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LinkedIn move to discourage X-Ray Search via Google/ Yahoo

LinkedIn-Logo-Transparent-200pxFor years many recruiters have chosen to search LinkedIn via Google rather than use the site’s internal search tool. Their reasons are many but the main one is that Google shows you the full names of every profile, rather than restricting you to just your 2nd or 3rd Degree network (depending on whether you have a premium account and at what level). This week, both Google & Yahoo (and all other search engines that we tried) begun showing you “logged out” profile views, even if you were logged into LinkedIn. Previously both search engines had shown you a “logged in” view once you clicked on the public url, which it appears most recruiters preferred. Also, yesterday Google was only showing you 3 pages of results (30 profiles) no matter criteria you searched by. Is this another move by LinkedIn to restrict what recruiters can see and do without having a paid account?

LinkedIn XRay SearchFirst of all, let’s define what an X-ray search of LinkedIn actually is. It is the use of a search operator to target one specific web domain or site and to search for keywords. patterns or both within that domain or subdomain. For recruiters, this means adding into a Google or Yahoo search, often with some other search operators such as -inurl:dir or (inurl:pub OR inurl:in) etc to filter the results to just the profiles (the latter additions don’t work on Yahoo by the way). You can then add whatever keywords you want to your search, just as you would in LinkedIn, with a maximum limit of 32 words (or terms) including your original site: or inurl: search commands.

The reason that you see everyone’s full name is that LinkedIn has to allow the search engines to index full names of their members as otherwise you would never find the LinkedIn profile of anyone whom you searched for just by their first name and surname. LinkedIn want your public profile to appear on Page 1 of search engine results as this is how they drive more traffic to their site and remain current as the default destination for professional information. It’s only when you click on the profile that LinkedIn are aware that you are searching their data and also of whom you are. In the old days, you only saw the public profile and had to click again to view the profile as you would if you were logged in. Seeing a logged-in view straight away is actually a relatively recent move that was introduced in 2012. In fact, it was a negative move as LinkedIn began enforcing your network viewing rights once you clicked on the profile and often you would see less than what was available on the public profile that you would have seen if you weren’t logged in. This latest development is in some ways a “step back” in the right direction! The difference now is that pre-2012 you didn’t have to re-enter your username and password to see the “logged on” view; now you do. Every time!

The fact that both major search giants, Google and Bing (who’s search algorithm runs Yahoo search) are enforcing this would appear to suggest that it was implemented at LinkedIn’s request. The scaremongers (and I won’t exclude myself from this) were panicked yesterday when they also saw their results being limited to 3 pages. This certainly seemed like the end of x-ray search as we know it! However, upon further inspection, it appeared that Google was only showing 3 pages of results for every type of x-ray search. I  x-rayed our own website, several global news organisation sites and some other social sites and all revealed only 3 pages of results. Then this morning it was back to normal! Was LinkedIn involved? I suspect not as it was a Google only issue and applied to all websites. It’s back to normal now but that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again. Perhaps Google is restricting such searches due to their drag on Google’s servers or maybe they plan to monetize these searches by forcing users to use paid Custom Search Engines. Only time will tell but we’re pretty safe for now.

So, should you be panicked by the remaining inconvenience of having to log back in every time you view a LinkedIn public profile from Google? Well, my answer is Yes and No. No for most of you; Yes if you are using x-ray for a good reason. Most recruiters don’t use X-ray for good reason; you can run better searches within LinkedIn and you can see everyone’s name and profile details if you’re smart enough (or if you have attended any of our Black Belt training).

The fact is that an x-ray search is weak for four reasons:

LinkedIn XRay Boolean Search on Google1. Only 88% of LinkedIn members allow their profiles to be indexed by search engines. You can explicitly turn this on or off in your profile settings or implicitly turn it off by hiding your surname from other LinkedIn members who aren’t connected to you.

2. Of the 88% of profiles that are available on Google, most do not display all the data otherwise available if you were to search within LinkedIn itself. Users can restrict what Google “sees” down to their name, industry and number of connections. How are you going to find people based on their skills, experience or job title if Google can’t see that information for some of their members?

3. Searching via Google is like doing a keyword search within LinkedIn; it looks for the keywords anywhere on the profile. You cannot search within fields like “Current Title”, Education or Employer. If you hiring specifically for a Java Developer, for example, somebody who has “Java” in their current job title is almost always more suitable than someone who just happens to mention Java in their list of skills. Relevancy is improved when you can use filters like those provided by the Advanced Search tools in LinkedIn.

4. When searching profiles via Google you aren’t just searching each person’s profile, you are searching a web page that contains their profile along with other text including links to and descriptions of similar members. If you search for “Validation Engineer” in “Dublin” you could easily open a profile of a LinkedIn member who is in “Dublin” but works in a completely different job yet there is a link to a “Validation Engineer” on their profile who works in a different city or country. The chances of finding false-positives are multiplied greatly when you x-ray search.

New LinkedIn Advanced Search Interface 2013However, there are some good reasons why you might prefer to use an x-ray search:

1. When you search within LinkedIn itself, you cannot search for or remove words that are written in grey on someone’s profile. These include locations within the employment history, the name of the industry someone is in, the dates within the education and employment history and the level of fluency someone has in any given language (a particularly grievous omission on LinkedIn’s behalf). Google doesn’t distinguish between these and the other words on someone’s profile page, they are all simply words! We teach people how to leverage this advantage to find immediately available contracts, language candidates, graduates and more.

2. LinkedIn does not support proximity searching, such as Monster’s “near” operator. If you want to find someone who has “managed staff” you must write all combinations in quotations, separated by an OR operator. Think about the people who say “managed 3 staff” or “managed multiple staff” etc etc. Google supports the use of a wildcard operator * that allows you to insert a placeholder between words such as “managed * staff”. By x-raying, you can use this operator within LinkedIn as you are using Google’s search capabilities to interrogate the LinkedIn database.

3. Google sorts your results using an algorithm that should promote the most relevant or “best” profiles towards page one. This is based on factors such as the relative volume of the keywords you have used in your search and the positioning of these keywords (closer to the top is better than at the bottom of a page) meaning that you are more likely to find people who use these keywords multiple times, particularly in their most recent roles as public profiles list experience in reverse chronological order. LinkedIn’s order ranking is based on a combination of how closely connected you are to someone and how “complete” their profile is. Neither of these criteria will promote the “best” candidates to the front of your search. Up until recently you could alter how LinkedIn results were presented by sorting by “Relevance” and “Keywords” etc but this has been removed with the new search interface.

So, in short, if you use x-ray searching for any of the 3 reasons above, this latest move from LinkedIn is very annoying. However, if you have been x-raying for the “wrong reasons”, get yourself back into LinkedIn and start using the Advanced Search tool. Every member account, regardless of your account access or the size of your network, searches every available word on every member’s profile and you always see the same number of results as members with a premium account. There are many good reasons to upgrade to Talent Finder or Recruiter accounts but that’s for another day. Now go re-familiarise yourself with Advanced Search and starting searching ALL of LinkedIn’s data again!

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