Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new links and content to better serve our readers.
Original Publication Date: March 13, 2017
Why should you use LinkedIn ads to help find new prospects and nurture leads?
Let’s start with why you might want your company or your PPC clients to create LinkedIn ads in the first place.
First, LinkedIn has a large user base — more than 450 million people use LinkedIn. That’s pretty substantial, even in comparison to the 1.86 billion users on Facebook and 319 million users on Twitter.
Even though it doesn’t hit the size of Facebook’s user base, 7 out of 10 professionals describe LinkedIn as a trustworthy source of professional content.
But this isn’t really enough on its own to justify using the platform for advertising, so let’s go deeper…
Who Is LinkedIn’s User Base?
Data on LinkedIn users from Hootsuite and Statista can shed light on why this platform is valuable for advertising:
- Device: LinkedIn traffic is 57% mobile user traffic
- Location: 71.5% of LinkedIn users are located outside the U.S., with 20M plus registered users in the UK and 12M plus registered users in Canada.
- Gender: LinkedIn users are 56% men, 44% women
- Company Usage: 57% of companies have a LinkedIn company page, but only 17% of U.S. small businesses use the platform.
- Buyer Intent: Half (50%) of B2B buyers use LinkedIn when making purchasing decisions
- Income: 45% of U.S. Internet users with a household income of more than 75,000 USD use LinkedIn
- Age: 1 out of 5 U.S. Internet users aged 65 years and older use LinkedIn
- Frequency: 4 out of 5 U.S. users accessed LinkedIn several times a day
- Usage: 94% of B2B marketers use LinkedIn to distribute content, with content consumption on the platform increasing 21% in the past two years
Based on the above, if your ideal client is B2B professional located outside of the U.S., for example, LinkedIn might be a useful platform to add to your marketing mix.
History of LinkedIn’s Growth Over Time
Will LinkedIn continue to be worthwhile for advertising?
For those who are unfamiliar with its history, LinkedIn started out primarily as a platform to bridge the gap between recruiters and job seekers in 2003. Since then, it has grown to become a major driver of B2B lead generation.
Let’s take a look at some LinkedIn growth stats:
Since the beginning of 2012, LinkedIn’s total membership has almost tripled.
Also, LinkedIn’s net revenue from 1st quarter 2009 to 3rd quarter 2016 (in million U.S. dollars) shows growth.
Worldwide, LinkedIn revenue by business segment (in millions of U.S. dollars) shows recruitment is still its primary function, but the marketing segment is picking up some steam.
LinkedIn As An Advertising Platform
But what about LinkedIn’s growth or decline as an advertising platform?
LinkedIn’s advertising revenue increased from 155.9 million to 581.3 million U.S. dollars from 2011 to 2015.
Further, LinkedIn’s ad revenue grew 29% in the first quarter of 2016 based on nearly 80% revenue growth in sponsored content alone.
It’s worth pointing out that there was a decrease in LinkedIn’s ad revenue as a share of total social network ad revenues in the U.S. from 2013-2017.
LinkedIn’s growth trend seems positive in a vacuum, but it’s still not catching up to more robust platforms like Facebook.
Analysts project that revenue growth for LinkedIn’s 2018 fiscal year will be below 20%, not which is down from past years’ trends. This has created some questions as to whether brands should continue engaging and advertising on the platform, despite prior growth numbers.
All that being said, LinkedIn Ads can be successful with the right goals and strategies in place.
4 Examples of Successful LinkedIn Ad Campaigns
So, we’ve shown that people are using LinkedIn’s ad platform, but are they actually seeing any results?
Here are a few examples of brands that found success with LinkedIn ads…
When HubSpot used LinkedIn sponsored updates to engage marketing professionals in small- to medium-sized businesses, they brought in more high quality leads (400% more, to be exact) than any other paid media platform.
Their LinkedIn campaigns largely succeeded for three reasons:
- Expanded targeted reach within relevant audience segments
- A method for promoting top-performing offers in a professional context
- Instant feedback on top-engaging content to adjust campaigns quickly
LinkedIn’s Sponsored Updates are the perfect marriage between its professional audience and our promotional content. This tool doesn’t just deliver leads — it brings us quality prospects in our target business-to-business market, at a cost per lead that makes sense for our business.
— Mike Volpe, CMO at HubSpot
When Spredfast sought to engage those more likely to convert with precise targeting by skills rather than professional title, they saw high performance with a LinkedIn sponsored content campaign.
Their LinkedIn ads campaign produced strong results, including:
- Reduced cost per qualified response by 83% below average
- Drove qualified responses by 7 times
- Generated click-through rates of 4 times above average
- Increased lead production by more than 500%
We’ve engaged valuable prospects who otherwise could have remained out of reach.
— Heather Hildebrand, Senior Marketing Manager at Spredfast
3. VistaVu Solutions
VistaVu Solutions sought to reach a niche audience that supports the oilfield services industry, but struggled to differentiate itself as a frontrunner in a crowded marketplace.
Through LinkedIn Display Advertising and Sponsored InMails, their campaign generated:
- 4-5 times more leads generated by Display Ads than other display advertising campaigns
- 2.4 times more lead conversation than other display advertising
- 23.8% conversion rate on InMails
- 75% reduced cost per lead
- Campaign cost 80% below other marketing outreach programs
LinkedIn’s ability to hyper-target this specific segment and find key people in the industry was a huge draw for us.
— Nicole Baron, Marketing Manager at VistaVu Solutions
4. Utah State University
Utah State University wanted to effectively communicate the value of its programs to a limited pool of qualified candidates in a highly competitive marketplace.
They used Display Ads and Sponsored InMails to deliver details about the MBA program’s approach that would drive clicks to a landing page for those to request more information.
By targeting professionals with less than five years’ work experience and key demographics for graduate program marketing, the university’s campaign was extremely effective:
- 27.5% open rate for Sponsored InMail
- 71% conversion rate for information requests
- 20 to 1 campaign ROI
The ability to target our marketing efforts by region, expertise and career level made it possible to reach and engage with the precise audience we needed.
— Eric Schulz, Co-Director of Brand Management and Strategic Marketing at Utah State University
Getting Started with LinkedIn Advertising Campaigns
So, you want to get started on your LinkedIn ads?
First and foremost, before you set up LinkedIn ads, make sure you have a LinkedIn company page, especially if you’re creating sponsored content. You can also build a more targeted LinkedIn showcase page to drive traffic to with text ads.
If you already have that, let’s dive into the LinkedIn advertising platform.
LinkedIn Advertising Types and Formats
There are two types of LinkedIn advertising:
- Self-Service Advertising
- Advertising Partner Solutions
Within those advertising types are seven LinkedIn ad formats to raise brand awareness, build relationships, drive traffic and qualified leads:
- Text Ads
- Sponsored Content
- Sponsored InMail
Advertising Partner Solutions:
- Display Ads — Premium
- Join-Group Ads
- Recommendation Ads
- Follow Company Ads
When choosing which route to go, consider budget, time constraints, and platform advertising experience.
1. LinkedIn Text Ads
Text ads appear on the right sidebar or bottom of LinkedIn’s homepage, which is an area users have grown accustomed to seeing ads placed.
Because of this common placement, users can become “banner-blind,” and these ads often experience a lower click-through rate than other ad formats.
You might want to consider going for a soft ask rather than a hard sell — or you risk users being turned off by your LinkedIn ads.
Anatomy of a LinkedIn Text Ad
- Headline (25 characters)
- Ad Copy (75 characters)
- Image (50×50 pixels)
- Destination URL
Many of the same tips and best practices for writing search text ad copy and headlines apply to social media platform text ads. For instance, you get flagged and your ad probably won’t pass if you use all caps in a word or phrase.
You are allowed up to 15 variations for one ad, so test multiple variations and see what resonates with your audience.
Text ads may seem like an archaic ad format, but:
- Their lower CTR might actually drive a higher conversion rate
- They can be more budget friendly than sponsored content
- They’re generally good for desktop-only offers
You can use this list of LinkedIn Text Ads best practices to improve chances of success with this ad format.
2. LinkedIn Sponsored Content
LinkedIn Sponsored Content, a format introduced in 2013, is similar to Facebook newsfeed ads or Twitter sponsored tweets.
Per ExactDrive, consumers are 25% more likely to look at native advertisements and 53% more likely to actually engage them when compared with traditional advertisements like side ads.
On LinkedIn, Rebel Hack saw an increase in CTR when they compared performance of sponsored content to text side ads.
Anatomy of LinkedIn’s Sponsored Content
- Intro (128 characters)
- Headline (36 characters)
- Description (155 characters)
- Photo (200 pixels wide on desktop, little wider on mobile)
You can choose to promote an existing update with 600 characters plus an image, or create direct sponsored content limited to 160 characters.
Direct sponsored content won’t show up on your company page, which might be an important consideration if you are targeting those who could view your company page.
You can also choose between video, large image or text links. Keep in mind that if someone interacts with your content (e.g. a like, comment or share), you get charged for that click.
Determining what content to present right off the bat and what to save for after a user interaction or click could greatly impact your LinkedIn ads’ performance.
Test Creative Variations
When you create LinkedIn ads, test at least four creative variations in one campaign.
A resolution of 1200 x 627 pixels will render best on the platform. To prevent any text from being cut off, make sure your text is in the “safe” areas of 1000 x 586. Also, since your photo is bigger than the typical text ad, you want to make sure to take advantage of this valuable real estate.
It’s important to know whether engagement comes from a boost or organic reach with LinkedIn Sponsored Content. Use unique tracking parameters to attribute conversions to the right source.
Even if you are getting traffic with organic reach alone, this engagement also provides social proof that you can choose to boost.
And because you only pay for the first interaction on your ad when someone shares it, you can increase engagement without having to pay more.
Finally, you can tap into other best practices for LinkedIn Sponsored Content to improve your chances of success with this ad format.
3. LinkedIn Sponsored InMail
LinkedIn Sponsored InMail allows you to deliver personalized, relevant content through LinkedIn messenger to reach targeted audiences on desktop and mobile, A/B test messaging, and drive conversions.
It’s good for boosting event registrations with personalized invites, offering more targeted product or service promotions, and promoting content downloads.
There is a limit on the number of sponsored InMails that a user can receive in a certain time period (i.e. one InMail per user every 60 days). You might, therefore, want to combine Sponsored InMail with other ad formats. This might be better used if you have a hotter lead worth that level of personalized targeting.
4. LinkedIn Display Ads
Display ads allow you to augment the visual elements of your ads with images, videos, and placement.
Linkedin allows advertisers to have a video in the sidebar, for example, that pops out on click to show video advertisement. These videos must be no longer than 20 seconds.
Having an image in an ad can drive 20% more clicks than a text-only ad, according to LinkedIn.
You will want to test which works best for you, but it is common to see these three types of images in LinkedIn ads: 1) People, 2) Product, or 3) Logo.
Anatomy of a Standard LinkedIn Display Ad
- Headline (25 characters)
- Ad Copy (75 characters)
- Photo (50 x 50) or Video
- Destination URL
Premium display ads offer more choices of size and placement.
Medium Rectangle (300×250 pixels):
Wide Skyscraper (160×600 pixels):
Textlink (no image):
Leaderboard (728×90 pixels):
Potential Placement (depending on size choice):
- Right Hand Side of Pages
- Profile Pages
- Company Pages
- Group Pages
- Message Pages
- Bottom of Certain Feeds
- LinkedIn Today
When buying LinkedIn Display Ads, you have two options:
- Purchase programmatically. Choose your preferred demand-side platform (DSP) or agency trading desk (ATD), with flexible purchasing and targeting options.
- Buy your inventory through open or private auction. Advertisers must be whitelisted for either auction. Select the option that works best for you or use both to maximize your reach.
5. Sponsored Groups / Join-Group Ads
If you have a group or want a way to engage people beyond the ads you run, Join-Group Ads aka Sponsored Groups may be good for you.
You can increase the number of people joining and, hopefully, participating in the group.
Anatomy of a Join-Group Ad
- Name of Group
- Brief Description of Topics Discussed in the Group
- Clear CTA Button Asking Users to Join
6. Recommendation Ads
Before launching Recommendation Ads, you should probably secure at least a few actual recommendations. (If others aren’t recommending a product or service, why would you?)
Anatomy of a Recommendation Ad
- Company Name
- Company Product/Service
- Amount of People Who Recommended
- Buttons for Users to Recommend or Share
- Product/Service Images
- Images of Those Who Have Recommended
7. Follow Company Ads
These ads appear on the user page to encourage them to — you guessed it! — follow your company on LinkedIn.
Once they follow your company, there is a better chance of them seeing your organic Company Updates, which is content you can get in front of them for free.
If you are looking to grow your company following to increase social proof if people who click on an ad go to your page, or look at it during some other point in time, Follow Company Ads may be a good route.
Before running any LinkedIn ads, make sure to read the LinkedIn ad specs and guidelines to make sure you have met all platform requirements to get approved.
Targeting and Segmentation
LinkedIn ads targeting and segmentation allows you to include or exclude certain criteria or groups to help you laser target, just like other social media advertising platforms.
For text ads and sponsored updates, you must at least select a location as a form of targeting to proceed.
You can expand your own audience or tap into partner audiences of high-end media sites such as DoubleClick exchange, Collective Media, NY Times, BusinessWeek, and CNBC. A maximum of 100 selections are permitted per targeting option.
To expand the reach of your campaign, enable “Audience Expansion”. Keep in mind that, although it gives you more reach, disabling the “Audience Expansion” feature allows you to be more precise in your targeting.
Lead Accelerator is a new retargeting program helps you engage both anonymous and known prospects with display and social ads, and LinkedIn Sponsored Updates. Relevant messaging is served based on profile and onsite behavior. Then you can increase conversion rates with LinkedIn’s Autofill capability.
This feature addresses challenges for those who still want to convert those web visitors who don’t provide an email or known prospects who don’t open your emails. One can engage highly targeted audiences at appropriate buyer intent stages.
If you are considering multiple marketing channels, it is worthwhile to compare LinkedIn’s targeting with other social media platforms.
They may go by different names, but LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have a lot of similar targeting options.
In fact, LinkedIn is one of several platforms that allow you to target by job title, education, and other career-related demographics. But here are some reasons why LinkedIn might still be the best option when targeting this way:
- You can target by “job function”. Targeting by job title tends to be more competitive, because many B2B advertisers target by this data point, so consider targeting by skills, job function, seniority, or relevant group (even if not a member) instead.
- More people probably enter career and education related information on LinkedIn than other social platforms
- LinkedIn’s Audience Insights populate account wide or in a single audience who clicked on your ads. You can view graphs for seniority, job title, geography and so on.
- LinkedIn geo-targets based on location users set on profile whereas Facebook geo-targets based on IP location by default.
Now, while we do enjoy this discussion, we can’t spend all of our time on the benefits of using LinkedIn.
Limitations of LinkedIn Ads
Here are some of LinkedIn’s limitations as an advertising platform:
- LinkedIn’s Campaign Manager doesn’t allow day parting (running ads only during business hours or only on weekends) when targeting. (You can, however, use a third-party tool like AdStage.io to assist with that.
- Because of the smaller user base, your ads’ reach may be reduced in comparison to other social platforms you use.
Keep in mind that the more targeting layers you apply, the higher the bids and CPC — but your campaign also becomes more precise, improving chances of getting more qualified leads. Let’s discuss the bidding options further…
If you’re using LinkedIn’s self-service advertising, you can control your LinkedIn ad campaign costs in two ways:
- Budget the maximum total amount you want to spend per day
- Setting bids with the maximum amount you want to pay for each click for every 1,000 impressions (which includes two options of its own:)
- Pay-per-click (CPC), where you specify the amount you’re willing to pay per click and set a daily budget to identify the most you are willing to spend each day.
- Pay-per-1,000 impressions (CPM), where you specify a set cost for each 1,000 times your ad is shown, no matter how many clicks you receive.
How often your ads are displayed is determined by the following:
- Your CPM or CPC bid
- Performance history of your campaign (CTR)
There is no set cost for an ad campaign as it is auction-based. CPC can range between $2-$5 per click, but if you want to be a bit more aggressive, you will pay somewhere between $6-$8 per click.
The cost might be high due to less time spent on LinkedIn than other platforms like Facebook. With more ad inventory, the costs tend to decline. If you find that an ad is getting a high CTR, switch to CPM to save.
Minimum costs to advertise in Campaign Manager are as follows:
- Daily $10 budget per campaign
- $2 minimum bid for CPC or CPM
- $10 total budget per campaign (optional for Sponsored Content)
LinkedIn ads can be more expensive than Facebook and Twitter ads, it’s true. But the return on investment can be greater if you are reaching the right audience on the platform where they’re most active.
LinkedIn Ads Tracking and Optimization
You can follow all the best practices for setting up your LinkedIn ads campaign, but performance varies depending on several factors like industry, ad budget, and target audience.
Monitor and optimize your LinkedIn Campaign Manager to make sure you aren’t wasting money on low-performing campaigns, ad groups, and ads.
Metrics Available in LinkedIn Ads
LinkedIn’s campaign metrics are as follows:
- Amount Spent
- CTR (0.08-10% is considered good)
- Average Cost Per Click
- Social Actions
From the metrics above, you can determine what you might want to test further, and which ads or campaigns are underperforming.
Here are a few ideas that you can test:
Time and Day
- Run campaigns at least two weeks to get meaningful results and account for outliers or coincidental boosts
- Get a large sample set and dwindle down from there to top performers
- Run multiple tests at the same time, but make sure to have a control group and only tweak one element per test
- Various criteria and filter tweaks for your audience segments
- Rotate variations evenly, so you know top performance isn’t due to more exposure frequency
Format and Placement
- Test running different ad formats with various placements in front of the user
- Rich media images against linkshare updated with thumbnail image previews
- Images of people against images of objects
- Images with lighter backgrounds against those with darker backgrounds
- Directing reader’s eye to CTA in image vs not doing so
- Different headlines, ad copy and captions
- Adding stats or other trust factors to your update
- Varying character count, shorter versus longer
- Text overlay, though recommended to keep the text on sponsored content to a minimum
- Different calls to action
When you start A/B testing, we recommend starting with a fresh campaign. If you have an active PPC campaign, you can end it, duplicate it, and make your adjustments on the copy. This will give you cleaner metrics for comparing performance.
LinkedIn Ads Tactics and Tips
Once your campaigns are active and you’re testing your ads, you can take your performance to the next level with these advanced tactics and tips.
By creating micro-campaigns, you can reduce costs and gain more visibility. Instead of running one big campaign that reaches 100,000 people, consider running 100 micro-campaigns that reach 10,000 people each.
When you have so many campaigns running, it is a good rule of thumb to make sure that the campaign name is informative enough to tell at a glance what the content is and who you are targeting.
Choose The Right Bidding Option
Sponsored updates tend to get fewer click-throughs than other ad formats. If your goal is to get more recognition and visibility, choosing CPC can help you do so without driving up the cost.
According to SaasQuatch, if you’re more focused on lead generation, text ads with PPM bidding may be a better option. By warming them up, there’s a better chance they will already be in your marketing funnel when they click.
Also, try starting with a smaller bid and increase it as you see positive results. That way, you don’t deplete your budget too quickly. Include an end date for daily budget bids so this doesn’t happen.
Take Advantage of Freebies
Even if you aren’t on a tight budget, who says no to “free”?
Here are two freebies you will want to take advantage of:
- Under Campaign Manager Settings, if you select the checkbox under Network Updates, you can send updates to your connections and company followers and not have it count against your clicks.
- Every now and again, LinkedIn sends out a free ad credit offer.
Moving Forward from LinkedIn Ads Challenges
LinkedIn’s ad platform is kind of dated, and has room for improvement.
By default, you can only do a campaign-level or an ad-level report. LinkedIn also doesn’t offer closed loop reporting, which is important for those seeking leads or sales.
That being said, many find it more user-friendly than Twitter’s ad platform.
Even though it is a B2B platform, it has a smaller audience than Google and Facebook — and is still mostly used for recruiting. The competition is close as other platforms continue to upgrade their features, so LinkedIn will probably have to keep up on their feature upgrades and expanding their audience to continue to stay in the game.
Also, with LinkedIn publishing being so popular, it has become a hybrid between a social network and a publishing platform. Depending on your goals with LinkedIn, this could or could not work in your favor.
Either way, it appears that LinkedIn remains the top dog in advertising to B2B professionals for now, so we’ll look forward to seeing where they go from here.
If you’re using LinkedIn ads, please share your successes or lessons in the comments.