This tutorial will show you how to select suitable sites for your link campaigns, and how to successfully entice a link from those sites. Starting a link campaign takes a considerable investment in time, but it is something you can do if you have a free few minutes here and there. Many internet marketers make a great deal of money managing link campaigns on behalf of website owners, and many more claim to have developed effective automatic link software. Possibly both are valid and produce results, but both also require considerable amounts of financial investment. Therefore we're going to study how to do this for yourself, with a time investment of perhaps one or two hours a week (only for a month or so, then you can sit back a little!).
The advantage that comes from managing your own links directory is that you can limit your links to the very best and most relevant of sites. One drawback of automated link software (produced by various online marketing firms) is that although they might produce large quantities of links, the quality is sometimes suspect; by that I mean that very few of the linked sites are going to be relevant to your own site, and even less are going to bring you new business. Automated software regularly mails out thousands of emails, which may lead to your site getting listed in another site's link directory, but your site is likely to be just one link amongst thousands. A better approach is to limit yourself to fewer sites, all of which make good quality links.
Selecting potential sites can be done via any search engine or directory. Look for sites which are related to yours but not in direct competition. Another approach is to type your site's keywords into a search engine, and bookmark likely sites. Again, suitable sites should be related but not rivals. How deep into the results you want to search is up to you, but I'd suggest that just the first two pages of results should be fine - after that try the next set of keywords. A third option is to hunt for link-portal sites. These are the sites that display a database list of sites all catering to one field; in essence a mini-directory. Regional portal sites are good examples (e.g. www.fukuoka.com). By way of example, A Touch of Tensai is featured in several web design portal sites, both local and national.
Perhaps for the first link campaign 'session', just searching for suitable sites might fill your entire available time slot. Don't forget to bookmark any good sites; keeping all of the sites in one folder might be useful. You'll need to be able to find these sites again later on.
Linking to potential sites
"Eh? Link to other sites FIRST? Did I miss a step?", you might say. Yes, indeed. Inviting links from other sites (notice my choice of words there) requires groundwork. One by one, work through your list of bookmarked sites, adding their sites to your own links page. If you can find their desired link text (usually on their 'Links' page), then use that. If you can't find it, use the site title/description or some suitable description of your own. Two tips at this point;
1. if you're clever, you can probably add a keyword or two of your own to their description
2. if the link site is region-specific then you should add the location at the end of the description
It is worthwhile taking a moment to find a contact email address, and recording it for the next stage. If you can't find a contact address (rare, but it happens) then you could try using a guestbook, message board, or sending email to info@ or webmaster@ addresses.
Sending an email
It might be worth sending each email as you add each link to your directory, as the details of each site will be fresher in your mind. What you need to do is send an email to the contact address for the site (use a name if you have it), in which you mention that you enjoyed their site (or found it very useful) and have linked to their site. It is a good idea to ask their permission for adding a link (even though you've already added it), and provide the URL for both your website's front page and your link directory page. Invite them to suggest a different text description for their entry, if they would like it changed. Other good things to include are a brief introduction to yourself and your site, and if you can think of anything particular, the reason why you enjoyed their site. What you DON'T include is a request for a reciprocal link!
That might sound a lot to write for each email, but it is possible to use a template (see below), which you can copy and paste into each email. You only need to change one or two details for each message. What you are aiming to do is MAKE FRIENDS with the site owner first. If you can establish a personal connection, then you stand a good chance of success. To do that you need to make sure that your email is as individual as you can make it in the time allowed, so that nobody could mistake you for an automated email program!
I can GUARANTEE that by using the pattern described above, you will get a very high response rate, and even make a few good contacts as you go. I used the third email 'template' shown below (which was original - so I am the only one to have ever used it) to great success for a hobby network site, with a 90% response rate, and a 70% link rate.
"Eh? But you didn't mention getting any links!", you might point out. True. But hopefully you won't need to. If you are lucky, the site owners will be only too happy to return the favour, and add a link to your site. Some might be falling over themselves to do so! Note that the third template was used for contacting hobby sites (in Japanese), so you may need to adjust the wording slightly for more business-like sites.
One other thing that you will need to prepare before embarking on a link campaign is a way of inviting links to your site. This is not done via email at all, but should be placed in a prominent position on your site; usually near the top of your links page. It needs to include your email address, site title and brief text description, as you would like it to appear on other sites (use your keywords!). If you have a banner for your site, this is the place to display it. Make it easy for people to link to you with the minimum of effort.
Some Email Examples
Take a look at the 3 following examples of link request messages.
Version 1: The Auto-Generated Polite Phisher
This is an email I receive occasionally for A Touch of Tensai's links directory. Read through it first, and make your own minds up.
I am contacting you about cross linking. I am interested in atouchoftensai.com because it looks like it's relevant to a site for which I am seeking links.
Obviously, the mail was generated by link software, which just swaps your own site's name into the email template. Not giving her site's address is presumably to prevent people visiting the site to approve/disapprove it immediately, and also possibly to test my email address, to see whether it's active or not. Added to that, the other site is completely irrelevant to my own and all of the other sites in my link directory. At least they had the courtesy to give an opt-out choice. Competent enough, but this one got binned.
Version 2: The Business-like Good Attempt
This was passed on to me by a friend who owns an online body-pierce jewellery store (BodyVisionJapan), and is a much better email than the previous example. Read through it first - comments to follow...
Not bad. Was this an automated email sent to dozens of sites simultaneously? Hard to tell. It's certainly a template messgae, but it's very well disguised with plenty of personal touches (e.g. repeating the site's name). Perhaps the only mistake in this mail would be the "Dear Info" addressee at the start, but otherwise quite reasonable. Somebody seems to have properly done their research on the website and the proposed link, and the email is obviously entirely relevant. Good touches in this mail include the closer, which gives a very positive image by assuming that you will want to add their link to your site, and leaving open the possibility for future communication.
Version 3: The New-Kid-on-the-Block Friendmaker
The following was one I used to contact owners of hobby sites in Japan. Please note that the original message was written in Japanese, so the English translation is not literal!
[Subject: Wargames Site]
Although this version is not typically formal in its style, it has enough cheerful content and an upward-looking approach that it works very successfully.
Hopefully, you should have gotten an excellent response to your messages, and maybe even made some good contacts. Don't stop there! Make sure that you follow up any response emails with a thank you note, and if they added your site to their links then thank them a lot!! Adding a follow-up question sometimes helps too; you don't have to be quite so formal now, so you should try to capitalize on any friendly tones in their message. An open question invites further correspondence in the future, as does a closing "I hope maybe we can work together sometime..." message.
If, on the other hand, you received either only a brief "thank you" message with no offer of a link, then try to keep it going. Send a "thank you" reply to their "thank you" message, and come back to it later. Follow the next step instead.
If you didn't receive a reply at all, then again come back to it later. Maybe they are busy, and will reply at their leisure. After a month, drop them another line telling them what new stuff has been going on at your site, and hoping that they get a good trickle of visitors from your link to them. You might at this point ask directly if they might consider linking to your site, but you will have to use your judgement as to whether this would make a suitable request.
If you still don't receive any good news after another month, then perhaps it's time to give up. If you chose your initial list of sites carefully, then probably even a non-response site makes a worthwhile addition to your links directory. However if you feel unduly ignored, then perhaps it's time to delete the link to that site. Entirely up to you. Make sure you check the bookmarked site itself - they may have added a link, but have been too busy to reply. Remember that even those sites that never replied might unwittingly give your site a boost, by the mere fact that every time somebody searches for that site, your site gets scanned too (because you have the name of their site in your links directory)!
So there you have it. An effective guide to link campaigning. Running and managing a link campaign is not an easy job, but the benefits to be gained from it (both in terms of increased publicity for your site and new business contacts) make it very worthwhile.
Try to maintain a schedule; one or two hours a week is all that is required to get things moving, then regular checks to see where you have been added (also check your website's visitor and referral statistics for this). Once your links directory has been established, then don't forget to periodically hunt for newly-opened sites to add to your list of potential sites. Of course by then you might be the one getting the introductory email, from another site hoping for a link from you...