Developing good content as a means of baiting others to link to your website is a proven way to generate quality inbound links. And other viable means still exist - mainstream media relations, affiliate programs and even distributed widgets. But the older and time-tested method of simply requesting a link directly from another website is still in use and, when done well, remains a viable option.
It's easy to dismiss many link requests as spam, and rightly so. Unfortunately many less-than honorable website owners will send huge email blasts in the hopes of gaining a few links, even if they are completely unrelated to the website. But many times a closer look through your inbox is warranted. There are plenty of professionals out there making a concerted effort to gain and trade valuable links - and you should too.
Do Your Homework
The days of sending thousands of direct link requests all at once in the hopes of generating a few incoming links are over. Even if some websites do end up placing your link, the probability of sending traffic on its own is often low and the value passed is even lower. To ensure you get quality inbound links, you need to get the right links.
The first and perhaps most important steps are investigating the audience and traffic depth of the sites from which you would like a link. Take advantage of resources such as Quantcast, Compete, Alexa and Ranking.com to determine those websites' standalone strength, and therefore their ability to drive visitors to your website. If they stand on their own as a valuable asset to your promotional campaign, pursue them for your SEO needs.
Check to see if the site is diluted with dozens or hundreds of outgoing links. This will reduce the value of the incoming link, especially if the site's outgoing links are unrelated to its own content.
Finally, is the site using "Nofollow" tags on their outgoing links? If so, you might get some traffic but the link itself won't hold any value with the search engines or your SEO efforts.
Personalize Your Request
If your link strategy has been trying to attract hundreds or thousands of loosely-related incoming links, then it's time to shift to targeting high quality links related to your website and its content. Those carry the potential to more positively impact your SEO efforts. As you might have guessed, the high quality links are the hardest to obtain. An authoritative site will get a slew of link requests every day - so it is important that your link request stand out from the rest.
Thorough research helps determine who might actually be in charge of SEO and link building. Use resources such as LinkedIn to get prospects' names and email addresses, even their phone numbers. Once you start building relationships within your chosen networks, you can begin the process of requesting links from them. When you have those connections, don't be afraid to use them. However, never engage another without being prepared with the many reasons why someone should link to your website. Be clear that you are not selling them anything but adding value to both of your websites and therefore increasing traffic and hopefully conversions.
If you have made some deep connections, remember that a personal touch still goes a long way. One phone call or meeting could lead to long-lasting partnerships and business opportunities between the two website owners.
Link Building is a Long-Term Commitment
By targeting the right websites, properly researching and personalizing your link requests - with the end goal of deeper business relationships - your success rate will justify the amount of time and effort required for a successful link campaign. In the end, personalization and persistence are the key.
Finally, link requests are just one phase of your link building strategy. It takes time, but think of it as an ongoing project and a larger part of your overall website promotion strategy. It should not replace but rather augment your other link building practices such as directory submissions, writing compelling content and participating in forums.
Rescuing your website from obscurity and vaulting to the first page of search results - and large amounts of traffic - can be achieved with hard work and a good strategy. While the link request is not dead, it has most certainly changed. A good SEO will adapt to these changes and get the quality links required to continue to rank well.
Digital marketing executive with proven experience in all aspects of search engine optimization (SEO), performance-based advertising, consumer-generated/social media, email marketing, lead generation, Web design, usability, and analytics. - 20-year Internet marketing veteran, currently serving as the Digital Marketing Campaign Manager at Antenna Group (formerly Chicago Digital). - Former Editor-In-Chief of Website Magazine, and a regular speaker on Web technology digital marketing strategy - Author of several books on digital marketing Including Web 360: The Fundamentals of Web Success; Affiliate 360: The Fundamentals of Performance Marketing; Domains 360: The Fundamentals of Buying & Selling Domain Names, and SEO 360: The Fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization.