Link-building is the process of manually building links in any way possible to show the site in question as having more of a value to search engines than it did previously. Therefore it's surely a black-hat SEO activity?
I'm at the stage where I'm trying to promote an online store I'm in the process of launching at the company I work for. I've done most of the initial legwork - domain, server, software, products, on-page seo, etc. All that's left now is to promote, promote, promote.
I (like many others) would like most of our traffic to come from organic searches because it's both free and passive in many respects (yes, my time isn't free and so on, but lets assume it is for now) so it's a question of ranking well for what I think (based on my keyword research) the terms are that people search for where our site would be the most appropriate. As I said before, all on-page SEO is taken care of, meaning broadly speaking, how well we rank for said terms is down to how many links (or rather, 'how many links of a good quality') I can get pointing to my site and products with appropriate anchor text over our competitors (competitiors being not necessarily other online stores, but sites that rank well for those terms regardless of their purpose).
I'm not new to the concepts of SEO, I understand the majority of concepts (it's actually quite simple, though most 'SEO' firms insist it isn't and will throw ridiculous terminology into the mix to boost their 'professional image') and whilst I understand everything, I just can't phathom why anyone would seek to try and build links manually. Link building entales essentially pestering webmasters to link to your site in question, when it's probably the last thing they care about doing for that particular day. Sure there are rare occassions when the site your building links for is genuinely relevant and interesting to the webmaster you're approaching for a link, but in some industries - especially the more 'niche' industries, these kinds of sites are far and few between.
Rather than simply requesting links, many articles now go into the psychology of essentially manipulating people (webmasters, yes, they're people) into linking to their site under the pretences of a false relationship/friendship (sure, you can say it's genuine all you like but you would never have contacted them if you weren't after a link) and spending time on said relationship to the stage where they might link to you... once.
Manual link building seems (well, IS) a very long-winded process with what is essentially very little reward when you consider that you won't continue to gain links if you stop. Major search engines use link counts as an organic method of determining which sites are relevant to what search terms and how they should rank and by building links, you are technically devaluing their efforts to evaluate your site. Surely by this measure, link-building isn't a white-hat process?
I believe the smarter approach (if you were going to approach the webmaster of a site whose audience may find your site interesting and request they link to it) would be simply to send an email with a link asking them to take a look... then if they genuinely found it interesting they might link to it.... and I fear I may have just contradicted myself with my earlier psychology approach.
Should 'link-building' as an activity consist of creating link-worthy exceptional content that is likely to accrue links naturally with age as opposed to the headless-chicken/goose-chase approach many SEO firms seem to undertake?