Stop looking for the LinkedIn keyword magic

I’ve read quite a few posts recently about optimising your LinkedIn profile with keywords. This approach can increase visibility in LinkedIn search, but I think miss some important points that need to be taken in to consideration before you stuff your profile with keywords.

Ask yourself the question:

“What do you really want from your LinkedIn account?”

As a recruiter  you want to be found by people who could be candidates for your open opportunities now or in the future, or for third-party recruiters by people who could become clients. The big question for me is where are these groups of people searching for contacts? In LinkedIn or in Google? My feeling is that it is overwhelmingly the latter, and this is where you get a contradiction in what you should be doing to your LinkedIn profile.

LinkedIn search loves keywords, but Google doesn’t any more. What will gain you higher rankings on LinkedIn will penalize you in Google because Google doesn’t like keyword stuffing and downgrades the result. The Google algorithm reads profiles and content it finds to make sure that it makes sense, and that keywords are relevant to context. Google gives higher rankings to phrases and sentences containing keywords and answering questions or matching questions people might be searching for. For this reason, I propose optimizing your profile for Google rather than LinkedIn. That means keywords in context and sentences that make sense.

In my opinion, your LinkedIn profile is increasingly becoming a people reference point rather than a place for searching for strangers. Recruiters search for people for jobs they might have open because the data makes it easy to search professional details, and there are more professional profiles in the channel than anywhere on the internet. Search data though shows that this is largely unique to recruiters. Job seekers don’t search for  recruiters in the same way. They are more likely to be searching for profiles by name because they have seen them elsewhere and want to check out their profile as a point of reference, or a means of connection or introduction. Keywords won’t enhance name searches. When people search for names, it is the names that match that come back, with some geographical and connection filtering.

To get the best results from LinkedIn search, you need to consider how the algorithm that delivers and ranks results actually works. Results are based on:  (In order.)

  1. Location and proximity to you.
  2. Your connections according to level.
  3. Members of groups you belong to.
  4. Headline on the profile
  5. Keywords

It is easy to see from this that your connections are more important than the keywords you are using. This means continually increasing your connections in your target audience. The more you network, the wider your direct and secondary search pool, and the greater potential of you coming up in search results.

LinkedIn are increasingly adding features to encourage engagement through updates. This started with moving the update stream to your home page from the profile page. Another feature I have noticed today is the message and notification symbols on the top bar. The messages symbol is the envelope that turns red when you have outstanding messages, and the notification symbol is the flag to the right of the message symbol. This turns blue when you get any connection requests and notifies you of any interactions with your updates including likes, shares and comments. You can also see who has viewed your profile. All of these features are geared to driving users to the home page as their LinkedIn central. The way to get visibility and increasing connections is through updates, and responding to those people who are interacting with your updates and viewing your profile. A proactive approach to connecting with people who are connected with your target audience, and interacting with them by sharing content, commenting and liking updates will result in growing your connections. Growing connections will increase the number of search results you come up in, and people you are recommended to as someone they might know to connect with.

The most important section of your profile is your professional headline, because this and your image is how people judge if they want to invite you to connect or accept your invitation. A job title is just not enough to differentiate you from others, you need to be making a statement about what you do and who you are, and use all the characters available to you.

With this approach in mind, you need to think of your profile as the reference point to you, rather than a search target. That means being clear about what you do and what you have done, and profiles written for search and loaded with keywords don’t always read that well. Make sure that your profile makes sense and tells your message to the connections you want, remember that when you connect with anyone anywhere, they are going to be going back to your LinkedIn profile to check you out. As a recruiter, you are almost definitely using your account for pro-active search to find potential candidates. Companies who report successful hires from the channel, report search as the principle source of hire, and hires from their profile as the lowest. When you message people for the first time, they will go to your profile as the reference point before responding. Think about what they will find, and if a keyword stuffed profile will encourage them to respond. What your profile says is critical to your success in sourcing from the channel.

My feeling is that you should be optimizing your profile for Google search. That is where your potential audience will start their search if they are looking for an opportunity or a new connection. Job seekers don’t search for people on LinkedIn in the way recruiters do, they search on Google, and that means less emphasis on keywords, and more on sentences that read logically. Remember that Google ranks key phrases that answer questions and search queries, not keywords.

Your location and network of connections will have the biggest impact on LinkedIn search results and ranking rather than the keywords you have loaded your profile with.  Think LinkedIn for reference and targeted sharing and engagement through updates, and Google for search. Your connections and reach in the channel is more important than anything else. Time to visit your home page and start engaging, rather than stuffing your profile with keywords. The best way to come up in LinkedIn search, keep getting connected, there are no shortcuts or keyword magic.

What do you think?