What is a backlink? According to wikipedia.com:
Backlinks, also known as incoming links, inbound links, inlinks, and inward links, are incoming links to a website or web page. In basic link terminology, a backlink is any link received by a web node (web page, directory, website, or top level domain) from another web node.
Inbound links were originally important (before the emergence of search engines) as a primary means of web navigation; today, their significance lies in search engine optimization (SEO). The number of backlinks is one indication of the popularity or importance of that website or page (for example, this is one of the factors considered by Google to determine the Page Rank of a webpage). Outside of SEO, the backlinks of a webpage may be of significant personal, cultural or semantic interest: they indicate who is paying attention to that page.
The question whether or not backlinking as a legitimate SEO strategy is really dead is answered with a straight NO.
A discussion similar as this has been going on in Quora and below are two of the best answers:
No. Acquiring backlinks as a legitimate SEO strategy is not dead.
What is dead is spam based and anchor text based backlinks from non-authority sites whose sole purpose is to add nothing but another link.
Panda and Penguin took care of these by hammering content farms like eZine Articles and platforms like Build My Rank.
Quality backlinks are vital to the success of any website and the metric needed to gain quality backlinks is simple:
Create quality content and share it exponentially. Become a legitimate authority and resource that provides value. Give to get.
Backlinks that scale easily and that don’t also add value for searchers have been dying for a long time. If you find a methodology that scales nicely, that’s relatively easy to perform, and that has little impact on whether your brand is more respected, your site is better quality, or your visitors will be more delighted, you can bet that Google will eventually shut its value down.
Google (and every search engine) needs to count only the links that are truly indications that the site/page/brand is a better choice to rank than any others. For the last 15 years in search, they’ve been moving closer and closer to that reality, and as a result, SEO has been getting more challenging, more nuanced, and less fire-and-forget.
All the said, building links is not dead. I just skimmed through the last dozen posts here: http://moz.com/blog/category/lin… and every one of them has tons of valuable, useful tactics that still work. They don’t scale very nicely. They aren’t particularly easy to perform. And many of them require upgrading your site, your content, your relationships, and/or your brand’s reach.
The good part about this is that the more challenging link building gets, the more valuable it becomes, and the greater the demand for those who can do it right. SEOs who can step up to this challenge should be cheering these changes (as should searchers, who’ll benefit from better quality results).