All this month we'll be interviewing link building  experts on the WordStream blog. First up is Debra Mastaler. (Also check out Ari Ozick's interview with Debra on SEO Contrarian .)
Does great content market itself?
Yes and no. This really depends on the reputation of the person/company producing the content. Those with a good rep can publish and have content pushed forward, even if it's not so great. Strong reputations carry tremendous power. Those without a reputation will need to work at pushing content and building their power base.
Do you believe in linkbait? If so, what are some strategies for creating it?
Interesting question, I've never been asked if I "believe" in something link-related before. Let's see ... I use it, I think it's effective and I think it adds diversity to your content mix which is important when trying to tap into new traffic streams so yes, I guess I do believe in link bait. However, I am extremely cautious about launching a negative or controversial campaign unless I'm very sure of my facts and stance; I can't afford to create a reputation management nightmare I'll have to combat with a second link campaign. Not all links are good in this case, so it's best to look at possible repercussions and how to treat them in the event the content goes sour. You can't please everyone but if you're purposely out to ruffle feathers you need to be sure you can weather the storm and/or turn the situation into a positive for your brand.
What factors go into a "quality" link?
For me, all links are quality links as long as they work. I'm not hot for links using nofollow if I'm focused on anchors and SEO but even then, a handful of pink from highly relevant sites won't hurt and may help diversify your backlink mix. With the algorithms using multiple signals to determine authority and link quality it's always a good idea to secure a variety of links from relevant sites. Actually, I think the issue of relevancy is equally important these days, so place as much emphasis on where you get links as the type.
Are certain link-building avenues a waste of time?
They're only a waste of time if they don't produce the result you're looking for. :)
Is it ever okay to buy a link?
To me, paid links and speeding are a lot alike. If you go over the posted speed limit and get caught, you get a ticket, suffer insurance points and maybe a loss of license. Paid links are pretty much the same. Get caught and you are in violation of an engine's TOS, can suffer loss of link juice and maybe get bounced from the index. Is it worth it? Only you can make that decision. Measure what you can stand to lose against the risk and then accelerate.
Some people claim that traditional links are on their way out, due to the spread of social "sharing" via Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets. Do you agree? How does social media change the link building game? How do you leverage social media in your link building campaigns?
No, I don't agree sites like Twitter and Facebook have diminished more traditional link building. On the contrary, I feel social media has made it easier to find and target specific groups of people for linking and promotions. Social media sites provide an outlet where like-minded people congregate, and learning how to work those sites and tap into the collective can be invaluable. For example, using Twitter's search function can help you find people with special interests, and Facebook's advertising program can drive specific groups to targeted landing pages. The opportunities are there, it's up to you to figure out how to tap into them.
Is there a "tipping point" in link building? In other words, is there a point when you're working with a site that everything comes together and the links just flow in? Or is it always a steady climb?
On very rare occasions you'll find a site that doesn't have to put out any effort and nets a lot of links. This usually happens around a launch where offline advertising/an event supports a cause or when something monumental has happened in the news and points to a particular site. The point of commonality in either case is "offline" and it's one of the biggest factors in successful link building. If you can implement an offline campaign to support what you're doing online, your reach will be tenfold. This always results in more media mentions, more traffic and ultimately more links.
Any tips for marketers embarking on link requests? What tactics get the best response?
I don't do a lot of individual email requests; I'm what's known as a content and promotions specialist. I find promotional partners for clients and work to create content strategies that tap into a segment of people/business owners predisposed to like my clients offerings. Even though I don't send a lot of individual link requests (we call, send postcards and/or media kits) there are times I initiate contact through email. When we do this, I've found name dropping and business associations work best.
For example, I'll drop a name in the subject line of the initial email so the person will recognize the name and hopefully open the email. This immediately puts people at ease and makes the rest of the conversation easier. I also like to use associations, clubs and Chambers as openers; people feel more comfortable dealing with someone who belongs to the same association or club.
All that said, the tried and true methods of building links ... directory submissions, content syndication, link requests, forum participation etc. ... all that still works unless you're in the competitive niches. Once you get into competitive industries you need to launch innovative linking tactics and combine on- and offline advertising to keep your links coming.
Which link building tools do you use every day, paid and/or free?
I have four alert services I use, Google Alerts  for general non-client information and three others. I use them to bring back about 100 - 150 terms every day. I can't live without my alert services or Diet Coke. :)
I also use SEO Quake as well as SearchStatus (depends on which computer I'm on). If I'm building links for e-commerce sites I use eBay's Pulse tool , Shopzilla's Top Searches  and Amazon's Best Sellers . No matter what market you're in, chances are the top web properties in your niche have a trending tool or "what's hot" search box. For example here's one for the world of finance  and another in the sports industry.  I've always felt that trend watching=job security so I get my money's worth out of the alert services. ;)
About Debra Mastaler
Based in Oak Hill, Virginia, Debra Mastaler is President of Alliance-Link , an interactive marketing company focused on providing custom link building campaigns and link training. In business since 2000, Debra offers a common sense approach to link building by combining traditional sales and promotional strategies with effective online search engine marketing tactics.
In addition to client projects and link training for Fortune 500 companies as well as a number of top SEO firms in the US, UK and Canada, Debra is a featured guest speaker at the Search Engine Strategies Conference (SES), Search Marketing Expo (SMX), is a guest blogger for Search Engine Land and Search Engine Guide, has done numerous High Ranking Seminars, Small Business Unleashed Seminars as well as the Link Building Training session for Search Engine Strategies (SES) and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).
She is also the Link Building Moderator on the Small Business Ideas Forum and the SEOBook Community Forums .