With all the talk about link building penalties being doled out by Google and the other search engines, it is easy to get the wrong impression. Contrary to the belief of some webmasters, Google does NOT hate links. Quite the opposite. Matt Cuts has gone on record saying that Google still values the right kind of links and that links remain one of the key ways Google determines site relevance and help boost your search ranking.
So then how should you go about building links? First and foremost avoid the quick and easy route. Those are the ones that are getting penalized for being spammy links.
The best way to build links is to take a slow and steady approach. Do your homework and make sure that you are targeting quality websites for links. Target those who offer similar content to your own site. Look for websites that compliment what you offer. Think of peanut butter and jelly. The two are clearly different, but go so well together.
Manual outreach takes longer, but may bring higher results by allowing you to better target your prospects. Blanket email pitches often go unanswered for fear that you are trying to buy or sell links. Really look at your target list and then put together a well thought out pitch identifying how linking would be mutually beneficial and that you are looking for quality links that make sense for your business and for the search engines.
Then listen to the response you get. No is an opportunity to learn. Ask why they said no. It might surprise you to know why. Fear seems to be the biggest reason for saying no. But the reason might be a simple misunderstanding that can be turned into a valuable link.
As most things in life, a link worth having is worth working for.