The search engines can only take you so far. The majority of the traffic a good site is going to pick up will come from links pointing to it from other sites. When the directories dry up, you’re left with the prospect of having to contact people with sites that you want to get a link from and asking them for it. Do this wrong, and you’ve messed up a chance at a free link.
This is a tricky business. When promoting your site, you’ll probably be sending out dozens of emails to other webmasters asking for a link from their pages. If your site is popular, you will probably receive a number of similar requests, some good, some atrocious. Will you be taking the time out to give a link to the wasters who are blanket-submitting the same email to another hundred sites?
This is why the way you present yourself in this letter is so important. You’ll probably only get one chance. Your email must be polite, professional and clear. Furthermore, you have to convince the webmaster that you actually read through their site, and are talking to them; not that they’re just one of another hundred today.
The Good Request Guide
If you follow the tips below, your request will instantly stand out as a quality piece of correspondence. Once that’s clear, you have a decent chance at attaining that link.
Following the guidelines
First thing’s first: check that there isn’t an add url form or any stated directions on the site about how to ask for links. You may be asked to use a certain subject line, for instance. Failure to comply will probably see your request deleted sharpish.
The webmaster’s name
This is the first thing every webmaster that gets your request is going to look for — did he address me personally? If you haven’t, there’s nothing to make them believe that you read his page in any capacity. This personal approach shows that you haven’t sent the same email to a load of other webmasters, but instead have personalised each message.
Most pages will have the author’s name somewhere — check to the bottom of the page, and look for ‘about’ links, or emails. Whether to use their first name or a ‘Mr.’ is a decision you should base on the nature of the sites involved. If you’re absolutely sure that they haven’t put their name somewhere, you don’t have a choice than the spam-happy ‘dear site owner’, or just ‘Hello’, which is probably a bit better. Avoid if you can.
This is the quality way of doing things. Show the person that you’re professional — introduce yourself immediately after the pleasantries. This also makes the exchange a bit more personal.
Some webmasters control many websites, so let them know which one you’re talking about immediately to avoid confusion. Subtly show your interest (small, as it may be) in their site by saying “I have been reading through your website, HTML Source.” Make sure you know what you’re talking about though, you’ll need it later on.
Your vital details
Now’s the time to get to the point. Give your reason for contacting them, as well as your site title and URL.
Some help for placement
You have to make it as easy as possible for the receiver to place your link. Have a page and section already picked by you that you think would be appropriate — don’t have them looking through their site trying to find a suitable place, they simply won’t.
A short description
Keep this short, but just give a few lines about what your site is about, why it’s different and why it’s good. Don’t lie about it, because the webmaster will undoubtedly be checking before linking to it.
Your contact information
Make it clear that you don’t mind receiving an email back and that you’re going to read it should they decide to get back to you. Spammers would never include their address. Try and have a professional address, one using your site’s url is best. If you’re part of a business, you could add your phone number for added credibility. You probably won’t get phoned, but it looks good.
Reciprocal link confirmation
If the site asks for or requires a link back to them from your page (and let’s hope it doesn’t — it usually means the site ain’t great), assure the webmaster that you have already added this link and give them the URL of the page you’ve put it on.
How it looks
Below is a good link request following most of the above guidelines:
Date: Friday January 4th 2001
Subject: Link Request
My name is Ross Shannon, and I am contacting you regarding your HTML site, HTMLpower.
I am the webmaster of another HTML tutorials site called HTML Source. My site is located at http://www.yourhtmlsource.com/.
I would like to request a link to my HTML site in your Links to Other Internet resources section at http://www.htmlpower.com/resources/ My site is a comprehensive collection of beginners lessons and advanced tips for webmasters, and I feel it is a valuable resource for all web developers. If you need more information, I can be reached via email at email@example.com.
I have also subscribed to your weekly newsletter and look forward to reading it.
As you can see, acquiring some of this information will mean you’ll have to have a look around each site you visit, finding some information. This is a vital step. If the receiver feels that you have read more than just the homepage of his site and appreciated it, they are much more inclined to help you out. It is impossible to pretend to have visited the site; so don’t even try.
You’re probably thinking that this all seems like a lot of work, and it can be. What you have to realise however, is that if you do this right the first time and get the link, you’ve probably just secured that link forever. And if it brings in a couple of dozen targeted readers each month (most of the sites you’ll be contacting will be similar to your own, and so the readers are already looking for your sort of thing), surely it’s time well spent? At best you could be hitting on a large number of interested new readers, and at worst you’ll be making most search engines think you’re a quality site with more links pointing towards you.
Even with the best letter you’re still going to be ignored by some site owners. Not a big deal. Make sure the sites you’re contacting are actually still active — many webmasters stop maintaining sites and you don’t want to waste time trying to get through to them.
Where to find them
Now that you know how to do this, you’re faced with the question ‘Where do I find these sites?’ I have two approaches, both using » Google. First, look for sites similar to your own — the ones in the top spots for your preferred search terms are a good place to start. Type in link:www.thedomain.com into the search box. Google will then return a list of all the pages linking to that page that it has in its index — a fair few if the page has a top ranking. Many of these sites will be link pages with lists of sites that you should become a part of, and others will be directories that you can submit to yourself. Using this method across multiple sites gives you a huge pool of potential links that you know are in the business of linking to other sites.
The second method is to use a search for something like, in my case, html tutorials suggest a link. This will return any web directories or link pages that allow you to add a site and are about your subject. You should have no problem getting onto any page that offers a suggest a site link.