LinkedIn and Business Profiles

Typically, I try to use this column to explain to business professionals how to use Web resources to further their SEM (define) campaigns. Today is slightly different, because I’m starting one step earlier in the process and addressing how a specific company can help both itself and its user base with some slight architecture modifications.

Company Profiles and Hidden Popularity

Several weeks ago, I wrote about changes at LinkedIn that will allow companies to show their profiles similar to how individuals already do:

“Because LinkedIn already has a significant search engine presence for individual users and networked groups, it’s only a matter of time before its company profiles begin to show up in results on searches for your company name and, potentially, for searches on specific departments, teams, or product lines.”

This hope was a little bit premature, because I’ve noticed some issues with LinkedIn that might impede company profiles from being found in search engines.

First, depending on how each employee identifies his or her employer, each company can have multiple URLs that are the “official” URL of the company. One critical component of a company profile ranking well would be the proper funneling of all internal link popularity into a single, unified font of information. With multiple variations (e.g., “Inc.,” “LLC,” “.com”) in the URLs, engines will have a hard time figuring out that all these URLs belong to a single organization.

A second major problem is that the company profile URLs aren’t actually off-limits to engines, but the biggest contributors to their link popularity — individuals’ full profiles — are. Individuals’ “public” profiles (those pages that can be visited without being signed in to LinkedIn) can show the company you work for, but the company name isn’t linked to the LinkedIn profile page for that company.

When an engine crawls public profiles, it also sees a link to the “full” profile as well. This “full” profile, however, sits in LinkedIn’s /ppl/ directory, which is excluded by its robots.txt file. This keeps engines from seeing the full profile, and more important, keeps engines from passing link popularity to the corporate profile pages.

The Content-Driven Revenue Conundrum

Companies like LinkedIn that have business models relying on careful dissemination of information assets face interesting challenges. They need to prove to the public that they have a great deal of information, but they can’t simply give that information away to any user or crawler without a commitment. The “commitment” can come in the form of a premium membership, but a more typical first step is simply signing up for a free account.

One possible way to take the powerful SERP (define) presence that LinkedIn has for individuals and carry it over to corporate online profiles is to imitate the site’s partial-versus-full profile feature already established for individuals. For example, just like it has a limited “public” profile for individuals with partial experience and limited connection information, the site could create a limited public profile of a company, including such information as city, estimated headcount, industry, and a short company description, either written by the company itself or pulled from Capital IQ as it’s done currently.

LinkedIn could then create a fuller, more robust corporate profile page, available to registered users, premium subscribers, and so on. This profile could contain a great deal more information about the company, including human resources contacts, corporate structure, and anything the company wanted to add.

Individuals’ engine-crawlable “public” profiles could link to the smaller “public” corporate profile, and individuals’ full profiles could link to the full corporate profile. This would continue the theme of offering engines (and unregistered users) the “taste” of content that the site contains, but it wouldn’t give away the data for free.

Conclusion

On LinkedIn’s “Customize Your Company Profile” page, the site promises that you’ll be able to add to, edit, and otherwise control your corporate profile in the near future. I hope many of the issues I’ve outlined here are already on LinkedIn’s radar, because both the site and the users it serves stand to gain a great deal by improving its corporate visibility.

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