Though often overlooked or underutilized, the LinkedIn summary is a free-form, 2,000-character-rich section located at the top of every LinkedIn profile—the profile owner's moment to shine.
But because writing a compelling summary is time-consuming, LinkedIn users often bypass the summary section, missing their opportunity to tell their unique story and connect with profile readers.
I spoke with a number of LinkedIn experts and professional copywriters to get their takes on how to master the LinkedIn summary. Time and time again, I heard 10 key tips for getting it right. How many are you abiding by?
1. Use keywords intelligently.
Many LinkedIn users falsely believe that the summary section is a fitting section to unload a word cloud of relevant keywords, as the section helps with SEO. A blob of words, though, is not the best method. "Avoid sounding like you are keyword stuffing," says LinkedIn marketing consultant Yoon Cannon. "Include the keywords in your summary copy, but [do so] using language that flows like a normal conversation."
Cannon recommends using a keyword density calculator to understand which keywords a summary is well-positioned with. After copying and pasting in your summary, you'll see which keywords or phrases appear at a higher frequency compared with all of the other words in the text. This ratio, called keyword density, was once highly important for search rankings—while it's importance has declined as search algorithms got smarter, keyword density shouldn't be neglected completely.
Evgeny Zislis, creator of Cannon's go-to keyword density calculator, says that a 1 to 3 percent keyword density is the sweet spot for important phrases—anything more may come off as spam to search bots. Cannon's LinkedIn profile, for example, is well-written for the terms "marketing expert," "LinkedIn marketing," and "keynote speaker," all of which come in at the 2.4 percent density mark.
2. Break it up with lists and sub-headers.
Profile viewers are often just stopping by for a quick scroll through your work history, but LinkedIn doesn't give the option to bold, underline, or otherwise format within the summary section. Help visitors out by making your profile digestible. Freelance copywriter Debra Jason, for example, splits her summary up into her key service areas by paragraphs that each include a sub-header: freelance copywriting, marketing coaching, public speaking, and article writing.
Social-media and marketing strategist Sarah Johnson employs the same strategy, but also includes an easy-to-read list of specialities at the end of her summary, which helps tie up any loose ends and is beneficial for SEO.
3. Add multimedia.
LinkedIn enables you to add multimedia to almost any section of your profile, but the most recognizable place may just be the summary section, as it's right at the top of your profile, giving you the opportunity to say hello to readers. LinkedIn strategist Jan Wallen recommends adding a video or presentation that gives an overview of your offerings. Her profile summary, for example, includes a one-minute tip video about why it's important to add video to your LinkedIn profile, which acts as a primer for her full-on LinkedIn strategy advice.
4. Focus on results.
Much like the rest of your resume, you'll want to highlight past results in your summary. When possible, include numbers and case studies that prove success. Social-media consultant and speaker Wayne Breitbarth, for example, quickly establishes credibility with his audience by stating in his summary's second sentence: "I have helped more than 40,000 businesspeople—from entry level to CEO—understand how to effectively use LinkedIn." Never underestimate the power of a few key stats to impress a reader.
5. Tailor it to your professional situation.
Depending on which stage of your career you're at, make sure your summary is tailored to reflect your current professional situation. Amy Casilio, university relations associate at Collegial Services, a consulting and staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates, and the businesses that hire them, says the summary should act as your elevator pitch. An entrepreneur, for example, could use the section to brand and justify their company, including explanations on how the idea came to be, why the team is qualified to bring the business to market, and what the greater vision of the company is. For entrepreneurs, the goal should be to convey expertise, experience, and passion for the topic, industry, and startup idea at hand.
6. Tell a story fueled by passion.
"Your summary is your time to tell a quick story," says Taylor Aldredge, ambassador of buzz at startup Grasshopper, based out of Needam, Mass. "Make sure to have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning should be about setting the stage of who you are and what your career is all about to you. The middle should be a brief summary of your background, things to support the passions you laid out previously. The end is all about where you want to go and what you want to do, your career goals. People will get a great impression if you can do that succinctly."
7. Include testimonials and awards.
When writing your summary, it's more convincing to pull in words of praise from others than to wax on and on about yourself. New York Times bestselling author Jay Baer makes it a point to call out his bestselling status, as well as the fact that he was named one of America's top social-media consultants by Fast Company. Likewise, public relations specialist Jon Negroni, of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based counseling and life coaching company Thriveworks, includes a professional recommendation from a previous employer in his summary to showcase that he is "diligent" and "innovative" and "tends to think like an executive," all good traits for future work.
8. Write in the first person.
Because your summary is a welcoming note to readers, it's important that you write it from the first person point of view, as if you were speaking directly with the reader. To make your summary even more personal, include a few personal details, such as hobbies. Social-media and marketing strategist Sarah Johnson, for example, notes that she's an avid recreational athlete and food enthusiast who enjoys cycling and triathons, so that she can regularly explore her love for good food.
9. Outline your goals.
As most people viewing your profile will be interested in what's next for you, make sure you give readers a sense of where you're going and what your goals are. This could be as simple as declaring that your goal is to get a marketing internship over the summertime, or as broad as stating that your passion in life is helping people through non-profit work, as self-described "non-profit devotee" Trish Fontanilla clearly states in her profile.
10. Include a call to action and contact information.
To wrap up your summary, make sure readers have a clear idea of why they might contact you or learn more about you. "If you need help setting up webinars/webcasts, managing them, moderating them, talk to me," Web content manager and webinar host Paul H. Simon states in his LinkedIn summary. "If I can't be of service, I may know others who can meet your needs. After all, creating and fostering relationships—and giving back—is a cornerstone of conducting business today." He caps it all off with his email address, a piece of information that may otherwise be difficult to find behind LinkedIn's wall. If you, too, are looking to generate sales leads, including your contact information in the summary is a quick way to bypass the need to first connect with potential clients on LinkedIn.
Implement these 10 tips in writing your LinkedIn summary, and you should find yourself on the way to summary mastery. What are your top tips for LinkedIn? Tweet your thoughts to me @ericaswallow or leave them in the comments below.
Erica Swallow is a New York City-based tech and lifestyle writer, technology entrepreneur, and MIT Sloan MBA candidate. This post is part of the LinkedIn For Small Business Series, which explores the ins and outs of using LinkedIn to maximize small business returns.