Crafting an SEO- and Human-Friendly LinkedIn Headline

{This article originally appeared on Profession Direction.}

LinkedIn is a dichotomous beast. There is the side that requires specific keywords to play well with LinkedIn’s algorithm, but there’s also the human element.

Can you please both sides? This is no easy feat, especially when you’ve only got 120 characters to do it in, as with your “Professional Headline.” It’s a dilemma for job seekers. Do you boost your SEO by cramming your headline full of keywords, or do you write something clever and catchy to attract human attention?

The answer (as many of mine are when it comes to career issues) is that it depends. I’ll explain what I mean by that in this blog post, plus I’ll give you some tips and examples so that you can craft the LinkedIn headline that’s right for you.

Why is there no clear-cut preference? Some LinkedIn experts recommend focusing solely on the SEO, since that will make your profile more likely to appear higher in the rankings by LinkedIn’s search engine. You might have the coolest, most creative headline of anyone in your field, but if your profile is being placed on page 8 of someone’s search result, they’ll never click through all of those pages to read it!

But, I still say “it depends.” If you are in a field where you are one of very few specialists, you might come up on page 1 of a search, regardless of your headline, because a recruiter might be searching for a very specific term that relatively few have. You might also come up higher if you are more well-connected. This blog does an excellent job of explaining how relevance pertains to your search.

The majority of job seekers are one of many in their field, however. If this is you, focusing on SEO and using those 120 characters primarily for keywords (over a creative tagline) is wise.

Once you’ve decided whether you are going for either a SEO- or a human-friendly headline, consider these additional tips and examples for your strategy:

Incorporate the job title you are hoping to get hired for next. Determine what you want to be found for, and emphasize those terms. Your headline should be future-focused, which will allow you to move toward your career goal.

The following headline for a former dentist transitioning into sales shows that he is clearly moving from his previous career and looking for a position in sales:

Medical Sales Representative & Account Manager | Seeking: Dental, Medical Device, Biotech | Former Medical Professional

Answer the “WIIFM” question. The person reading your profile will want to know “What’s in it for me?” Use your headline to clearly show how your expertise benefits the employer.

The headline above draws attention to the job seeker’s experience as a former medical professional, offering knowledge, skills, and connections useful in medical, biotech, or dental sales.

If you are looking while unemployed, touch on that lightly in your headline. (But, only if you want to!) There’s no rule that you MUST state you are seeking your next gig if you are unemployed. If you’re not comfortable with that, don’t.

Just know that many career experts feel that in the current job market, advertising that you are looking doesn’t carry much of a stigma… IF you do it tactfully.

Going back to the example, the simple mention of “Seeking: …” states the point succinctly. A headline of “Unemployed and looking” might as well say “Twiddling my thumbs.” Don’t make it the sole focus of your headline or waste too many precious characters on it. Touch on it, then move on to emphasizing brand elements or keywords that will help you to be found.

Include different words that mean the same thing. The example contains both “Sales Representative” and “Account Manager.” The same job can have a different title at different companies and recruiters may search for either. It may seem repetitive, but it will appease the SEO gods.

Consider including your company’s name. If talent from your company is highly sought-after by recruiters, you may want to include your company’s name in your headline. You’ll improve your chances of being found by a headhunter who is conducting a search with your company name. Example:

VP Operations – Health Insurance Claims & Billing (Humana) | Technology Implementation, Efficiency, and Team Engagement.

Use metrics when you can. Numbers catch the eye and give the reader an accurate picture of your contributions at work. Example:

Big Data Architect, Director of Data Management | Business Intelligence, Analytics, Metadata Repository saving $14mm/yr

Use a Testimonial. Are you known for something special? Include it in your headline for an extra punch.

VP Retail Operations Big Box Store | Named “Store Turnaround Specialist of the Year” by Retailer Magazine (2012.)

Don’t waste space with overused buzzwords. Before you include a word in your headline, ask yourself whether it will hold meaning for the reader. “Innovative” and “Creative” are soooo 2012.

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