Free LinkedIn vs Sales Navigator: Comparing Search Tools

I get asked about this a lot. The usual trigger is someone banging up against the commercial search limit in free LinkedIn.

The difference in the Search tools available in Sales Navigator is one of the key differences between the two.

What You Can Do With Free LinkedIn Search

Using the search bar, you can look for people, jobs, content, companies, schools or LinkedIn groups which contain the search word or phrase you enter. The main thing search is used for is finding people, and if you search for people, additional filters are at your disposal. While these are limited in number and many of them are frankly quite useless (“Interested in joining a non-profit board” ??), there are a few filters such as location, industry, and job title, that can be used to great effect.

You can also look specifically for first and second degree connections. This is really, really important. If you are good at asking your connections for introductions, you may not need the search tools in Sales navigator at all.

You can save up to three people searches – handy if you have used multiple filters and want to come back to a search again.

Two under utilized uses of free LinkedIn search are hashtag research – enter the hashtag term and LinkedIn will show how many people follow it – and searching for content based on words or phrases, which can help you tell how popular a topic is on LinkedIn.

The Commercial Search Limit

Almost everyone who uses Free LinkedIn for search bumps up against the Commercial Search Limit. After a certain number of searches (and LinkedIn won’t tell you how many it is) you are shut out of search for the rest of the month.

Whoever came up with the idea of the Commercial Search Limit at LinkedIn is an evil genius.

Additional Search Tools In Sales Navigator

The key word is “more.” More searches: there is no limit to the number of searches you can perform and you have more saved searches – ten at a time. But the big thing is more filters. Sales Navigator has over twenty search filters, including better granularity in geographical searches.

Additional Sales Navigator people filters include:

  • Seniority level (CXO, VP, Director, Manager etc),
  • Function (engineering, operations, sales, marketing etc)
  • LinkedIn Groups
  • Years at current company (great for finding new people who may be open to new vendors and shaking things up a bit)
  • Years in current position (ditto)

Sales Navigator users have the ability to re-filter search results, in other words, the ability to see what effects changes to filters can make to results on the fly. This is a very useful feature for getting your results down to a manageable number to work with.

One outstanding filter only shows up once you have done a people search. Sales Navigator will allow you to see all the people within that search who have changed jobs in the past ninety days.


If you find yourself bumping up against the commercial search limit quite often, you are making a case for Sales Navigator. If you are getting weird, lousy or unusable results you may also need Sales Navigator.

However, most people have a poor grasp of how search works on LinkedIn or have never been trained on how to use it effectively, so the results they get are going to be sub optimal, regardless of which version they are using. Taking the time to really understand how search works on LinkedIn and what exactly the filters do and don’t do will pay for itself regardless of whether you are searching using regular LinkedIn or Sales Navigator.

This post originally appeared in my Advanced Strategies and Tactics for LinkedIn newsletter as part of a 7 part series comparing free LinkedIn with Sales Navigator. You can sign up for this and my newsletters on using LinkedIn for Sales and LinkedIn for Marketing here:

Why Do As Many As 75% Of Outreach Messages Fail on LinkedIn?


No One Is Home.

LinkedIn announced Q3 2016 results a couple of weeks ago on October 27th. There are now 467 million LinkedIn members. They also announced 106 million unique monthly logins, which sounds great until you realize what that means. 106 million people now log in once a month or more often than that. The flip side of the coin is that 361 million people log in less than once month. Think about that for a second or two…that’s 361 million people, some of whom may log onto LinkedIn once before New Years. Many of them will show up once between now and the Spring. And many won’t really show up at all.

If you send a LinkedIn message today to someone you would really like to speak with, but if they are one of the 361 million, the odds are pretty poor that they are going to respond to your message.

Why? Because they will likely ignore it. These are people who don’t use LinkedIn very often. They don’t “get” networking. They have never seen the value in using LinkedIn regularly, and they still don’t. So messages from LinkedIn are more likely to just be ignored. This is what I mean by your outreach failing because no one is home.

  And in an oblique way, LinkedIn acknowledges this problem.  I think it is instructive that if someone responds to your LinkedIn InMail you get a credit for a new InMail to use with another LinkedIn member. How long does LinkedIn give them to reply? Ninety days. It sounds to me like LinkedIn wants to give them every opportunity to show up and respond, but they aren’t that confident either.

So you can knock on the door, but if no one is home…what can you do?

Your homework.

Before you reach out to someone, go to the recent activity part of their LinkedIn Profile and look for two things: number of followers and recent activity. If someone has 1200 followers and you can see they are active posting and responding to other people’s posts, you can feel comfortable that they appreciate what LinkedIn has to offer and will likely respond to your message. It may not be the response you want, but at least you will know where you stand.

On the other hand, finding someone with 41 connections and no activity is the kiss of death. Likelihood of this person responding is effectively zero.

What else can you do about it? Be realistic and use alternatives. If you are confident in your email abilities you can try emailing them. Or you can try  approaching the target company through someone else at the company who does look approachable.   

The bottom line is that no matter how fabulous a candidate may seem to be for your product or service, you are going to have a really hard time getting the attention of someone who is not there.

Learn to recognize low probability situations and don’t invest your time in them.  

Are We In The Calm Before The LinkedIn storm?     



Clues that the big push to increase premium subscriptions is coming soon

In the announcement accompanying the LinkedIn acquisition, Microsoft made it  clear that one of their goals was the “acceleration” of premium membership sales.  A few weeks ago, I suggested that the big opportunity was in Sales Navigator subscriptions. Now it appears Linkedin has begun setting the stage to start herding members currently using free accounts for business purposes towards Sales Navigator or Business Premium accounts.

The first clue was a few weeks ago when a “tags and notes” section was added  to Sales Navigator. Gee, something for nothing, thanks LinkedIn, that’s pretty nice. And then  word came out (hat tip Donna Serdula that LinkedIn was doing away with the relationship section in profiles for free users. If you want to be able to annotate or categorize profiles, you will need Sales Navigator to do so.

And an early version of the new user interface (hat tip to Mark Williams seems to indicate chunks of search functionality may be going from free accounts too. Some limited search still seems to be there but the ability to perform complex searches and search your connections connections may be on the way out, or at least severely limited. Whether this is a preview of what the final version of the new User Interface will look like remains to be seen, but I think it is becoming clear that

If you use LinkedIn to further your business, you will need a premium  account

If you are in sales or marketing, the days of wondering whether you need a Business Premium or Sales Navigator Account look like they are over. You do. LinkedIn may mitigate the shock with free trials, or less expensive starter kits, or limited time offers, but if you are serious about using LinkedIn as a tool to generate business, you will become a premium member.

If I am correct is this assumption, all the things that we have taken for granted as salespeople – Advanced Search capability, searching connections connections, visibility of third degree types, how many results and how they are displayed for a search – are all on the table.

And my guess is this will go beyond the user interface. I would expect Publishing to get better and offer a premium option too. Promote your company through Company Pages? That’ll cost you. How about Linkedin Groups? Starting a group to promote your business? Ka-ching!

I think we will evolve to a clear delineation of LinkedIn users – ironically, the hunters and the hunted I talked about in a post a couple of weeks ago will now be even more defined. LinkedIn business users will gravitate to Business Premium and Sales Nav for the features they need. The free users will generally use LinkedIn for basic networking, group participation, status updates, job search, and news on Pulse.

Let’s face it, no one should be surprised by this. Microsoft has to rationalize how paying $26B for LinkedIn is a smart idea, and that means squeezing money from users where they can. And if you are using LinkedIn to generate business that makes you squeezable.

So strap yourself in. It’s starting.