As the owner of a niche blog, I occasionally find myself at the receiving end of link request emails. As an SEO, I am always fascinated by the different approaches people take to try and get me to pass link juice their way. There is much to be learned from these, although often it's a matter of learning by negative example.
Pick up any decent SEO guide and you will find in the link building chapter a section about the importance of personalising your link request emails: it's not exactly a groundbreaking revelation. While I still get a few automatically generated requests a month, they are not likely to teach me anything new. The most important thing I learned from reading other people's requests, though, is how hard you need to work in order to get people to even read your email in the first place, let alone give you a link. Personalisation is really only the beginning.
In the old days, we used to recommend writing a personal email to the webmaster, using their name if at all possible, saying how much you liked their site and maybe giving some feedback. The link request itself would often come in the end as a suggestion for something that may add value to the site itself. In fact, rather than mention linking in your subject line, it was considered better form to stick with things like "site feedback" and "suggestions for your site" to avoid having your emails deleted without being read.
But things have moved on since then. Although this approach might still work with some (smaller) sites, it's really very formulaic and flawed. To begin with, once you've seen one of these emails, you've seen them all. It doesn't really matter whether they were hand-typed or automatically generated - the end result is the same and not likely to get anyone reading past the first paragraph. Also, well-established authority sites of the kind you want linking to you are not likely do so just because you referred to their webmaster by name or complimented their choice of colour scheme. If you want them to give you a juicy one-way link, you'll need to make it worth their while. You need to start thinking in terms of what's in it for them, rather than simply what's in it for you and your site.
There are different approaches you can take to make linking to you sound like a good deal. Start by figuring out what the people you're about to email are likely to want and take it from there.
You could, for example, ask for your site or products to be reviewed. You can offer to send samples, review copies, etc. and ask for a link within the review. Getting stuff for free in return for a bit of writing and a link is likely to be seen as a good deal by many webmasters and bloggers out there.
Alternatively, you could offer to provide a service in return for a link. Rather than present your email as a link request, concentrate on what you are offering and explain that you only want a link back as payment.
Remember that content is king and many sites are looking for articles, expert opinions, reviews, etc. and would gladly link out rather than spend money or time generating them themselves.
Of course, your best methods for link building don't have to be online-based, so don't limit yourself to emails when asking for links: it's often a lot easier to get links out of people you've met in person. Attending industry events, meeting potential link partners, being friendly and finding ways you can work together both on and offline are as much a part of Internet marketing as anything you do online. It's all about networking, after all.