While many niche directories use a form-based submission process to collect new listing suggestions, in other situations you'll need to email the site owner or webmaster in order to request a link to your site.
Things to Think About Before Proceeding
An incoming link is a privilege, not a right. Never assume that just because a site links to one or more of your competitors, they'll want to link to you too. Circumstances may have changed, the site owner may not see the merits of your site, they may have stopped accepting link requests - any one of a hundred reasons can mean that your request gets ignored or turned down. If this happens to you, stay professional! If the owner took the time to write you a personal email turning down your request, write a very brief "thank you for considering the request" note in response (you never know when things may change again.) Either way, move on.
All site owners are geniuses. At least, you need to behave as if they are, which is almost the same thing! Many sites post very specific information about the type of sites they will or will not link to - don't insult the owner's intelligence by submitting irrelevant links. Similarly, if there's nothing of substance to your site, and it's just a mass of banner ads, nobody's going to link to it voluntarily. Remember, link requests are processed by humans, not machines. So forget about outsmarting the person at the other end of the potential link relationship - if your site is incompatible with their requirements, move on.
Success or failure can depend on the way you approach the link request process. You should take a polite, businesslike tone in crafting your link request (remember to spell-check and proofread your email). Don't get overly friendly unless you already know the site owner. Be as brief as you can. Cut the chit-chat, get to the point - but leave nothing out. Try and mail out from an email address @yoururl, rather than from a free email address. Be pragmatic, there's no room for hype or sales pitches here. Be humble rather than arrogant.
Your Link Request Email
It's time to turn our attention to the email you'll use to request a link. Webmasters are busy people, so keep it as brief as possible - but make sure you don't forget the essentials.
The "approach" email you write to request a link should contain the elements from the following list that are relevant to your particular situation, and to the site you are contacting. Always tailor the email to its audience.
A very brief background (couple of sentences) covering who you are and why you are writing to the site.
- Compatible features of your site
Brief description of the features of your site or page that match the topic of the site from which you hope to secure a link. If there is a clear benefit for the target site's visitors in being directed to your site, point this out too. Focus on the synergies.
- Comment on competitors
If appropriate, a brief note about any competitors that are already linked from the target site, and how you differ. Stay pragmatic - boasting won't get you very far, and neither will any attempt to "trash" your competitors' image (since that's like saying "Hey, you were stupid to link to them!" to the site owner)
- Form of the link
Taking your cue from the other links already on the target site, explain very briefly how you'd like your link to look. For example, if all the other links have a 15-20 word description and a title, supply your own title and appropriate-length description, drawn from your link promotion kit. Don't be greedy - if all the other sites have a short title and nothing else, that's all you should realistically hope for as well. Don't forget to include your URL!
- Contact information and availability
It's good practice to include something like "If you have any questions or comments about this request, please don't hesitate to contact me" towards the end of your email. That's a chance for you to provide alternate contact information e.g. a telephone or fax number. Keep things simple for the person you're writing to - if they want to hit "reply" to your email, their response should be able to get to you (depending on the spam filter you use, you may want to whitelist their email address when you send your email).
- Polite signoff
End your email politely, and sign it with your full name. You can also add your title and company name if they are relevant to the link request.
What Happens Next?
As soon as you send each email, make sure you record the details of the link request. Typically, it may take anything from a few hours to a couple of weeks or more for a site to respond to a link request. Ultimately, you may never receive a response, yet your link ends up being added without comment. Always check before any follow-up approach. Remember to thank the site owner if you are notified that they added your link.
If you've allowed at least two full weeks to pass since your initial approach (and in the absence of anything on the site that would indicate requests take longer to process) consider forwarding your initial email to the site owner again, with a brief cover note explaining that you wrote to them on XYZ date and were wondering if they'd had a chance to consider your email yet, and whether they need any additional information.
If nothing happens in response to your follow-up email, give up.
Good luck in your quest to secure an ever-increasing number of incoming links. Remember, perseverance will pay off!