Each month at Hinge, we get a few highly qualified leads from companies that find us through online search. Many of these companies have never heard of us and quite a few are eager to talk to us even though our office is in another part of the country.

So it's disconcerting how often I hear professional services firm principals tell me they don't need search engine optimization. “That's not how clients find us,” they say. “We get most of our business through referrals.” Or sometimes, “prospects only look at our website after they've met us.”

Those sentiments, while valid to a point, fail to account for the business opportunities these firms never see: the people — seriously interested people — who use Internet search to locate professional services that are relevant to their needs.

Suppose you run an engineering firm that specializes in LEED-certified commercial design. Now suppose your firm shows up among the top Google search results for the phrase “green commercial design.” Whenever an architect or construction company searches on that phrase, your firm (assuming it meets other basic requirements) is pretty likely to end up on the short list of potential vendors. All you have to do is field the call and set up a meeting!

The beauty of these leads is they are self-qualifying and almost entirely passive. If your optimized search terms are specific enough (even location-specific), a high ranking will endow your firm with a generous amount of credibility in the mind of anyone who finds you.

If you are still on the fence about SEO, consider this: most of your competitors don't do SEO (or don't do it well), either. That means you have a great opportunity to fill that vacuum and suck up some of their potential business.

For a more detailed look at the sorts of search engine optimization issues that plague many professional services firm websites, check out Galen DeYoung's SEO article at searchengineland.com.