Search Engine Optimization. It’s more than just a buzzword. It’s a bona fide way to raise the visibility of your Web site and drive more traffic (and hopefully generate more leads or increase sales).

Indeed, small business owners have long tried to level the playing field by using SEO to rank higher on Google and attract new online visitors. But one SEO specialist is warning that some of the SEO tips and tricks small business owners learn may lead them to an organic Internet marketing disaster.

Whether you do it yourself or hire an SEO consultant, there are dangers in the realm of SEO that could get you on Google’s bad boy list. And once you are on, it’s hard to get off.

“Last week I was sitting with a friend whose retail-business had collapsed because his Web site had disappeared from the front page of a major search engine, when I realized how vulnerable small business sites were,” says Kishore Dharmarajan, principal of instantSEOsystem. “Like many small business owners, he had fallen prey to a smooth-talking SEO expert who promised him quick ranking on all search engines.”

As Kishore tells it, the unethical SEO consultant that his retailing friend hired did initially catapult his site to the top of Google, Yahoo and Bing. As soon as the site reached the front page of all three search engines, the retailer was flooded with new orders. He didn’t think he needed to spend money on any other marketing channels—so he shut it off.

“Many small business owners have no clue about SEO, and don’t realize that artificial ranking can be achieved through black hat techniques like blog commenting, bookmarking, video blasting and backlink farming,” says Kishore. “But search engines have smartened up and sniff out such sites quickly. By the time the small business owner realizes his site has been de-indexed or pushed out by the search engines, he would have invested a lot in his SEO effort or come to rely on online channels for sales. Both can be fatal for a small business.”

Kishore says the only way to retain consistent top ranking is to offer relevant information and true value to customers. If you know what your customers want and can cater to their needs, he says, your site is automatically qualified to be on the front page.

So, yes, SEO can outperform other Internet marketing strategies—when it is done right. You can drive strong results fairly quickly. But if you do it the wrong way, it could be costly.