Have you ever wished there was a switch you could throw, and then your ideal freelance-writing clients would simply find you? What if I told you that exists — and it’s free. It’s the Linkedin headline of your profile.
LinkedIn is an amazing social-media platform, and your LinkedIn profile is key to your success.
The LinkedIn headline — those few words that appear right under your name — is one of the simplest things to optimize.
With just a few quick changes, you can help more prospects find you, and impress them that you’re the writer they want.
LinkedIn has gradually taken center stage in my marketing trainings, over the years.
That’s because LinkedIn marketing gets the most consistent success with the least effort. (And of course, online marketing rocks during COVID.)
In this post, I want to go deep on this one profile element, because it’s such a powerful spot for grabbing your clients’ attention.
Lots of examples below, mostly from freelance writers, so check out all the ideas for what works (and doesn’t).
Ready to craft your optimal LinkedIn headline? Let’s go!
Why it matters
Why should you care about what’s in your LinkedIn headline, anyway? What’s the big deal?
If you do your headline right, your profile will rank at the top of Google searches for your type of writer.
Not to mention searches for your type of writer within LinkedIn.
Often, writers who optimize their LinkedIn headline report back that they’ve gotten their first inbound lead ever…within the first week.
The LinkedIn headline is the most important piece of search-engine keyword real estate on your profile.
- Both LinkedIn’s search engine and outside engines appear to highly regard it
- Their algorithms use it in deciding whether your page might be relevant to a prospect searching for a writer.
Make good use of your LinkedIn headline, and you could wake up to leads in your inbox each week. And it just takes a few minutes to improve your headline — once you know the best practices to follow. Totally worth it.
Interested now? I thought so.
Let’s run down what to put in your LinkedIn headline (and not), and the style guidelines that make you look pro:
What to include in your LinkedIn headline:
As I said, this is precious real estate. So you want to choose what you say carefully. Let’s look at the important things to include first:
Are you freelancing?
There’s one word that most freelance writers seem to leave out of their headline that could really help them connect with their best clients.
That word is ‘freelance.’
Thing to know: Most people on LinkedIn are either recruiters trying to place people in full time jobs… or they’re people looking for their next full-time job. We freelance writers are a bit of an outlier, though our numbers are rising (as evidenced by the growing number of LinkedIn job ads for freelancers).
If your headline doesn’t say you prefer to freelance…
Your time will be wasted by many recruiters and HR managers looking to fill a position. This one word can save you so much time.
Yes, many writers don’t like the word ‘freelance,’ and want to use another phrase instead. They want to say they’re a business owner or independent contractor, for instance.
But freelance is the term of art.
Add it to the front of your profile, as you see my frequent co-coach and teaching partner Mandy Ellis doing here:
Don’t be a rank amateur
As I said up top, the words in your headline are key for ranking well on search engines. Finding good keyword phrases to put in your headline is Job One.
Most freelance writers’ headlines look much like this:
What’s wrong with this simple headline? It has no keyword phrase you’ll ever be able to rank for on a search. These single-word keywords are waaaay too popular and difficult to rank for.
You need longer phrases that you have a shot at getting on top of a search for, and that have the bonus of better qualifying your prospect. Like this:
If you’re wondering, search engines are smart enough now to put those words together into two phrases: “freelance biopharma writer” and ‘freelance healthcare writer.” With just a few additional words, Tolu has greatly improved her odds of topping a relevant search.
As a bonus, adding a few more key words also allows her to connect with her ideal clients, instead of anybody-and-everybody, saving her time on tire-kickers.
Let me cut to the chase and spotlight the absolute-best thing to put in your headline: It’s the names of industries you know about.
Why is this? It’s because that’s usually how clients search for a writer. They never have time to educate us from square one about how their industry works and teach us all the jargon — they’re looking for a writer who already gets it.
So pick the top 2-3 industries you have experience with, and get them into your headline, like so:
Besides ranking better, seeing their industry mentioned gives prospects a “Eureka — I’ve found my writer!” moment, when they spot it.
P.S. You may notice Kaleigh also threw in some of her top markets. She’s got room, so why not? In general, credits are sexier to show visually, by putting their logos into your header (pros call it a ‘proof bar’).
Space is valuable here in the headline, and prospects generally aren’t searching by past bylines. But if you have brand names to flash, it certainly can impress. Just keep SEO the top priority.
Attract the right type
Once you’ve got your industries down, if you have space, you might want to put in the types of writing you enjoy doing most. That way, you’re more likely to connect with someone who needs that specific type of writing done.
It’s not as important from the client’s POV that you immediately telegraph you’ve written the exact thing they need. The industry know-how is more important. But if you’re a mature-stage career writer who wants to focus mostly on writing white papers, or ghostwriting articles, or something specific like that, this doesn’t hurt:
It may seem crazy in our Zoom-meeting era, but there are still some clients who’d prefer to work with a writer in their town. With COVID fading, they may want to take an in-person meeting at some future point.
That means you can create a better-ranking SEO keyword phrase for your headline by adding your location (especially if it’s in or near a major city).
P.S. Yes, your location is also listed on a separate line, just below the headline. Still, it appears that adding location to your headline may provide an SEO boost.
Big thing to know — only your connections can see your contacts on your LinkedIn profile.
That means most prospects can’t.
If you want to make it easy for clients to hire you off LinkedIn, you need to put your contacts in a public place on your profile. The choices are:
- Your graphical header (ideal, really)
- Your About section
- Your headline
Putting your contacts in your About is a little passive-aggressive, because they don’t know it’s there unless they click and read through it. Assuming you have room for it in your headline, you can put it there (see the Style Guide below for notes about ideal length).
Recently, I decided to take my own advice and add my email to my LinkedIn headline, rather than just hoping prospects would discover it in my About:
So there you have it — the elements of a winning LinkedIn headline:
- Writing types
Consider those elements and weave them together into a headline that expresses who you are, what you know, and what you do. It’ll help you connect with the clients you want.
Your LinkedIn headline can do without…
There are many other things that turn up in LinkedIn headlines that don’t present you in the best light. Let’s run those down now:
Keeping things vague
Remember: We’re trying to get hired as freelance writers here. That means precise language really counts.
Yet, I find profile after profile where writers say they do ‘communications’ or ‘multimedia.’ People…many prospects don’t know what that means.
- Are you a PR person, willing to call on journalists?
- You write internal memos? Speeches?
- You are a video-production studio?
Spell it out, and you’ll connect with more of the prospects you want — and avoid awkward conversations about what they guess you do.
When writers get creative
Writers like to be creative. Right? We all got A’s in creative writing class!
Sadly, your LinkedIn headline isn’t the greatest place to unleash that creativity, except in very small doses. A little flash of personality is great.
If you’re a copywriter, you’ll want to avoid overused phrases that don’t resonate with business clients.
- “Storyteller” is one of them.
- Why? Many business clients are still just figuring out storytelling is a mode that would help their marketing.
Crafting some elaborate, clever sentence here is a waste of vital SEO space. So keep it in check.
Here’s a good example of adding a flash of creativity:
When keywords become spam
There’s a fine line here between providing useful SEO keywords and an obvious keyword-stuffing exercise. We writers all hate it when we find this in other types of online writing, yes? Well, your headline is no exception.
Hint: You don’t need to use the word ‘writer’ over and over, as in “Freelance healthcare writer, fintech writer, newsletter writer.”
Once and the search engines get it. So don’t overdo.
If you love branding, or do it for clients, you may be tempted to make your headline a snappy tagline or brand statement of your own. Ones I’ve recently seen include ‘Bringing hospitality to the promotional branding industry’ and ‘Without strategy, branding and design are just art.’
Try to resist. This is not an ideal way to use your precious headline space.
What’s the problem? Clever slogans tend to have zero good keyword phrases that help prospects search and find you. Slogans often omit what industries you particularly serve, which we know is the top thing clients usually include in their searches.
Add more info about industries or types of writing in the headline instead, and help yourself get found.
The company you keep
Many pro freelance writers have a registered business name. And when we do, we’re dying to tell the world, so many writers pop that company moniker in their headline:
It’s… ineffectual. Doesn’t shed any additional light on what you know or can do. Doesn’t help qualify a prospect. Stuff that headline with industry phrases instead, I say.
Don’t blow your horn
Do you want to throttle people who humblebrag about how great they are? This sort of self-proclaimed greatness is particularly awkward in LinkedIn headlines. So avoid words like:
If you flip back up to Leslie’s headline and read the bottom line, there’s an example. Let your work and your LinkedIn recommendations show you’re awesome.
Also, people who proclaim themselves the top expert in X often find themselves getting flamed for it on LinkedIn. Just sayin’.
Stay in control
There’s a quirk in LinkedIn’s profile operations that you need to know, so that you keep your finely crafted headline in front of your prospects.
If you add a new client to your Experience section, LinkedIn wants to update your headline to only show what you said about that new writing job. It erases your existing headline in favor of the new job details. Ugh!
Here’s the important fix that keeps your headline the words you’ve carefully created:
When you’re adding the new Experience item, you’ll see a check-box for ‘update my headline.’ Make sure it is UNCHECKED, as you see here.
Now that you have the basic do’s and don’ts of LinkedIn headlines, let’s go over some fine points of style that’ll really make your headline sing.
LinkedIn style guide
As with every social-media platform, LinkedIn headlines have a style that’s become a best practice.
- Pros know and use it
- Others slap things up every which way.
Here’s my LinkedIn style guide:
When headlines go long
It’s not advisable to go on endlessly in your LinkedIn headline.
- Newspaper headlines aren’t five lines long for a reason.
- Similar principles apply to the length of your LinkedIn headline.
Too much and people gloss over it and move on.
What length headline will people read?
- Here’s my take: You’ve got two lines to make your case. That’s it.
You can wrap around once, while you’re stuffing in those industry keywords. But as the headline goes into three or four lines, it becomes overwhelming.
Take a look at this, and tell me if you want to read all through it:
I thought not.
Yes, this means you must engage in some painful triage of all the things you wanted to include. But do it, because you want to be pithy.
Remember, we’re often hired because we can sum things up, where others cannot. This headline is a great place to start showing you can be concise.
Beware the cutoff
Here’s an even stronger reason to think short on your headline. Perhaps you’ve noticed what happens to your headline when you leave a comment or post an update? For instance, here’s one profile’s full headline:
Not bad. But here’s what it looks like when she comments:
Note how all of her industry niches disappear. Not good. You’ve only got 7-8 words of visible headline, when you engage with people on LinkedIn. They have to go to your profile to see the whole thing.
Think hard about what you put in the front of your headline — because it’s what people will see the most.
Make your case
Remember when we were talking about not being self-important on here? Well, there’s one subtle way you can seem like an authority without being annoying.
How? Use initial caps on every word in your headline. Just like the papers do.
Scan back through the headline examples in this post, and you’ll see some people using title case, and others not. Which do you think comes off more professional? I say it’s initial caps for the win.
Some LinkedIn users favor using a sentence construction in their Linkedin headline. Often it goes, “I help X get Y result.” Seems helpful — but it tends to not work as well as simple keyword phrases.
Here’s why. Check out what happens to the sentence headline when you comment:
…and we’re left hanging. What does she actually do? We can’t tell.
There’s also the problem of using ‘I’ statements, which seems more ‘me’ focused than client-focused. You want the latter.
Are you a verb?
Here’s a big insight I’ve gleaned from watching profiles succeed and fail for a decade:
Clients search for the person they want to hire, not the thing they want done.
- The noun, not the verb.
- Freelance writer, not freelance writing.
(Remember how we had ‘digital strategy’ in a headline above? ‘Digital strategist’ is what the client would search for.)
If you needed to hire a writer…
- Would you search for ‘freelance healthcare writing’?
- That’s not intuitive. ‘Freelance healthcare writer’ is.
Yet writers persist in using verbs to describe what they do, rather than nouns that say who they are.
This one’s simple: Describe who you are, to come up with keyword phrases that align with what prospects use to find us.
Don’t go off the rails
This is a small thing, but it goes a long way toward making you look like a pro LinkedIn user.
It’s in the way you divide phrases and concepts in your headline.
Tip: Use the rail. Not commas, dashes, ellipses or whatever. Not a mix of things. Just the rails.
Take a look at how cleanly the rails break up your ideas so readers can easily get the drift (and makes sure there’s space around each, so search engines can ‘read’ each one):
If you’re wondering how to make the rail, it’s the capital of the backslash key on the far right of a typical keyboard. You’re welcome.
How to create your perfect headline
OK, now you’ve got all the info you need to create your ideal LinkedIn headline.
How do you nail this?
Big tip: Do market research on what other freelance writers who you know are very successful have done with their profiles.
- Think about what’s working there, and how to perhaps be a bit unique and different.
- Once you look through even a half-dozen pro profiles, you’ll have a better sense of how to balance all the elements you need to create your best headline.
Newbies vs established pros
Here’s one angle to consider, in perfecting your headline:
- If you’re a working, longtime freelance writer with an impressive portfolio and inbound leads already coming your way, you can play around with your headline more.
- Some clients may search for you by name, and keywords are less critical if you already have good word-of-mouth.
If you’re a new freelance writer, keywords are absolutely essential. You’re hoping to tap the search engines and get prospects coming your way, so my tip is to keep it simple and keyword-filled.
The ultimate test
There’s one final test of a good LinkedIn headline.
It’s whether or not it gets you clients. Remember that effectiveness is the ultimate judge.
If your headline is working right now to get you clients, don’t go changin’ to conform to the tips above.
For instance, this headline from Georgie is technically too long:
But I happen to know this profile is getting Georgie a TON of leads. So she shouldn’t touch it.
If you redo your headline because it hasn’t been getting you clients, give your rewritten headline a month or so. See if you see a spike in the number of people viewing your profile and contacting you about possible work.
If not, it’s time to tweak a little more. Keep experimenting until your ideal clients come calling.
What’s your LinkedIn headline say? Post it in the comments and let’s discuss.