There are a lot of misconceptions in regards to back linking and SEO today. Everyone is afraid of being penalized, but the truth is that backlinking is necessary if you want to rank in the search engines for competitive keywords.
I would love to talk about the safe ways to build backlinks to your website:
1) Diversify your anchor texts:
Make sure to use a mixture of both keyword specific and natural/branded anchor texts. Keyword specific anchor texts help increase authority, but too much of a specific keyword can cause rankings issues.
A good ratio I typically like to go by is 80/20. 80% naturally branded and 20% exact match. However, this depends on your niche market and how competitive it is also
2) Build "In-Content" relevant links.
Sidebar/footer links are GREAT for authority, but if you are scared of getting penalized don't do too many of these and just stick to in-content blog type links.
Try to get links that are in articles/content on other websites.
These are links on websites that are relevant to your website/niche market.
3) Optimize your On-Site SEO:
Backlinks are great, but if you don't have the authoritative content on your website that is optimized for your keywords then Google isn't going to rank you. Make sure your keywords and keyword variations.
4) Be Consistent!
I cannot stress this enough. If you are looking for real SEO results, make sure you are being consistent with your link building. These constant "referrals" will increase the amount that Google trusts your website. Make link building a part of your monthly marketing campaign and over 2-3 months you will see great results.
Remember, at the end of the day try to make your backlinks look natural
If anyone has any questions or other ideas, feel free to respond or reach out!