I've seen this mentioned in different corners of the web and I think it is a brilliant idea. It entails creating some sort of embeddable badge that also contains a link to your website. The idea is that the badge can represent a coveted status for a website owner and by embedding the badge on their site, they get so show all their visitors that they have achieved something. This doesn't have to be something extravagant but a simple way to recognize website owners for something they may be doing.
One example is the Angie's List badge seen here,
Angie's List Web Badges, Link your website to Angies List
Here, business owners can display the badge on their site to let their visitors know the company is trustworthy.
Another example is the Zillow Real estate badge seen here,
Real Estate Badges, Mortgage Badges - Zillow Website Tools
These are for real estate agents and brokers to let potential clients know they are "highly rated".
Notice that the use of these badges requires no real vetting process on the part of the site providing the badge or the site embedding it. Also, both websites are getting something out of the deal. The site providing the badge gets a link and exposure. The site embedding the badge gets the notoriety that the badge provides. All you need to get started doing this are a good idea that will entice your target audience (or companies that connect you to your target audience) to embed a badge, a fancy image and embed code, and a list of people to email saying "hey! You have been awarded the coveted right to embed our badge!"
Another high class way to get some backlinks is to create an infographic. People like infographics for a couple of reasons. They make otherwise boring information very interesting to look at and they make you look smart when you share them.
Make an embeddable infogrphic (that contains a link to your site) and that is composed of interesting and well researched information. You can promote it to get the ball rolling and if it is good enough, people will use it on their blogs, to share on social media, or embed on their websites. This is really the essence of good content because infographics are attractive, appealing, shareable and useful.
If you want to make an infographic, there are some tools on the web to help you do that.
Infogr.am is one, Create infographics & online charts | infogr.am
And visual.ly is another, Infographics & Data Visualization | Visual.ly
The Scholarship Campaign
This one is my personal favorite however it can be a little more costly and in depth than some of these other methods. Its definitely more involved than some of the basic link building strategies.
We all know that .edu's and .gov's don't hold any more weight than their equivalent TLD counterparts. Even though that may be true, these TLD's are still more likely to have higher authority and for that reason, they are easy targets. The only issue is that if you were to contact an institution that maintains one of these domains and ask them to link to you, they will probably tell you to hit the bricks. Even if you had some kind of useful content to post, they probably will not be interested.
If you have something that will help their students however, then they might change their tune. If you are a larger web marketing company or if you work in an agency capacity for larger companies, you could consider making a small scholarship opportunity and then contacting Universities, colleges, and/or government entities to help you "promote" the scholarship on their website.
A strategically placed call to the marketing department of these institutions might get your foot in the door to having a well-placed link on a variety of well-respected websites. Not only will you get some good links but sites at major universities are heavily traveled.
Some caveats to this method. You have to make the whole thing legitimate. You don't have to offer some huge scholarship either. Something as small as 500 bucks should do it although if you want to suggest or do more I'm sure it wouldn't hurt. There must also be a legitimate process for applying for the scholarship and someone needs to actually be able to use it (even if no one ends up applying for it).
No don't really stalk anyone for links. I call it this because you can sometimes generate links by giving constant recognition to others who are doing well online. Find people that are really good at what they do but not so successful that they won't notice you. Then link to their content and mention them by name whether it be in blog comments, forum comments or blog posts on your own website. Be tactful about it and only mention these people when it is appropriate and relevant but do so as often as you can.
People who are active online (even the really successful ones) love it when you mention how great they are and when you link to their content. It makes them feel needed, wanted, valuable and in general good about themselves. If you do this enough, they just might return the favor and link back to you.
This strategy is more of a passive strategy and something you can undertake just by changing the way you interact online every day. It doesn't have to be a concerted focused effort but try and make it something you do unconsciously.
As I said before, these strategies are more time consuming (and some more expensive) than other more common link building methods. The great thing about these though is that you won't have to worry about some algorithm update sweeping away all of your hard work.
What methods have you used to build links that aren't that well known? Did they work?