Business prospects or employers are probably searching on LinkedIn for someone like you. The single best way to ensure you’ll show up in their searches, and stand out from competitors, is to have the right profile “keywords.” These are the words or phrases that resonate. They’re used in search queries, and answer your target audience’s main question: “How can you help me?”
Profile keywords have benefits beyond boosting your LinkedIn search ranking. Since search engines like Google and Bing index LinkedIn profiles, having a keyword-rich profile will help you to show up in these searches as well.
Having the right keywords in your profile also greatly magnifies the effectiveness of other actions you can take boost your visibility. These actions include joining the right groups, building your network strategically, displaying the organizations where you worked, and maintaining an active presence through updates (as I discuss in my book Advanced LinkedIn).
How to find keywords for your profile
- Put yourself in your target audience’s place, and imagine the keywords they’re using to find someone like you to fill a business need. For example, if you’re going for a finance director position, an employer might type in “finance director” to find someone with your skills and experience. If you have an event planning business, prospects might use “event planning” in their searches.
- Try searching within your own network using the most likely keywords your target audience is using (“event planning,” “finance director,” etc.). Look at the profiles of people who come up at the top of these search results to get additional keyword ideas.
- If you’re a jobseeker, check out job postings on LinkedIn (or elsewhere), not to apply, but to see what words and phrases the postings use. Then use those keywords in your profile (and your resume as well).
- If you represent an organization, check out the LinkedIn company pages of competitors.
- Follow thought leaders in your sector to see what words and phrases are in vogue right now. You can follow anyone on LinkedIn and receive their updates in your home page feed by just clicking the “Follow” button on their profile. Or, look for prominent influencers by clicking the three dots on the top right of any home-page feed post and clicking on “improve my feed.”
Once you find the keywords you want to use, be careful not to “keyword-stuff” in an obvious way. You will turn viewers off, and LinkedIn may even flag your profile for spam, thus removing it from search results. Instead, sprinkle the keywords throughout your profile in a more natural way, and follow the guidelines below.
Have as complete a profile as possible
LinkedIn gives you suggestions for adding sections to your profile. Take them whenever possible, since adding these sections increases the opportunity for you to use keywords that will help you to be found. For example, people commonly leave out the Summary Section. This is a mistake. Make it a great, keyword-rich pitch for how you can help organizations or individuals. Note that at one point LinkedIn was specifically giving a higher ranking to those with a more complete profile. That may still the case, although it’s now hard to tell; see LinkedIn’s own explanation for how profiles are ranked in searches.
Fill in the job descriptions
Too many profiles leave these descriptions blank. The result is a missed opportunity to add more keywords and improve your likelihood of being found. You’re also losing an opportunity to make a great impression with accomplishment-oriented bullets.
Try to include a current position (even if you’re not working)
Recruiters that use LinkedIn’s premium LinkedIn Recruiter platform often conduct searches based on the current job title field. If you have no current job title (with the appropriate keywords), you won’t show up in their results. So try to add a current role, even if you’re not working. For example, add experience that you weren’t paid for, e.g. a leadership role at an association, or helping friends and family for free (i.e. “consulting”). If you’re out of work but have taken courses, make your “job” the courses you’ve taken (job title “Continuing Education”).
Have a keyword-rich headline
The headline (right below your picture) is a major factor in LinkedIn’s search algorithm. It’s also a prominent highlighted element in search results, and you want your profile to be the one that’s clicked on among all the other profiles that show up. So use as many of the available 120 characters as possible, and make your headline keyword-rich.
For example, one client was searching for Chief Operating Officer roles in startup companies. Her initial headline said simply “Senior Executive – Helping Companies Grow.” This phrasing was helping her to be found in exactly zero searches for a COO at a startup. Once she added keywords to her headline such as “Startup” and “Chief Operating Officer” she started getting inquiries.
Similarly, another client ran a business aiding technology companies with customer-relationship-management systems. His initial headline, “CEO, <company name>” was not helping him. He started getting inquiries when he changed his headline to “CEO at <company name> | Customer Relationship Management solutions for Technology companies, including Salesforce CRM.”
Add keyword-rich “functional descriptions” to your job titles
Add a few keywords to your job-title that describe what you did. For example, “Vice President – Project Management, Agile, Six Sigma” is much better than just “Vice President,” assuming you’re looking for a project manager role.
Use all 50 slots in the skills section
LinkedIn allows you to add up to 50 skills. Try to use all those slots, adding every permutation of a skill on which someone might search. For example if you’re going for a Marketing Director position, add “Marketing,” “Marketing Management,” “Marketing Strategy,” and so forth in addition to all the other skills you want to showcase. Adding these will simply improve your odds of being found.
Pay attention to the organization name
If you like to spell the organization at which you worked differently than the way LinkedIn recognizes it, defer to LinkedIn’s spelling. That’s because LinkedIn will have you show up in more searches if it recognizes the company, especially if people are searching by company. You’ll know if you’ve entered the company name correctly if the company logo shows up on your profile (unless the organization hasn’t yet set up a LinkedIn company page).