The Great LinkedIn Follower Riddle

If there is a LinkedIn connection whose posts I no longer wish to see, LinkedIn has me covered. In my Homepage feed, at the top right of any post from one of my connections,  are three dots. Behind those three dots is a menu, with one of the choices being:

“Unfollow <connections name>. Stay connected but stop seeing  <connections name>’s posts.”

So that’s how you unfollow someone. When you unfollow someone you see none of their posts. One would think then, that if you followed someone, you would see all of their posts.

One would think.

Of course, this is not the way it works on LinkedIn. I am imagining this conversation at LinkedIn a couple of years ago….

Product Manager A: “So let’s allow people to follow each other, and see all of each other’s posts.”

Product Manager B: “But when a LinkedIn user says “they want to follow,” do they really want to follow? What if they say they do, but really really deep down, they don’t, but they don’t realize they don’t?”

Product Manager C: “Good point. So how could we allow LinkedIn users to follow other LinkedIn users but only show them some of those posts? Not all the posts they say they want, only the some of the posts that we know they really want.”

(dramatic pause)

All three product managers together: “Algorithm!!”

Now, of course, that may not be the way it actually happened, but I am at a loss to think of a more likely scenario. When you follow someone on LinkedIn, you do so because you want to be notified when they publish an update or an article. You would expect to see all those posts. And you would be wrong. Because LinkedIn uses an algorithm to decide who sees who’s posts. So you may follow me, and I may follow you, but we are not going to see all of each other’s publishing. We may see bits and pieces go by in the homepage feed but that’s hit or miss.

LinkedIn provides us with the means to remove content we don’t want to see. LinkedIn does not provide us with the means to see the content we want to see.

The whole follow but don’t notify thing is like some bizarro world “let’s try and cut down on engagement and the amount of time people are spending here on LinkedIn” experiment.   

Or am I wrong here?

Is There Any Value In “Your Weekly Search Statistics” ?

Had a look at my Weekly Search Statistics for last week. I had appeared in 256 search results for the previous week. Let’s take a deep dive and see what we can learn from what LinkedIn told me about “My searchers.”

Where your searchers work

My searchers for last week work in

  • a travel business and
  • a supply chain company

And that’s it. I appeared in 256 search results last week and apparently all of those searches were performed by these two companies. This immediately makes me question the validity (not to mention the worth) of these statistics.

What they do

The top five business titles were

  • Executive director (that’s flattering I suppose, but exec director of what?)
  • Salesperson (that’s good, salespeople are typical clients of mine)
  • Process specialist (what type?…don’t leave me hanging here…)
  • Business strategy (not sure I have ever met a business strategist)
  • Business owner (okay lots of these are clients)

Okay this is minorly helpful, but some context as to what they were searching for is needed. Luckily I can turn to…

Keywords your searchers used

“WHO”

That’s it. “WHO”, all capitalized. No other search term apparently was used in searches I showed up in. Now, I can draw two possible conclusions here, both of  them a bit disconcerting:

  • Very few people actually search via keywords. They must be all searching by company or geography or title. This is too bad as when used effectively, keywords are the secret to  really narrowing down a search.  
  • Lots of people search via keywords but they have no idea what they are doing.

But the worst part of this whole exercise is the explanation for what these stats represent: “number of times your profile appeared in search results between October 31 – November 7” (I wrote this November 10th).

Note that that the “WHO” search I was in brings up over nine million people in the search results. Hardly an exclusive club. And the key here is the sneaky factor.  People and organizations that talk about the Weekly Search Statistics tool make it sound better than it is: “this new tool shows how you were found.” Sorry, not really. What the person found was a haystack, I’m just a needle somewhere in that haystack.

“Your weekly search statistics” reminds me of the LinkedIn Social Selling Index. Looks interesting on the surface, but when you dig into it a bit, there isn’t much there.

 

How To Rank Higher In LinkedIn Search Results

And the classic miscalculation most LinkedIn users make.

Author’s notes:

I published this post eighteen months ago in May of 2016, but it is a good topic to revisit in light of the conversations going on around whether you should have a large loose LinkedIn network or a smaller tighter one. This article presents one of the arguments for a larger LinkedIn network.

I have made changes and edits to the original article to bring it up to date and reflect changes LinkedIn has made in the last eighteen months.

The most important factor for ranking higher in search results isn’t the quality of your profile or your use of keywords. Those are things will get you included in the search results, but not necessarily a high ranking. This is one of the mistakes many LinkedIn users are making with the introduction of the “Your weekly search appearances” statistics. Many LinkedIn users think this means that the “x” number of search appearances means that their profiles were viewed that number of times. This is incorrect because of one overriding factor.

What is the most important factor for ranking higher in search results? Your relevancy to the searcher. So what does that mean? It means that if two people search LinkedIn using the exact same parameters – keywords, geography etc – you may show up on page one of the search results for one of them and page seven (or seventy-seven) for the other. And no one wants to be on page seven. When was the last time you googled something and closely examined the seventh page?  

Relevancy is a bit of a moving target. LinkedIn interprets relevancy based on an ever evolving algorithm which weighs things like the searcher’s prior activity on LinkedIn, similar searches other people have conducted in the past and the profiles that get selected by the query. Having the right keywords in your profile will get you included in the search results, but they probably won’t help too much, as everyone else who was included in the search results had those keywords too.

And let’s face it, you can’t do anything about a searcher’s prior history, or other similar searches to this one.

The biggest factor for where you appear in search results is your relationship to the searcher. LinkedIn thinks that the closer the relationship, the higher the relevance. So LinkedIn tends to list the search results by connection level – first degree connections first, seconds second , group members third and the third level / the “everyone else” crowd last. And this makes sense. Say you are looking for someone to help with you build a WordPress based blog. You search for WordPress on LinkedIn, maybe adding your location to find someone local. LinkedIn shows that you have three first degree connections that qualify, then forty second degree connections, sixty group members, and two hundred third level / LinkedIn members. Based on what you asked for, doesn’t it make sense that LinkedIn lists the three people you can contact directly – your first level connections – first?

So what does this mean to those who want to appear higher in search results? To appear higher in searches you should develop a big network. No, this doesn’t mean you should indiscriminately connect with anyone on LinkedIn. But you should be connecting with people in, and affiliated with, your target audience – your target audience being the people you would like to be found by, whether that is prospective employers, prospective customers, or industry peers. The more people you are connected with, the more likely you will show up as a “one” or a “two” when they conduct a search that you are found in. If you and I are in the same field, have similar experience and credentials, but you have two thousand LinkedIn connections and I have two hundred, who’s your money on for appearing higher in search results?

LinkedIn even says this (it’s in the LinkedIn help section):

The more connections you have, the more likely you will have a connection to the searcher. Closer connections, such as a 2nd-degree connection compared to a 3rd-degree connection, improve your ranking in searches.

There is a big difference between search engine optimization and LinkedIn search results optimization. To optimize for LinkedIn search results, you need lots of relevant connections.