophisticated. But the idea of the more links you have, the better, has never really been true.
2. Our visitors will follow the links
I don’t deny this must happen a bit, but as I stated above, unless these links are in a place where a lot of visitors are going to look at them, they aren’t going to have any effect. On top of that, if they do come to the page and it’s just a dirty great list of links with no real explanation of what each thing is, they are even less likely to be used.
But I like linking to other people, I think it’s nice
Sure, linking is a fundamental part of the web. You could argue that it was the first really social act of the web, when someone explicitly decided to link to someone else’s content. It’s a way of saying ‘hey – there’s a relationship here’. But ultimately, if you’re going to do this, then you should be doing it in a way that highlights what that relationship is and why you think people should visit the site you are listing.
So how should I link to other sites?
If you have a blog – blog about them. If it makes sense for your site to be linking to them, then there’s a good chance it makes sense for you to publish a short blog post. Blog posts are much more seo friendly and your visitors will appreciate having a bit of context to help decide if they want to see what’s on the other end.
If you don’t have a blog, or still want to have a links page, then it should probably be more directory like – that is to say a short profile of whatever person or organisation or thing it is you are linking to. Again, better for users, better for SEO.
Some useful articles on the subject
There’s a lot of articles on this subject out there, but these two discussions I found particularly helpful in evaluating the subject.