The Anatomy of an Influential Link Request Email, Part 01
By: Ben Wills |

So, this might be pretty weird, and....

Disclaimer: I am not a writer or a sales person. Correction: I wrote something one time and I'm sure I will again in the future – which, I guess, constitutes me as a writer at its most basic definition – but, I am not a great writer. Actually, I'm not even a decent writer. Nor am I trained as a writer. (Though I did buy The Elements of Style once. The introduction was fantastic.) I am also not a sales person. In fact, you want me to do your sales as much as you want me to do your design work (I couldn't even make something look ugly.) Just as much as I wrote something once makes me a writer, I've also had conversations with people that they end up buying something from me makes me a sales person. No one considers me a writer or a sales person, and neither should you.

If you need a nice juicy hook in order to keep reading, here you go: When I was on online dating sites way back when, I wrote dozens of different profiles, trying various language patters, structures, tones, etc, in order to figure out which ones worked the best. I was consistently getting just under a 10% response rate, no matter what I tried. On my 26th version, however, something clicked; as a result, my response rate more than quadrupled to 50%, even when the other person viewed my profile first. This wasn't an accident, and you'll learn why in this post.

And, without further ado, here is this week's Link Building How-Tos Day: The Anatomy of an Influential Link Request Email.


If you've ever taken something you learned in one area of life – sports, martial arts, painting, working on cars, gardening, etc, – and applied those lessons to another area of your life – say, your work – you might be able to relate to some things you and I are going over right now.

One of these many tangents - “development detours” as I like to call them – brought me to the intersection of individual psychology and sales. You might be familiar with Robert Cialdini's The Psychology of Influence, which is a fantastic analysis of the broad psychological factors that lead you to take actions like, for example, reading this blog post right now.

But even while reading such a great body of work on the factors that lead us to take action, there seemed to be some more granular pieces missing...some finer points, if you will, that required a bit more attention digging into them to see what they were. There were still many questions unanswered.

Allow me to explain one phenomenon that you won't find in Cialdini's popular books...

When I say to you “Don't imagine a fluorescent pink iPad,” what is the image that you imagine? That's right. A fluorescent pink iPad...even though I told you not to think of one.

Or how about this?

When I say to you “Don't imagine the experience of flying a kite on the beach in Hawaii on a sunny, 85 degree day with low humidity, few clouds, and the sound of waves crashing against the shoreline.”

We've already determined that – if you're like most of us...human – you're probably going to have in your mind that image of flying a kite on the beach in Hawaii. But how is this image different than the one of the fluorescent pink iPad? Did the image of the beach seem more real? Did the image of the fluorescent pink iPad appear as a picture, and maybe the image of the beach played out more like a movie in your mind's eye? Were there additional senses as a part of that experience on the beach? Did you perhaps feel a bit warmer because I described an 85 degree setting? Could you hear the sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline like I mentioned?

Great. And here's where things get really weird: How salty was the air that you breathed in that experience? How windy was it? How blue was the water? Who were you with? What did the terrain look like; were there mountains or volcanos or trees nearby? If you had any of those experiences, why did you have them when I didn't even mention salty air, how windy it was, who you were with, how blue the water was, or how the rest of the landscape appeared? I bet you didn't imagine an airplane flying overhead, did you? (Until now.)

If you're filling in your own experiential gaps when you're imagining something that you're reading, when you're sending a link request, what are the things that the other person is imagining when they're reading your link request emails?

If you average out each hour of each day in the past year of your life, you might notice something peculiar: You don't really do very many things very differently from day to day. Sure, your weekends are different from you work days, and your meals and clothes change (somewhat) from day to day, but you might notice that most of your Mondays are the same. As are your Tuesdays. And as are your Saturdays. You may also notice that, if you look at the past year of your life, there are certain days that really stand out. You might also notice that the days that stand out are those that break that average, routine pattern of actions that you take on a daily basis. This is because we, as humans, develop and leverage routine and structure as a way to produce results in our lives.

Do you want to get to work on time? Then you might implement the structure and routine of an alarm clock. Do you want to have healthy relationships in your life? Then you might implement the structure and routine of hanging out with friends and watching football on Sunday afternoons. Do you want a more spiritual element in your life? Then you might attend Church or Synagogue or Mosque or Monastery or schedule time out in nature on a regular basis.

If your first hour of most days is spent showering, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast and driving to work, the mornings that stand out are the ones that deviate from the pattern, right? You might say that the memorable mornings break the structure and routine that you normally keep.

Think of a morning in the past year that really stands out because it was so fantastic. What happened? How was it different than your normal routine? Why does it stand out?

And now, for the important question: Choose a morning that really stands out for being crazy-awesome and fantastic. Make it big and bright in your imagination. When that day started out differently, when it broke the routine, how did that affect your experience of the rest of the day? Since you had a fantastic morning, how fantastic was the rest of that day compared to most other days? Do you find that your mornings – the very start of your days – often color and influence your moods and experience of the rest of your day?

Now, reflect back on when you first came to this blog post, what happened in your mind when you read:

So, this might be pretty weird, and....

Chances are that you might have begun reading this post differently, being open to it in a different way than you usually are with most other link building blog posts...

(Or maybe you just thought it was some boring, long-winded sales letter. Who knows?)

Great, Ben, I'm 1,000 words into this crappy blog post, I now understand why you're a terrible writer and an even worse sales person, and you still haven't told me how to write a link request email. I think the only way I could learn anything new would be if you shut your face hole part that makes the sounds...

Easy, tiger, I'm getting there...

At this point, you've determined that when your routines are broken, you open and listen differently. You've also determined that when you read something, you're creating a mental experience in your mind; sometimes this experience comes as a direct result of what was said, sometimes this experience shows up indirectly, but still relates to what was said.

So, how can you apply this to your link request emails?

Consider looking at it this way: Imagine that you're going to your inbox and you receive an email with a subject line that has the words “link request” or even the word “link.” How are you reacting to this email before you even read it?

When you open this email from someone you don't know and it starts “Hi,” or “Hi Ben,” or “Hey Ben,” (Obviously, switching out your name for mine.) what is your mental response? How quickly do you look for the delete button?

And now imagine that you wrote a pretty kick ass blog post and that you're receiving an email from someone with a subject line of “Dude, that post was *awesome*.” And imagine it started off (using this post as an example) “Hey man, that article you posted about link request emails completely changed the way I send link requests and now I'm getting three times the responses back and five times as many links.”

How are you going to be reading the rest of that email? How does that differ from a subject line of “Link Request for Ontolo.com.” And a body that starts with “Hi Ben,”? Which one sounds more like it's coming from a friend or a colleague, rather than a stranger who might be looking for something from you? (The there'salwaysanexceptiontotherule is that if you're sending link requests for links from doctors, lawyers, stock brokers, etc, opening with “Hey man,” might not be so useful. Obviously, use your judgment here.)

There's something very basic and elemental happening here with the very first words of each and every link request you send. You're working with another person here.

While we aren't exactly machines, we do often work mechanistically. That is, our behavior is predictable. We allow ourselves to be influenced by cause and effect. What effect do you want to produce in those whom you are sending link requests? Is the effect you're looking for to have the other person want to give you a link? What causes, in terms of your language, could you learn to apply in order to increase the likelihood of creating those effects?

Now, I know that if you're reading the Ontolo blog, you're probably pretty awesome at link building. I know you're not sending out link requests that look like the one I touched on above. I know you're sending out requests that are more developed than that and that you're tweaking them and getting better and better response rates. And I also know that, if you're the kind of link builder who's committed to producing results, you are always looking for ways to increase your response rates.

What if you were able to increase your response rates, while also developing relationships that you could return to over and over for recurring links now and in the future? What would that link request look like?

Can you imagine what it might be like if you could get twice as many links by sending out half as many link requests?

With each link request you send, you're making a request of someone else....or are you? Maybe you're looking for a win-win with you and them? That would be nice, wouldn't it? What if you could make a win-win-win with you, them, and their readers? How receptive could someone possibly be from a link request email? Take that receptivity and multiply that times ten. What if, instead of your link requests being designed as you asking for something from them, the other person can't wait to give you a link. What would that look like? How would you need to write that email? What does that offer look like? What are the other person's key concerns, priorities and desires that would need to be met?

Next week, we'll dive into the single most important sentence in any and every link request email, whether you know the person or not. You'll explore why this one sentence can dramatically increase your link acquisition rates because it touches on the one universal desire of each person from whom you're requesting a link. And you'll also discover why understanding this one element that goes into this sentence is the key to building lasting link request relationships that get you not only one link right now, but also opens the possibility to get you many more links in the future.

And now, here's your homework:

Go back to your link prospect lists that you've qualified – those great, fantastic lists that can open doors to valuable, long-term relationships that will dramatically impact your business in a positive way – and look at each one. Ask yourself: Who is this person? What do they really want? Why are they taking the time each day/week/month to put together this site and share this knowledge? What do they get from it? Where is their passion? How can I open a conversation with them that not only stands out, but genuinely appreciates them and their efforts as they relate to the time and energy they put into this site and why they're committed to sharing this information with the world?

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