One of the most common difficulties in link building is getting a response from link requests. Ken McGaffin gives ten reasons why you might not be getting answers and how to fix each problem.

People often arrive early at my link building webinars and I hit on the idea of involving them as soon as they arrived. I replaced the welcome screen with a question: “What is the most difficult thing about link building? Use the chat box to tell me now”.

“Getting a response from my link requests” was one of the most common difficulties. Many people were wondering why they sent out link requests and then never heard anything back.

It struck me that emails are very easy to send and therefore we take them for granted. We don’t understand the enormity of the task we’re setting our link requests. Your email must generate enough interest to get your target to open it and then do a persuasive job of getting them to do what you want.

Your link request must avoid many pitfalls to have a chance of success, yet few of us fully understand or plan ahead to avoid them.

Here’s my take on the onerous path that lies ahead for email link requests.

1. Your request gets stuck in spam filters

You’re emailing someone you don’t know and who doesn’t know you. That means you’ve got to be especially careful that the words you use don’t trigger a spam filter which means your request won’t even get through – that’s zero chance of success!

Action: Avoid words like ‘money’, ‘act now’, or any marketing hype. Spend time understanding what email spam filters do, and how spam alerts are triggered. You can make a good start at with How Spam Filters Think.

2. Your subject line doesn’t persuade your target to open

One of the worst things that you can put in your subject line is “link request” because it simply won’t get opened. Why? well, because people over the years have been inundated with so many link requests that they just know what’s inside, and they have no reason to open it.

Another thing about “link request” is that it’s all about you, not what you can offer your target. So you come across a fantastic list of resources in your industry that someone has taken the time to diligently compile and keep up to date. If you focus on yourself, you’ll tell your target how much a link would benefit you: it’s much better to focus on your target and what they want, along the lines of ‘another useful resource for your list’.

Action: Find out the person behind the site and gear your requests to what you know they’re interested in – you’ll find out how in one of my previous articles, How to make a link request. Remember that different types of sites need different approaches to attract their interest.

And while it’s not strictly about writing subject lines, there are some great relevant lessons in Sean D’Souza’s FREE headline writing course.

3. It’s not clear what you’re asking them to do

If, on opening your email, your prospects see paragraphs of text explaining who you are, what you do and what you hope to do, people simply will not have the time or the patience to work out what you’re asking for.

Be direct and as brief as you can be or you risk hiding your request under a mountain of verbiage. In the words of Dennis Roth, “If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought.”

Never start a link request with something like, “We’re a well-established business that has been providing essential services to the small business community in the City of Kansas for over 20 years, blah, blah …”

No-one cares, they want to know what’s in it for them. So something like, “In tough times small businesses need to watch every penny. That’s why we wrote ‘Money Saving Tips for Small Businesses’. Would you like to share it with your readers?” Now, you can go on to give more detail about who you are …

Action: Sit down and write your link request without worrying about the words you use or how many, just get as much as you can written down. Now, go through your copy like an editor would – cut out everything that is superfluous and focus in on ONE main point and make sure that’s in your first paragraph.

To see more case studies like this – and much, much more – check out The Definitive Guide To Successful Link Building written by Ken McGaffin and Mark Nunney and published by Wordtracker.

4. They’re interested and take a closer look at your site

Your link request has now done a lot of its work. It’s got people interested enough to come and check out your site. But you’re not there yet – are they going to see what they expect to see? Are they immediately going to see the content or the resource that you talked about?

If you’ve talked about one of your products, a publication, a video, an article, an offer, have you given them a direct link to it? You don’t want to force them to hunt through your site in search of what’s of interest – their search won’t last long and they’ll be off with no intention to link.

Action: Put yourself in the position of the person who has just got your request and decides to check out your site before linking to you. What are they going to see? Something bland or something that makes them think “that looks interesting”. If your site is not quite up to par, can you create at least a great ‘about us’ page and direct them there?

Check out Blog Tyrant’s 12 of the best about us pages.

5. They look at your social media profile

If people are interested in linking to you but not quite sure yet, they could well check you out on social media sites. Have you told them what social media sites you’re active on? Can they find out more about you? Do you post frequently and are you helpful in your posts? The more you take part in your community, the more positive the impression you make – and the more likely people are to link to you.

Action: Check out Mark Nunney’s excellent How to Twitter and this goldmine of advice on social media from Cindy King 17 Marketing Tips From The Pros.

6. They do a search on your name, your company name or website

Others who are interested but not yet sure might do a Google search.

They’ll not expect to see you rank well for popular keywords, but they will expect you to appear for a search on your own name or your company name. What do they see when they do? You can certainly influence how you appear by making sure you’ve got a personal profile.

Action: Read Andy Komack's Reputation Conversations Start with Search Results.

7. Your prospect doesn’t take immediate action – then forgets

Now, you’re really there. You’ve done all the hard work, you’ve got their interest, they like what they see and they fully intend to link to your fabulous site.

But then nothing. They simply forget to do what they were going to do. That’s quite understandable: we’re all busy people with a whole bunch of pressures on our heads. It’s easy to be distracted with more immediate tasks.

A certain percentage of your requests will suffer this fate and you will never know how close you were to a wonderful link.

Action: There is only one thing you can do – and that’s politely follow up. A gentle reminder sent a week after your original request can work wonders. People will think “Oh yes, I’ve been meaning to do that. I’d better do it now”.

8. They decide to link but not quite in the way you wanted

Fantastic, you’ve got a link but not quite in the way you wanted. Still, it’s a result and you should be happy with what you’ve got, yes?

Well, no: your job is to get the best possible link you can get. So if they don’t use the anchor text you want, or they link to your home page, not to the deep content you were really trying to promote, you’ve got to act.

Action: Send them a quick email, direct message them, phone them up and ask. If you’re polite and explain what you want, people are nearly always willing to do what you ask. And the best time to follow up is now – the longer you wait, the less likely they are to make the change. This really works!

9. You don’t convert the traffic your links bring

Links are not just for SEO – they bring potential customers to your website and your job is not really over until they convert into business.

So someone has given you a link and people click on the link to arrive at your site: what expectations will they have and how well do you fulfil those expectations?

Action: Have you got a prominent call to action? Is it easy for people to purchase? Anything you can do to improve conversion will improve the value of your links. Check out some great selling tips from Nick Usborne.

10. You don’t build on the opportunity

OK, you’ve got the link you want, in the way you want it. Job done?

Not quite. Link building is not about building up 100, 1,000 or 10,000 links, it’s about building lasting relationships. By linking to you, the site has expressed an interest in your site and what you do.

That means you can build on that interest for the future. The next time you launch a new product, make a special offer or publish some fantastic advice, then let them know. People who already link to you are prime targets for getting more links in the future. Never lose site of that.


An email link request has some very difficult tasks to do – and failure at any task may scupper your chances of success. But you can give your request the support it needs to be effective by understanding the tasks and giving some thought to how they might be overcome.

At the very least you should prepare:

• A benefit-driven link request

• A short thank you message when you’re successful

• A polite follow-up if you hear nothing

• A polite reminder if someone has promised you a link but then forgotten

• A polite request to change a link someone has already given you

• A follow-up that builds on the relationship

That might sound like a lot of work but to quote Mark Nunney: “If you build this into a process, you’ll be able to repeat it time and again. Not only will your link requests be more successful, but in the long term you’ll save lots of wasted time.”

What have I missed? What works for you? What’s the best link request you’ve ever made? Don’t be shy, share your tips in the comments below.

And don’t forget the prospects

Of course, it won't matter how many of these ten things you get right if you don’t have enough of the right prospects to contact. Wordtracker Link Builder can find you thousands of relevant link prospects and organize them into groups that match different link building strategies, including blogs, news media, social media, directories and trusted sites.


To see more case studies like this – and much, much more – check out The Definitive Guide To Successful Link Building written by Ken McGaffin and Mark Nunney and published by Wordtracker.

Author: Ken McGaffin

I’ve been working online since studying entrepreneurship at Boston College, MA since the early 90s. I now consult and provide training in digital marketing, public relations and link building. If you’d like to have a chat, give me a call on +44 (0)1292 263801 or drop me a line to ken @