Welcome officially to WebmasterWorld [webmasterworld.com] debram1958, and thanks for posting.
Hey Jon, this is something I do have recent statistics on for a commerce site, different than a hobby site and probably a lot more difficult. Iíll go through the process and the numbers at the same time because I canít think of a better way to explain it.
For a recent commerce site I was looking for 50 links. First I want through and gathered a list of 200 possibilities. By that Iíve weeded briefly through all the themed industry portals, other sites in the industry that have an established linking structure in place (they offer a directory or at least a pretty good set of linking pages not too heavy, you know and clearly point out how they wish to communicate Ė very important for commerce link hunting) and the initial audiences I think I can find enough links from to make it worth chasing them. Anyway for 50 links a list of 200 is about right.
I sort them alphabetically first on my spreadsheet and then start the sorting process. Thatís my key to successful conversion or a higher conversion rate, itís in the sorting. With commerce sites I have a hold column for all the sites that donít meet my standards for this campaign or might have a problem but nothing serious enough to send them to the toss column. All PR0 sites go into the toss column, link farms and FFAís, ugly cheap and tacky sites, ones I will never link to ever. I usually have a column for articles, these are sites that perhaps accept articles, produce articles or lead me to believe that article promotion might be an option. I have a column for sites that cost and I include the fee and either the contact page or the email address so if I need to pursue those later I can.
Then I have my choice column and these are the sites I will pursue aggressively. Once I have 50 leads here I can divide then into the what I call Ďstreamsí. I want to be able to develop each stream out to at least 25 links with 5 give-aways (nice two pages of a directory). Iím finding itís much easier for me to follow a stream at a time so if itís blue widget reps then I can develop the next phase of my campaign around that and prepare my letters or communications for them specifically.
What I have found is that with the first letter I send out to these 50 I usually get 1/3 to link immediately with another 1/3 trickling in over the next 3 weeks. The last 1/3 I get impatient about and write a second letter and I quickly get about 1/3 of those immediately with another 1/3 or so trickling in again. At this point weíre almost there. I find at this time it helps to plan for another round just exactly like this Ė fresh with a whole new group of 200 links. Planned correctly the campaigns begin to overlap each other and thereís a fairly consistent flow of incoming links.
Something else Iíve noticed folks doing and I am doing more is to suggest (and this is especially true with commerce sites) when someone does link back and I write my thank you note, I suggest that if they have any other complimentary sites within the same theme and they would like to discuss further linking opportunities that Iím open to that. Iíve been getting sometimes links to 1-3 additional sites without the additional searching and sorting.
I guess for me the higher conversion rates come from first the research (including industry and audience), the sorting, the communication and the follow up. Add a bit of magic, a little personality, and staying fluid to new ideas and opportunities and thatís where my higher numbers come and better links.