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12 Steps to Outrank Your Competitors in LinkedIn Search in 2020 (Personal LinkedIn SEO)

By Susan P. Joyce

10 Steps to Successful LinkedIn SEO - Being Find-able on LinkedInEven if you are happily employed or running your own successful business, being found inside LinkedIn is essential today.

A well-done LinkedIn Profile makes you visible to LinkedIn's 705 million members (as of August, 2020).

People search LinkedIn for many reasons -- people you are meeting with or possible clients/customers search to find you (or people like you).

And, of course, recruiters and potential employers search LinkedIn for good job candidates.

Having the right keywords for your job plus other important elements, listed below, are essential for effective LinkedIn visibility.

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The 12 Steps to Successful LinkedIn SEO

The result of well-executed LinkedIn SEO is a higher position in search results, in searches inside of LinkedIn. This may also impact your appearance in Google and Bing search results.

Each LinkedIn member sees search results customized specifically for them, based on their LinkedIn network (connections) as well as what LinkedIn calls "relevancy to the searcher." When we analyzed LinkedIn search results, we concluded that job seekers can successfully optimize their Profile by focusing in these 12 specific areas:


1. Do not have a "private" Profile.

When your Profile is complete, go to the Privacy tab of the Settings & Privacy section, and select the options that make your Profile public, both on and off LinkedIn.

Many recruiters (and others) search LinkedIn and view Profiles without being logged in to LinkedIn. As a result, they won't see your Profile unless you approve the setting which allows your Profile to be viewed by those who are off LinkedIn.

Remember LinkedIn usefulness is NOT limited to your job search. A good LinkedIn Profile promotes your employer's products and/or services, and makes them more appealing to potential customers/clients and also to new employees.


2. Use your professional name.

The version of your name used on your LinkedIn Profile is your most important set of keywords!

Employers research applicants.

A 2018 CareerBuilder survey found that nearly half of employers (47%) say that if they can't find a job candidate online, they are less likely to call that person in for an interview.

To enable recruiters and others to "connect the dots" and to find your LinkedIn Profile when they are searching for you by name, use that exact version of your name from your LinkedIn Profile in your job applications, resumes, business cards, meeting name tags and badges, and ALL other professional visibility.

I've seen way too many job candidates be William A. Jones on their LinkedIn Profile, but Bill Jones on their resume -- or vice versa. Crazy!

Unless you have an extremely unusual name, not consistently using the same version of your name in all your professional visibility makes you hard to track down. Recruiters in a hurry won't spend much time trying to track you down, so make it easy for them.

If they cannot find you, their assumptions are either that you are out-of-date (no LinkedIn Profile) or hiding something. NOT good for you! And, worse, someone else with the same or a very similar name may have a very bad online reputation that can ruin opportunities for you.

Implement Defensive Googling to know what search results are associated with your name on Google.


3. Find and use the best keywords for you, particularly job titles and technical qualifications.

Use these keywords in many different areas within your Profile such as your Professional Headline, Work Experience (job titles and job descriptions), Skills, and Profile Summary.

  • Add relevant degrees and other certifications you have earned to your last name, like this:

    Mary Jane Smith, MBA

    Edward M. Smith, MBA, PMP

    Elizabeth E. Smith, JD, CPA

    Your LinkedIn Profile will appear higher in Google search results when those terms (as appropriate for you) are added to your name on LinkedIn, and MANY recruiters search LinkedIn Profiles using Google. VERY powerful!
  • Most people stop at dates and job titles, particularly of jobs in their past. This wastes a golden opportunity to promote their experience and to add important keywords, naturally, to their Profiles. Describe all of the jobs you list on LinkedIn, highlighting the experience and accomplishments that align with your current career goals and personal brand.
  • Describe those former employers, too, as another great source of keywords! If the employer was small, explain what the organization did. If the employer is large and well-known, describe the division or part of the organization you worked in.

If you have target employers, review their descriptions for the job you want, particularly the job titles they use as well as the skills, certifications, and other terms used consistently for the roles you want.

Assume you are employed as the Marketing Content Manager for a retailer, choose the appropriate keywords for the person's Professional Headline (assuming that everything stated is accurate):

Experienced marketing professional --
The only keyword in this headline is "marketing."

Marketing Content Manager focused on Data Science applied to increasing website traffic and sales; predicting, segmenting, and growing Twitter followers --
MANY keywords in this headline, describing the job, and making the skills clear.

Do not simply repeat the same keywords over and over. That looks desperate, dumb, and doesn't work. Include your keywords appropriately in the content of your Profile (another reason to have a robust Profile).

[MORE: LinkedIn SEO, The 25 Best Keywords for Your Job Search and Choosing the Best Keywords for Your LinkedIn Profile.]


4. Carefully choose appropriate Skills and get endorsements for them.


Inside LinkedIn Recruiter (the service recruiters pay LinkedIn to use), Skills are a major search option, usually the first search criteria a recruiter chooses.

Often overlooked by LinkedIn members as trivial, the Skills and Endorsements section is actually a very important part of your Profile because of their importance in LinkedIn Recruiter.

LinkedIn recommends members have at least 5 skills out of a maximum of 50 possible.

According to LinkedIn, "Members with 5 or more skills are contacted up to 33 times more often by recruiters and other LinkedIn members."

Choose the best LinkedIn Skills for you and your career, and collect endorsements to prove you have them. Only your first level connections can endorse you.

[MORE: 4 Steps to Leverage LinkedIn Skills & Endorsements for a More Powerful Profile.]


5. Have a robust, complete, and focused Profile.

Think of your LinkedIn Profile as a personal marketing portfolio. When you consider what to include, choose those things you are proudest of and want to do again:

  • What would an employer like to know about you?
  • What skills and experiences do you have that an employer would need?
  • What are your most important or impressive accomplishments?
  • Why would an employer hire you?
  • Why would someone want to work with you?

Include that information in your Profile.

A complete Profile, also known as "All Star" in LinkedIn terminology (LinkedIn's definition), is the minimal effort needed to be found in LinkedIn search results. Don't stop there! Read 7 Best Ways for IT Professionals to Optimize Keywords for a More Powerful LinkedIn Profile for examples and more details.

Add relevant KEYWORDS! Complete every Profile section as completely as you can. Don't skimp on descriptions of ALL of your jobs and your employers (for the last 15 to 20 years), your quantified accomplishments in those jobs, projects, and education and training.

If you want your Profile to be found high up in search results, where a recruiter is more likely to click on your name, a robust Profile is necessary, beyond the All Star minimum, because that will increase the likelihood that it includes the keywords an employer is searching for.

Focus your Profile on the job you want next, as specifically as possible so that it contains the right keywords for you. Without appropriate keywords, it won't be found.

You can also upload documents you have created and link to presentations you have made.

NOTE: Be sure you are NOT sharing any confidential information of current or former employers.


6. Be well connected.


Unless a recruiter is paying to use LinkedIn Recruiter or doing a search for a person's name, LinkedIn search results include only the people who are connected to the searcher as first, second, and third degree connections inside LinkedIn.

Consequently, the more connections you have, the greater the likelihood that you will appear in someone's search results, even if they are a third degree connection. Search results are not sorted by the degree of connection, so a third degree connection can be the top entry in search results.

Clearly, if you have a limited number of connections, your visibility in LinkedIn is extremely limited.

[MORE: Refusing or Accepting LinkedIn Connections?]


7. Include your current (or your target) location.


Employers usually want someone who is local so the person can be interviewed easily, start quickly, and avoid the expense of a relocation. This makes Location one of the most important and often used search criteria for recruiters looking for qualified candidates, inside and outside of LinkedIn.

A country name is not a useful location on LinkedIn. Be more specific, with at least a state, and preferably a city and state (or area name, like "Greater Boston Area").

When a recruiter is looking for a candidate in the Boston area, LinkedIn members who are in other locations are not visible, including those who are in "The United States." Yes, Boston is in the USA, but the important keyword for this search is "Boston."

Not surprisingly, Location is also a main search criteria in LinkedIn Recruiter. The Location field in your LinkedIn Profile is one of the key elements used to determine whether or not you should be included high up in someone's People search results.

According to LinkedIn,"More than 30% of recruiters will use advanced search based on location."

Use your current (or target) Zip or Postal Code which LinkedIn will usually translate to a specific city (from the Zip/Postal Code) or to a general region (like "Greater Boston Area"). You'll be able to protect your privacy while providing LinkedIn with a very valuable element in their search algorithm.

If your goal is to move, my recommendation is to use a Zip/Postal Code for your target location. LinkedIn will accept this, and you will be visible in LinkedIn search results for that area.


8. Include a good headshot photo.


Without a headshot photo, you are effectively invisible in LinkedIn regardless of how fabulous the rest of your Profile may be. You may appear in search results, but people are much less likely to click on your name or contact you.

LinkedIn calls your photo "your virtual handshake," and they are probably right. Your photo makes your recognizable to people who have met you or seen your picture elsewhere

According to LinkedIn,"Members with photos receive 21 times more Profile views and up to 36 times more messages."

When your Profile does not have a headshot, people typically assume that the Profile is for someone who is clueless, hiding something, or fake. None of those reasons will encourage people to click on your name in search results.

People have told me that they skip the photo so they won't be discriminated against for a job. Skipping the photo is not likely to result in less discrimination. The true impact is a dramatic limit to your visibility inside LinkedIn.

Unfortunately, omitting the photo does not reduce discrimination. It only impacts the timing of the discrimination -- if someone doesn't want to hire you because of your age, race, or gender, they won't hire you after a job interview, either. And you will have wasted your time preparing for and going to the interview.


[MORE: LinkedIn Profile Photos for Job Seekers Over 50.]


9. Be consistently active on LinkedIn.


The less active and visible you are on LinkedIn, the lower your name will probably appear in LinkedIn search results. Daily participation seems to be the best approach, and that participation can be for ten or fifteen minutes a day, possibly less.

Make relevant posts. Share good information from solid sources. Ask good questions. Make good comments on the posts of others. Be polite, positive, and professional.

"Tag" people who are relevant or would be interested in your posts by typing the "@" sign followed by their name. LinkedIn will usually offer you a drop-down menu of member names.

Follow popular LinkedIn members in your industry or profession to see what makes their posts popular. Then, adapt or adopt those strategies for yourself.

When you publish a post, include up to three "hashtags" appropriate for your post. Including too many hashtags reduces the visibility of your posts and comments.

In the current LinkedIn algorithm (as of December, 2019), comments have a much greater impact than Likes. Make good comments regularly on content you like. Currently the most effective comments on posts are at least 6 words long and contain 3 hashtags or less.

Don't be nasty or argumentative in your comments or posts. Better: offer additional information or advice about the post or about other comments.

The goal is to show LinkedIn (and recruiters) that you do visit regularly, so if you are found in search results and someone reaches out to you, you will respond within a reasonable amount of time.

[MORE: How to Leverage LinkedIn Status Updates for Your Job Search.]


10. Demonstrate that you are a professional with attention to detail!


Rather than claiming you are someone who is detail-oriented, demonstrate your attention to detail with your LinkedIn Profile.

Be sure that your spelling and grammar are perfect. Bad spelling or grammar is one of the key reasons a person is ignored by recruiters and others. Misspelling an important keyword like "manager" (often replaced by "manger") eliminates you from search results for an important keyword.

In addition, if you are rude or nasty to other members, resulting in being blocked or having your connections choose to disconnect, LinkedIn knows and is unlikely to place you very high in search results unless you have absolutely no competition.

Don't confuse LinkedIn with Facebook. LinkedIn is for professional visibility, not for sharing your views on politics, religion, or sports, unless your profession is in politics, religion, or sports. Skip the party photos and other sharing unrelated to your profession.


11. Share your LinkedIn URL.

Make it very easy for people to find your LinkedIn Profile by adding it to your business cards.

Be sure to include your LinkedIn URL in your resume and job applications, so that employers will see the right Profile (your Profile) when they do their research.

Add your LinkedIn URL to your career portfolio (with your resume, etc.), and don't forget to put it in your e-mail "signature" at the bottom of all of your e-mail messages.

If you have visibility on other websites (e.g. professional associations and/or business directories) or publish articles on other websites (e.g. Amazon, Medium, etc.), link the about-this-author blurb to your LinkedIn Profile, particularly if you don't otherwise have a website.

In the SEO world, this is known as creating "back links" but to your Profile in this instance, rather than to your website or blog. This should make your Profile more visible in Google search results (assuming you have made it "Public" in the LinkedIn privacy settings).

If you have a website or blog, add your LinkedIn URL to your bio or contact information, and include them in your LinkedIn Profile, if they are related to your profession.


12. Keep Your Profile Up-to-Date.

Once your Profile is complete, keep it current with what is happening in your career.

According to LinkedIn, "Members with "up-to-date" positions are discovered up to 18 times more often in searches by recruiters and other members.

Review your Profile on a monthly basis, or more often. Add new content, particularly new accomplishments and skills, training, and good news about your employer.

Even if you are in transition between jobs, update your Profile. [Read The Best LinkedIn Job Title When You Are Unemployed for tips.]


BONUS: When You Are Found, Be Reachable!

One of the terrible ironies of LinkedIn is that I see many excellent Profiles with no way to contact that LinkedIn member. Include contact information! You can be reachable without revealing too much personal information.

Read Be Reachable to Be Hired: How to Safely Publish Your Contact Information on LinkedIn for details on how and where to include contact information so your privacy isn't compromised.

Enable recruiters, potential clients, and network members to reach you when they are interested. Recruiters and potential clients, in particular, are always in a hurry, so, often, if they can't quickly and easily contact you, they'll move on.

The Bottom Line

Be accurate, and avoid putting your current employment at risk. Don't distort reality by claiming keywords that are not appropriate for you (don't use a job title that is your next, not your current, job). By following these Profile optimization tips, above, you increase the likelihood that you will show up in the search results when recruiters are searching for candidates that match your set of qualifications, education, and experiences. In addition, your Profile will add credibility to your current employer's online reputation, if you are employed.

More About Increasing Your Professional Visibility


Susan P. Joyce About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.


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