Link building is still considered a staple to SEO, despite what any bloggers may say. Yes, Google has clamped down on those using questionable quality links or outright spam to try to boost their rankings, but if you have been building a quality link profile, you likely never had problems with any of the countless Penguin updates.
For new sites, understanding where and how to begin building a link profile can be a bit confusing however. The most important tip for building up links is to start broad. While links tightly connected to keywords have a much bigger effect on rankings, they only improve your rankings in very specific searches.
Instead, you should be trying to create a broader relevance. This makes you rank higher for all keyword combinations rather than the few specific keyword combinations. Once you start seeing broader improvement, you can see what specific keyword combinations are doing the best, and which ones need your focus.
Peter van der Graaf explains how to begin your hunt for a better link profile over at Search Engine Watch, where he explains how to identify quality link partners and how to shift from a broad link profile to specific keyword focused links once the time is right.