Over the past several months, Google has gotten far more strict about where your backlinks come from. Paid links are poison and Google's webspam director Matt Cutts flat-out declared guest posting dead. But, while mass guest blogging schemes and link buying will get you smacked down by the search engines, you can still get legitimate links. Some characteristics of quality links in 2014:
It's a Genuine Endorsement
This starts with quality content. To get quality backlinks, it is more important than ever that you share information and ideas that can help the reader in some way.
It's still okay to reach out for links. Think of it this way: You and a colleague really admire one another's content and discuss cross-promoting one another. She links to one of your blog posts because she feels it is insightful and helpful to her readers. She gains credibility by sharing good information, you get traffic.
You Can Picture a Surfer Wanting to Click Through
If you were a web surfer who came across your link on a blog or social network, would you want to click through? Or would you be leery of it?
Think, for instance, of press releases that lack true news value but are full of highly optimized text links. Would you click the links in them? Would you be reading the release at all?
On the other hand, consider a top ten list of the best social media advice of 2013. This is a round-up blog post that you'd probably read, as well as clicking through to the source articles.
You Don't Feel a Need to Justify It
Does the site use strategies that you aren't comfortable with? Is it some deep, dark corner of the web you can't picture organic readers coming from? Do you have any reservations about being linked by the site at all? If the link passes this litmus test, you can feel comfortable about seeking it out. If not, you may be better served by not having that backlink.
You'd Go for the Link Even If Search Engines Didn't Exist
Is there a blogger or social media rock star whose work you respect. Would seeing your content linked in their social spaces make you feel giddy? These are people whose attention you want to gain and the links and contacts to pursue. Additionally, if you see a blog, news site or another outlet that provides quality content and seems to have the same audience as yours, send a shout out. You could wind up with a quality link and new readers.
As search engine algorithms get smarter, quality SEO and quality content will become closer to synonymous. Cultivate good information and good relationships and you will find yourself ahead of the game.