All businesses—large and small, new and old—have one common denominator: They want to be found by customers, partners, and prospects; increase leads and brand awareness; and, ultimately, generate new business opportunities.

One of the most effective ways to do all that is search engine optimization (SEO).

There are many efficient SEO techniques to optimize your business's Web site, and then there are nefarious methods, which not only ruin your reputation and get your site banned from Google but also have legal ramifications.

There is an ongoing debate among experts as to what is considered "white hat" vs. "black hat" SEO. In my mind, the big difference is that "white hat" SEO helps the search engines deliver quality results to users by working within existing guidelines. On the other hand, "black hat" SEO involves exploiting current limitations in search engine algorithms.

Experts often disagree on what is considered a "black hat" technique and what is considered a "white hat" technique. My argument is that it doesn't matter what you call them; certain techniques are simply bad ideas and should be avoided by most (if not all) marketers.

The reasons vary, but have a common pattern: Avoid SEO practices that rely on tricking search engines and distorting search results. Here's my rule of thumb: If a given technique could be detected by a human doing a "manual review," then it's probably a bad idea.

It's safe to assume that if you try to exploit a hole in the algorithm today, your advantage is going to be temporary. More importantly, you carry a significant risk of having your Web site penalized or banned. The reward, even if there is one—and, in most cases, there isn't—is usually not worth it.

The 6 Sneaky SEO Techniques Marketers Should Avoid

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Dharmesh Shah is the chief software architect and cofounder of internet marketing company HubSpot ( He authors, an online community and blog for entrepreneurs, and writes for HubSpot's blog (