LinkedIn: Why your profile never gets views, and how you can fix it (case study)

LinkedIn: Why your profile never gets views, and how you can fix it (case study)

Summary: Do you ever wonder why your finely-crafted LinkedIn profile never yields results or views? In this post, I explain exactly why this happens and what you can do to start seeing real results on LinkedIn.

SHARE:
9

You mean my LinkedIn profile has been worthless all this time? NOOOOOOOOOOOO...

You mean my LinkedIn profile has been worthless all this time? NOOOOOOOOOOOO...

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.

[Related: Facebook: A terrible platform for freelancers and professionals]

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?"

!!!OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...

!!!OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...

The thing about his profile is not only is he stuffing it full of the keyword "sports," but he also has TONS of connections. LinkedIn only says "500+" for people with over 500 connections, but the actual number is far greater in his case -- so great, as a matter of fact, that there's a good chance you'll see a "2nd," "3rd," or "GROUP" next to his name in your profile. That's because he's either connected with someone you're connected to, connected to someone who is connected to someone that you're connected to, or in a group that you are also in. In the following example, I show evidence that stuffing your profile full of a particular keyword is the one thing that can help you outrank connected networks of people.

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!

-Stephen Chapman

Related Articles:

Topic: Social Enterprise

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

9 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • LinkedIn--ARG!

    I think I got from this that you need to stuff keywords--or else you should not stuff them or youj should not need to. Not sure. Any writer who says "until the cows come home" and is not writing about agriculture might not get that FL job. Is there a algorithm for for sarcastic writer? Aw--just joshing. Interesting story. I had to completely leave Linked In to get away from the groups that had trapped me--I started over.
    Star12345
    • Keyword stuffing in a new way

      Although the author talks about keyword stuffing, in this case, it's something you can not hide from the readers of your profile. If you complete your profile honestly, the keywords will have an impact. Name, Company Name and Title fields carry a lot of weight, as evidenced by the author's "Freelance Writer" example. What matters is that you fit in - by showing up in searches AND Stand out - by making your profile readable for your target audience.
      LoriRuff2000
  • Is LinkedIn useless for graduates?

    I have completed my profile - 100% - and even upgraded to a job-seeker account. I am a fresh graduate and the only job results I get are for mid/senior positions - that too in other countries, and absolutely no results in my country (NZ). I have hundreds of connections too - many of them in top multinational companies, like Microsoft. I've been trying since 4 months now in the IT sector with no luck. Is the job market in NZ really that bad or is LinkedIn basically useless for graduates? Or is LinkedIn basically useless for any country except the US? Or should I continue to wait longer, wasting my money on a premium account till I go broke?
    [deXter]
    • LinkedIn is not useless for graduates

      But you need to network smartly! When doing searches, you can narrow the searches by location. Make sure you do that so you get more relevant results.
      LoriRuff2000
      • Re: LinkedIn is not useless for graduates

        Thanks for the reply; but when I do narrow it, I get no results at all. :P

        Would you recommend I continue with my JobSeeker account? Because I'm not seeing any benefits at all..
        [deXter]
  • LinkedIn's relevance ranking algorithm, according to LinkedIn

    There's a lot more going on than keyword stuffing when it comes to ranking #1 in LinkedIn search results.

    Here is a link to LinkedIn's official answer as to their ranking algorithm.
    http://help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/4447

    According to LinkedIn, you have a unique relevance score determined by them which affects search result ranking.

    What I find especially interesting is that the order of search results is determined in part by the Profile, activity, connections and relevance score of the person conducting the search.

    For the many people who think that keyword-loading their LinkedIn profile helps in their search ranking, if you read point #3 from LinkedIn's answer from the link above carefully, you???ll see that having an ???extended list of keywords in your Profile??? will result in your Profile showing up in a high number of searches, and while most people would consider that a good thing, it may not actually be.

    Interestingly and somewhat mysteriously, LinkedIn says that you need to ask yourself whether or not your profile is relevant to the people whose searches return your Profile, and that ???their behavior as a collective group may be influencing the algorithm used to rank you in the search results.???

    I and a few other folks have done quite a bit of testing with LinkedIn profile search relevance, and we believe it comes down to showing up in a lot of searches (which can be gamed by keyword loading) AND people actually clicking on the profile. Once you click on the profile, you're telling LinkedIn the search result was "relevant" to you, otherwise you wouldn't have clicked it, and you also could not be sending any data to LinkedIn to "influence" relevance.

    Every time someone types in "sports" and clicks that guy's profile, they're telling LinkedIn he's relevant, so we're all doing him a favor. So let's stop clicking these obviously overstuffed profiles. :)
    Glen Cathey
  • awesome

    I was laughing out loud "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" - that is so against the LinkedIn rules! LOL
    Michelle Mccormack
  • There's lots to LinkedIn SEO

    I've been intrigued with LinkedIn's SEO since I got an updated account in 2012 and discovered how people were finding my account (only available with an updated account). I started doing research into #LI SEO to optimize my account. I came up with 11 good techniques plus 5 ways to game the system (which I don't myself follow). Enjoy.

    http://stomphorst.ca/2012/11/09/top-11-linkedin-seo-tips/
    StompR
  • Stay Visible

    The keyword is to stay active and add new contacts everyday. Perform minor changes to your profile so you contacts get notified and get curious to visit your profile.

    www.jobibex.com
    Alawimohd