Happy to help, MusicClub :)
Yes and No. :) I do like directory style, but I think you can still keep it related.
Have you ever heard the old joke about the logic professor and the redneck?
The point is that you can use the same method to come up with your directory topics. Face it, you’re not trying to build another DMOZ – you don’t want 100 categories seven levels deep. You are trying to get links from sites whose visitors might have an interest in your site. Your site’s niche will dictate the topics you want to include in your directory.
So put on your logic professor hat. (Hard to widget-ise – mods forgive me). If your site is about floor rugs, then you can assume your customers might have a home and want to decorate the walls with some wall art, or light fittings. If their home has an inside, perhaps it has an outside too – maybe a garden section.
If your site is travel related, perhaps your customers would be interested in a camera to record their holiday – there’s a topic. If they can afford a nice holiday, they might have a reasonable disposable income and a jewelry section could be appropriate. Or perhaps they don’t and a credit section would fit.
Blah blah blah ad infinitum. Think about your visitors and try to get creative, but try to stay realistic at the same time.
What you are after is a targeted ‘broad niche’ directory. You’ll send your partners valuable customers. They’ll send you valuable customers. Everyone wins.
I’ll tell you the truth – it makes link hunting more of a challenge. But at the end of the day I believe you end up with something of much greater value than an ‘everything under the sun’ links page.
Again, yes and no. I have seen this done nicely… once. In that case the webmaster had a list of ten sites or so, on more or less related themes, and an option for you to tick the sites you wanted to exchange links with. It was well presented, the links were well organised and visitor-centric. If you can do it that way, then sure, yes.
I wouldn’t do it if the result were that you ended up with six sites with identical link directories though. The idea is to draw new visitors, and assuming you have some interlinking of your sites then this system seems like a lot of space taken up to attract the same visitors six times. Unless your sites are very closely related, then your topics should vary according to your ‘logic assumptions’, and an ‘apply for all’ form is likely to get you a lot of ill-considered link requests (not that you won’t get those anyway).
Of course, there’s also the risk of creating a closed system that Google or other SE’s will identify and penalise, duplicate penalties, etc.
So in the end… I guess I would tend to say no.