Long gone are the days of quickly building up backlinks to your site using quick, easy, cheating methods. Google quickly punishes anyone who tries to gain backlinks that don't have any relevance for a website's visitors. Yet, backlinks are still important for improving your PR and generating traffic.
I recently came across a very interesting post titled "What is Social Networking Coming To? It's All About the Social Vote!" In this article from Richard Petrillo, an Internet marketing expert, he talks about how Google's Panda update completely de-indexed backlinks to many a website, leaving the owners hurting and wondering where to go from there.
Richard suggests that the "social vote/social signal" is the key to avoiding such a disaster again.
Social signals are social votes are real, human recommendations. As a blogger, I've been getting lots of requests lately to mention certain products in my related articles. If the product is good and I include it in my article, then this information gets passed around on multiple social circles, from Twitter to Facebook and more. This is one method that companies are using to create organic backlinks to their products. Social signals is the term that applies to when an individual uses "like", "+1", or "Tweet", "Pin", or any other social media vote to share a link, hence the alternate term, social vote.
All of the major search engines are endorsing this form of building links back to your site, and especially Google with the +1 vote. Why are the big SE's so excited about this new form of backlinking? Well, it really is almost completely organic. This strategy requires quality content to get the most votes. Short of you asking a bunch of friends to Tweet or Like a piss poor article you wrote (which they may not do anyway to maintain their social media rep), this method requires actual individuals to like content enough to share it with their circles.
The obvious answer: write quality content that is relevant to your customers/readers. Just as PrintPlace.com, an online postcard printing company, points out on their blog, content is still king. If your content is full of fluff, bad grammar, and irrelevant information, readers simply won't recommend your article. The same goes for a product - if your product is unsatisfactory, customers are not going to recommend it to their friends.
The second very important part of this puzzle is to make sure your content or products are easy to vote for/recommend. Place social media buttons in an easy to see location on all of your article and product pages. When a customers orders a product, include an option for them to Tweet, Pin, etc. their purchase.
Finally, make sure you reach a much broader audience by posting articles on third-party blogs that include relevant links back to your site within the article or your bio. Or do as some companies do with me and request reviews of your product with the compensation of, say, a free trial. The lack of monetary compensation makes the review authentic - a writer is not going to write about a crap product or service for free at the risk of hurting his or her reputation.
So, yes, backlinking is still important. But the key to lasting backlinks (and freedom from the fear of backlinks being stripped out from underneath your feet overnight) is with organic backlinks and recommendations. Social votes/social signals are all the rage for a reason. Now get on board and start watching your website slowly but steadily build permanent relevance with Google.