This week's column is a bit longer than normal, as we have a lot to cover. Have you ever seen an email in your inbox that looks like this one?
Date: Thursday, November 9, 2000 To: You From: Someone you've never heard of Subject: I was looking at your site
Dear site owner,
I was looking at your web site and think we should link to each other. If you are interested, please add the following code to your HTML:
[Insert HTML gibberish here.]
As amazing as it seems, the above link request letter, or variants thereof, land in my inbox every single day. The only part I added was the last line, StupidCompany.com, because it's accurate.
A link request sent via email should include several elements. Collectively, all of them serve two key purposes: They let the receiver know you took the time to look at his or her site, and they make it as easy as possible for the receiver to make a decision whether or not to link.
Here are the 12 things that your link request should contain, followed by the reasons why. Although these may seem simple once you read them, 99 out of 100 link requests that I get do not contain any of them. While in certain cases there are also other elements, for this week's column, let's focus on those below.
A subject line that follows any stated directions given on the site you want to link to yours. On many sites that have collections of links to other sites, for example, the About.com guides, the editor in charge of the links section often states that when asking for a link, you should follow certain directions. One of these is typically a special subject line, like:
Subject: LINK SUBMISSION
If you have not taken the time to look at the recipient's site carefully, and you do not follow the link request directions, don't be surprised if you never hear from the recipient again.
The site owner's name. It seems simple, but take the time to look through the site where you want the link, and find the site owner's name. Address this person immediately in your email, so he or she knows you're not a spammer.
In the above link request I received, it was immediately obvious that this person had never been to my site even though the email indicated otherwise. If this person really had been to my site, my name is the first thing he or she would have seen, and he or she would also have known I don't offer a links page.
Your name. Again, it's just common courtesy. The person requesting a link is a human being and so are you. A first line like "Hello, Mr. Ward. My name is John Smith" tells me that at least this person has taken the time to find out who was running my web site and is nice enough to tell me who he or she is. It also shows me that he or she didn't send that same email to 4,000 other people, unless by some bizarre coincidence their names were all "Mr. Ward."
The home page URL for the site. "I have been spending some time looking at your site at http://[insert their URL]."
By now I see that you know my name, my site name, and URL. You obviously are not lying to me or spamming me.
Don't show fake sincerity or imply friendship when, in fact, you've never met me. Be professional, courteous, and to the point. I really get turned off by email from people who act like we are buddies.
Your site's name and home page URL. "I am contacting you about my site, called 'SiteName,' which is located at http://www.SiteName.com."
The exact URL on their site where you think the link is a fit. "With regard to your links section at...[insert exact URL of their links area/section]."
A paragraph that describes your site and why you feel it's linkworthy. "I would like to submit for your consideration my site, which I feel is a nice match for your collection of links. My site is..."
The exact URL from your site you want them to link to. "Since I have a splash page that has some large images, you may prefer to use this URL for linking: http://www.SiteName.com/home2.html."
A valid email address and response to any requests made to that address. "If you would like to contact me about this, please feel free to reach me at my personal email address below." (Put your email address.)
Your phone number. "Or, if you prefer, you can also call me at this phone number: [put your phone number]."
And, if you are seeking a link on a site where a reciprocal link is required, also include:
Confirmation that you have added a link to their site. "I have already placed a link to your site."
The URL on your site where they can see the link to their site "that you can see at http://www.SiteName.com/links.html.
Below is a sample of what a full link-request email would look like. A link request similar to this is being used to successfully build many new links for eNature.com.
Date: Thursday, November 9, 2000 To: (Address withheld for ClickZ article as a courtesy) From: EricWard@urlwire.com Subject: Link Submission
My name is Eric Ward, and I am contacting you regarding your Birding site at http://www.millcomm.com/ekblad/Index.htm.
I'm working with eNature.com to announce and link a new section on their site called "The Bird Audio Database." eNature is located at http://www.enature.com, and the new bird audio section is located at http://www.enature.com/audio/audio_home.asp.
Per the link request instructions on your site, I would like to request a link to our bird audio section in your Links to Birding Web Sites section at http://www.millcomm.com/ekblad/Link-Gen.htm.
Please let me know if the above provides you with the information you need to review and consider our new section for linking. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or, if you'd like to talk about this by phone, my direct number is (865) 637-2438.
I have also subscribed to your e-newsletter and look forward to receiving it.
Eric Ward, for eNature.com mailto:email@example.com
Any webmaster or site manager who receives the above email can tell immediately many crucial things about me and my link request:
I took the time to actually look at Bob's site. How else could I call it by name?
I took the time to find out who runs the site.
I reviewed the site for appropriateness. How else would I have known he had a "bird links" area?
I followed any link-request instructions. How else would I have known to put "Link Submission" in the subject line?
I didn't send that same email to 25,000 people.
I value Bob's time by making it easy for him to know just what URL I wanted linked, and where.
I respect the site content by subscribing to the site's newsletter.
I looked at more than just the home page.
I am not afraid to put my phone number in the email; spammers don't do that.
There are many more subtle points to this exercise, and many additional things I might need or have to include (HTML link code, button logo, reciprocal link, etc.), but these are not right for every scenario, so let's keep things as simple as possible for now.
The bottom line is that by recognizing the individuals on the receiving end of your link requests, and showing them so, you immediately move out of the spam realm in their minds. When I receive link letters, I look for telltale signs that I was not singled out individually. If I spot an obvious bulk link seeker, I delete it immediately.
Yes, this means you cannot automate this process, and, yes, this means you have to create and send each link request one at a time. As you should. Sometimes each site takes an entire three clicks and two minutes. Big deal. This is a lifelong link you're seeking.
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Eric Ward founded the Web's first link building and content publicity service, called NetPOST. Today, Eric provides strategic linking consulting, link building services, training, and consulting via EricWard.com. The publisher of the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, Eric is a co-developer of AdGooroo's Link Insight.
Eric uses his experience and unique understanding of web's vast linking patterns to teach companies his link building techniques. He has developed content linking strategies for PBS.org, WarnerBros, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, About.com, TVGuide.com, and Weather.com. Eric won the 1995 Tenagra Award for Internet Marketing Excellence, and in 2007 was profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes.