Recently, I've set my sights on LinkedIn to study a little more in-depth how their search algorithm works, and what I've found so far is a bit disappointing: it's simply not enough to have a well-put-together profile. If you hope to come up in someone's search for keywords related to your profile, you either need to essentially spam your profile with those keywords, be in a LinkedIn group related to those keywords, or you had better be connected with someone the person searching is connected to. Long story short, LinkedIn appears to favor networks of connected people, LinkedIn groups, and profiles chock-full of the same keyword(s). If you're not engaging in one or more of those facets, then you can count on your profile almost never being seen in LinkedIn searches, no matter how qualified you are.
First and foremost, what I've found thus far has convinced me to start being proactive with adding anyone and everyone I can -- even if they're people in completely unrelated industries to me who I would have no reason to otherwise connect with. Also, I will soon be revising my profile (again) and seeking out (over the course of time; not immediately) as many LinkedIn groups as I can to join.
On one hand, favoritism of networked people is a great thing. I mean, if someone you know happens to know someone else that fits the bill for what you're searching for in a job candidate, then you can inquire about the candidate with the person you're directly connected to who knows them. On the other hand, what if they don't know them at all? What if there are other FAR more qualified candidates who are connected to no one you know? The problem there is that LinkedIn (like any custom-built search solution) uses an algorithm to determine relevance, but how does an algorithm determine who is "better" than someone else in the same market? The answer to that for LinkedIn is simple: it doesn't. Sure, initial search results are filtered by something they call "relevance," but there is simply no accounting for human logic, deduction, and reasoning -- especially with something like searching for the right candidate for a job (be it an employee or employer you're seeking).
Instead of using crazy parameters and algorithmic magic to produce the "most qualified" candidate(s), LinkedIn favors networks of people. That is a completely logical thing to do for the type of site they are, but it's not the most evenhanded or apparent. On top of that, LinkedIn favors high keyword density (keyword stuffing, basically). That means that currently, it's REALLY EASY to game LinkedIn by stuffing your profile full of the same keyword(s) you want to show up in search results for. If you want a prime example of this working, fire up LinkedIn right now, log in to your profile, then do a search for "sports" (without the quotes). Most likely, you're going to see this guy on the first page of results -- if not right at the top.
As it happens, that guy has a whole course about how to take advantage of LinkedIn and rank at the top of keyword searches. The proof is painfully obvious by the fact that he ranks as high as he does for all the people I've had search for "sports." But what are his qualifications? Why is he the best result for "sports?"
To start, when I search for "freelance writer" (without quotes) on LinkedIn, this is what I see. If you will notice, every single person there is 2nd, 3rd, or in a group that I'm in... except for one person: the very top result! I am not connected to them in any way, shape, or form, yet they're beating out everyone that I AM somehow connected to. Taking a look at their profile, it becomes pretty obvious. Look at how filled it is with "freelance writer" in every possible field you can manually enter text in. That person only has 108 connections, too; far less than the 500+ the second result in the search yields.
Speaking of the second result from my search, let's have a look at his LinkedIn page. Good grief, I can tell right off the bat that he probably ranks on the first page for "social media" searches. But we're interested in "freelance writer." Scrolling down (and down and down and down) that infinitely ginormous profile, you see numerous references to "freelance writer" peppered throughout. Now, although he has it about as many times as (if not more than) the first profile we looked at and has far more connections, he doesn't have it in every field you can populate! He does with "social media," though, so try a search for "social media" (without quotes) on LinkedIn and see if he pops up for you.
So, as you can see, having your main keyword in as many places as possible seems to make a huge difference in your visibility; however, this isn't a holistic conclusion. Certain fields might hold more weight than others. Past that, some combination of your main keyword and number of connections seems to be at play. Whatever the case may be, here are some actionable steps you can take to better your performance on LinkedIn:
If you're seeking an employee:
1: When performing keyword searches relevant to your industry, use the search filters on the left-hand side. For instance, selecting "3rd + Everyone Else" will filter out a lot of the connected networks of people, but you will still have to take the time to dig deeper than just the first page or three of results.
2: Consider paying for a business account (~$30 per month). Doing so will allow you to see profiles from individuals not in your network. It will also give you access to more advanced search filters, as well as show you who has been viewing your profile (potential candidates you seek who may not have been able to contact you, or were hesitant to for one reason or another).
3: Consider searching for candidates of interest in Google using information from their LinkedIn profile. This can not only allow you to gather more information about them, but if you can find their resume, portfolio, or Web site, then you can reach out to them via email instead of wasting one of your small handful of InMail credits you receive each month with a paid business account.
If you're seeking a job:
1: Make connections with people and join LinkedIn groups until the cows come home! If you see someone you're not connected with, try adding them no matter who they are. As we've seen, it's not about who you know; it's about others knowing you and people who are searching for your talents!
2: Figure out how to walk a fine line between stuffing keywords in your profile and not making it look spammy. Put simply, LinkedIn's algorithm doesn't care if you did work for Bill Gates or Sergey Brin; it cares about who/how many people you're connected to and how many times you mention "search" (or whatever) throughout multiple sections of your profile. It's not fair, but in a time when people are fighting for jobs, this is how you get the upper hand on LinkedIn in your industry.
3: Consider paying for a business account (~$30 per month). Doing so will allow you to contact recruiters and executives via "InMail" that may otherwise have no contact credentials elsewhere. It's an amazing benefit if you seriously have your heart set on contacting specific individuals within companies to make your impression.
4: The aforementioned steps are useless if your profile doesn't provide value to those who see it. Just remember that the steps above are tools in your toolkit; you still need to accurately represent yourself after you successfully attract eyeballs. In other words, a spammy profile looks like a spammy profile.
And with that, I'll wrap this up. I hope you've found this post enlightening and/or informative. It's a bit disappointing to me that LinkedIn operates like this, especially after all the effort I've put into my profile in the past; but when I take a second to think about it, LinkedIn's search features do make sense for the type of site they are -- though, with that said, keyword stuffing is so 1999 and LinkedIn should seriously consider algorithmic tweaks to combat its current effectiveness. Thanks for reading and good luck with your LinkedIn endeavors!
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