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I've received what I believe is a spammy enough link prospecting email. (I have a relatively large site including numerous short works.) It left me with a couple of questions about how I should be doing my own link prospecting.

I would (rightly or wrongly) summarize The Ultimate Guide to Link Building as suggesting two emails: a "preciprocation" email saying "I visited your website and I really like X, and I tweeted Y, and I also subscribed to your RSS feed announcing Z," and then an email asking that some URL be shared or passed on (the word "link" being ideally avoided).

I've been thinking about that, and I received an email with subject of "Thank you", an apology for "cold-contact"ing, an extremely vague claim to have found some relief through my works but too broke to say "thank you" by buying anything from my site my ebooks are mostly $3 and that shouldn't be a budget-buster*], and as a secondary way of saying thanks, sending me three annotated links to websites on three different subjects, all claimed to be related to a recent posting of mine. My parsing of the email is that it is link prospecting email, with two links as window dressing and one link of payload, probably a theology link that is at least loosely on-topic for my site, at least if you don't know the difference between an Orthodox Christian and an "Anglican Catholic" theologian. The more I've thought about it, the more dishonest and manipulative it seems. And not just because of the subject line; my contact page explicitly asks people to put "To the author" in the subject line, something which both page's the form and mailto: link have baked in. A subject of "Thank you" says "I didn't want a one-way backlink from your site enough to read and follow prominently placed instructions in a prominently placed contact page.", a point explicitly warned about in the book I've read.

The exact email reads:

Dear CJS Hayward,

Although, it is generally not in my nature to "cold-contact" people I don't know, nonetheless, I wanted to offer you my gratitude for the writings you have shared on your website. They have gotten me through some very hard days. As way of saying "thank-you", and not being at this time to make any purchases of your products, following are three website links related to one of your current posts, that I thought you may find useful. They are:

http://arachnoid.com/
(Psychology - Located on the sidebar of homepage)

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/
(Geared towards parents of gifted children, but may be useful as a general resource)

https://sarumuse.wordpress.com/
(Fr. Anthony Chadwick, of the Anglican Catholic Church - His perspective on similar psychological and theological topics)

I apologize in advance if these links are not useful to you. As I said, they are a humble offering in appreciation for what you have freely shared.

Thank you again,

Bryan W.

Now I would like to obtain backlinks by email, and I would like to avoid coming across the way this one did. I would ideally like to suppose that much of any site I'd want a backlink from is going to have had repeated link building contacts, weren't born yesterday, and don't like being treated with guile. What is the best way to reach out in a way that is respectful, makes a straightforward request, and doesn't trigger guile alarms? What, perhaps, could be improved on this email beyond any specific evidence that the spammer has read one single posting? And what approaches might be better?

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    I gave up on prospecting about 1000 +/- years ago because it seemed like a waste of time. Perhaps I was not doing a good job. It would be interesting to see if anyone does any prospecting and what advice they can give. For the record, Google is looking for organic links, however, that does not mean that prospecting is of no value. It still may be. Up to date ideas would be helpful for future users. I advise that answers be factual experience and not opinion. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jan 26 '17 at 0:09
  • Remove the first sentence and the apology. With them you sound creepy. Without them you sound sincere but clueless. – Stephen Ostermiller Jan 26 '17 at 11:21
  • @closenoc I don't know if link prospecting is a waste of time, but I tried to write a clue-by-four in An Open Letter to Other Link Prospectors. – Christos Hayward Feb 13 '17 at 23:44
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As you noted, be straight-forward.

Outreach to relevant sites, visit the sites, follow any instructions, don't use a subject line that tricks the user into opening, use your real email, use your first and last name.

Having an email address through the domain you are doing outreach for goes a long way, too.

Can't hurt to include links to a couple of your social profiles (or your @username).

I've gotten good results from being helpful by pointing out broken image links or misspellings or anything else that shows you spent some time on the site.

Meaningful comments on their blog is a great way to warm them up to you.

Oh and proofread, the stilted language and misspellings in that email are a dead giveaway for outsourced outreach.

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