Why use LinkedIn ads to help find new prospects and nurture leads?
Let’s start with why you might want your brand engaging on the platform period.
LinkedIn has a large user base to tap into with more than 450 million users compared with 1.86 billion users on Facebook and 319 million users on Twitter. Although not hitting Facebook user numbers, 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, so let’s get more granular with our research…
Who is really part of the LinkedIn user base?
Hootsuite and Statista note some recent LinkedIn user stats:
- Device: 57% of LinkedIn traffic is 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: 56% of LinkedIn users are men, 44% are women
- Company Usage: 57% of companies have a LinkedIn company page, but only 17% of U.S. small businesses utilize the platform.
- Buyer Intent: 50% of B2B buyers use LinkedIn when making purchasing decisions
- Income: 45% of U.S. Internet users with an household income of more than 75,000 USD used LinkedIn
- Age: 20% of U.S. Internet users aged 65 years and older used LinkedIn
- Frequency: 80% of 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 worthwhile platform to add to your marketing mix.
History of LinkedIn’s Growth Over Time
Is LinkedIn going to 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, but since has grown to be a major driver of B2B lead generation.
Let’s take a look at some LinkedIn growth stats:
- LinkedIn’s net revenue from 1st quarter 2009 to 3rd quarter 2016 (in million U.S. dollars) shows growth.
- Worldwide revenue of LinkedIn by business segment (in million U.S. dollars) shows recruitment still being its primary function, but the marketing segment picking up some steam.
But what about, specifically, its growth or decline with regard to advertising?
- LinkedIn advertising revenue increased from 155.9 million to 581.3 million U.S. dollars from 2011 to 2015.
- LinkedIn’s ad revenue grew by 29% in the first quarter of 2016 due to nearly 80% revenue growth in sponsored content alone.
- From 2013-2017, there is a decrease in LinkedIn’s ad revenue as a share of total social network ad revenues in the U.S.
It seems that LinkedIn has had a pretty positive growth when siloed, but still has trouble catching up when compared with other platforms such as Facebook. Analysts project that revenue growth for LinkedIn’s 2018 fiscal year will be below 20%, not growing as fast as it has historically — so this is leaving some skeptical on whether to continue engaging and advertising on the platform, despite prior growth numbers.
4 Examples of Successful LinkedIn Ad Campaigns
So, we’ve shown people are using the LinkedIn ad platform, but are they actually seeing any results?
Here are a few examples of brands that found success utilizing LinkedIn ads…
HubSpot Case Study
When HubSpot utilized LinkedIn sponsored updates to engage marketing professionals in small- to medium- sized businesses, they found this ad type provided more high quality leads (400% more, to be exact) than any other paid media platform they were currently engaging.
The following proved to be beneficial to their LinkedIn ads campaign success:
- 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
Spredfast Case Study
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.
They were able to achieve the following LinkedIn ads campaign results:
- 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.
— Heathe Hildebrand, Senior Marketing Manager at Spredfast
VistaVu Solutions Case Study
VistaVu Solutions sought to reach a niche audience that supports the oilfield services industry, but was running into the challenge of differentiating itself as a frontrunner in a crowded marketplace.
Through LinkedIn Display Advertising and Sponsored InMails, they saw the following LinkedIn ads campaign results:
- 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 ⅕ of 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
Utah State University Case Study
Utah State University wanted a way to effectively communicate the value of its programs to a limited pool of qualified candidates in a highly competitive marketplace, and utilized Display Ads and Sponsored InMails to deliver details about the the MBA program’s approach that would drive clicks to a landing page for those to request more information.
Through zeroing in on professionals with less than five years work experience and a key demographic for graduate program marketing, the university experienced the following LinkedIn ads campaign success:
- 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’re interested in getting started with LinkedIn ads?
First and foremost, before you set up LinkedIn ads, make sure you have a LinkedIn company page, especially if looking to utilize sponsored content. You can also create 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 2 LinkedIn advertising types:
- Self-Service Advertising
- Advertising Partner Solutions
When choosing which route to go, consider budget, time constraints, and platform advertising experience.
There are 7 LinkedIn ad formats to help raise brand awareness, build relationships, drive traffic and qualified leads:
1) Text Ads
2) Sponsored Content
3) Sponsored InMail
Advertising Partner Solutions
4) Display Ads – Premium
5) Join-Group Ads
6) Recommendations Ads
7) Follow Company Ads
LinkedIn Text Ads
LinkedIn text ads appear on the right sidebar or bottom of homepage, which is an area users have grown accustomed to seeing ads placed. That being said, users may become banner-blind and these ads 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.
The LinkedIn Text Ad anatomy consists of:
- 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.
Even though text ads may seem to be an archaic ad format, keep in mind:
- Text ads that have a lower CTR might actually have a higher conversion rate
- Text ads might be more budget friendly than sponsored content
- Text ads are generally good for desktop-only offers
You can find a Best Practices Checklist for LinkedIn Text Ads here to improve chances of success with this ad format.
LinkedIn Sponsored Content
LinkedIn Sponsored Content (an ad format introduced in 2013) is similar to Facebook newsfeed ads or Twitter sponsored tweets in that it it takes on native advertising form and function. Native advertising seems to be the trend for advertisers in 2017.
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.
The LinkedIn Sponsored Content anatomy consists of:
- Intro (128 characters)
- Headline (36 characters)
- Description (155 characters)
- Photo (200 pixels wide on desktop, little wider on mobile)
You have a choice to either select an update already created with 600 characters plus an image, or create a 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 might view your company page.
You also have a choice 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. Given this, determining what might be best to present right off the bat and what is better to present after a user interaction or click could be a decision that greatly impacts performance.
Test at least 4 creative variations at once in one LinkedIn ads campaign. A resolution of 1200 x 627 pixels will render best on the platform. So that text isn’t cut off, make sure in safe areas of 1000 x 586. Since your photo is bigger than the typical text ad, you want to make sure to take advantage of this valuable real estate in the ad.
It is important to know whether engagement comes from a boost or organic reach with LinkedIn Sponsored Content, so use unique tracking parameters to keep your source tracking clear. Even if you are getting good engagement on organic reach alone, this engagement provides a benefit of social proof if you choose to boost. Also, you only pay for the first interaction on your ad when someone shares it, so you can increase some engagement without having to pay more.
You can find other Best Practices for LinkedIn Sponsored Content here to improve chances of success with this ad format.
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 is good for boosting event registrations with personalized invites, offering more targeted product or service promotions, and promoting content downloads.
LinkedIn has set a limit for number of sponsored InMails that a user can receive in certain time period (i.e. one InMail per user every 60 days), so you might 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.
LinkedIn Display Ads
Display ads allow you to enhance visual elements of your ads with images, videos and placement. Linkedin allows advertisers to have a video in the sidebar that pops out on click to show video advertisement, which is no longer than 20 seconds in length.
LinkedIn notes that having an image in an ad will drive 20% more clicks. 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.
The standard LinkedIn Display Ad anatomy consists of:
- Headline (25 characters)
- Ad Copy (75 characters)
- Photo (50 x 50) or Video
- Destination URL
If utilizing more premium display ads, you have 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
- On Homepages
- On Profile Pages
- On Company Pages
- On Group Pages
- On Message Pages
- On Bottom of Certain Feeds
- On 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.
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.
The Join-Group Ad anatomy consists of:
- Name of Group
- Brief Description of Topics Discussed in the Group
- Clear CTA Button Asking Users to Join
If you’re trying to get more exposure or sales on a particular product or service, recommendation ads might be a better ad format for you.
The Recommendation Ad anatomy consists of:
- Company Name
- Company Product/Service
- Amount of People Who Recommended
- Buttons for Users to Recommend or Share
- Images of the Product/Service
- Images of Those Who Have Recommended
You might consider securing at least a decent number of recommendations before utilizing recommendations ads. If others aren’t recommending a product or service, why would you?
Follow Company Ads
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 to go. They appear on the user page encouraging them to follow your company. 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.
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 (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, although it gives you more reach, disabling this “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 socials 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.
Lead Accelerator’s annual contract requires a minimum of $35,000, so it is a pricey feature to utilize.
Targeting Comparisons and Limitations
If you are considering multiple channels to market through, it is worthwhile to compare targeting on LinkedIn with that of 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 isn’t the only platform that allows 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:
- More people probably enter career and education related information on LinkedIn than other social platforms
- LinkedIn allows you to 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.
- 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.
Along with the benefits of using LinkedIn, here are some limitations:
- LinkedIn’s Campaign Manager doesn’t allow day parting (running ads only during business hours or only on weekends) when targeting — but you can use a third-party tool like AdStage.io to assist with that.
- The user base and, therefore, reach may be less, since there are less users on LinkedIn than Facebook.
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 utilizing LinkedIn’s self-service advertising, you can control your LinkedIn ads campaign’s cost in 2 ways:
- Setting budgets with a 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 2 options:
- 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 inventory of ads, the costs tend to be lower. 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:
- $10 daily budget per campaign
- $10 total budget per campaign (optional for Sponsored Content)
- $2 minimum bid for CPC or CPM
LinkedIn ads may tend to be more expensive than Facebook and Twitter ads — but the return on investment could be greater if you are reaching the right audience on the platform they are most active.
LinkedIn Ads Tracking and Optimization
You can follow all the best practices for setting up a 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, adgroups and ads.
What are the different LinkedIn ad platform metrics?
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 of what 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 text on sponsored content to a minimum
- Different calls to action
When A/B testing, we recommend you not to change a current PPC campaign — but instead, end the current one, duplicate it, and make any adjustments on the new one. This will give you cleaner metrics when comparing performance.
LinkedIn Ads 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 Right Bidding Option
Sponsored updates tend to get less 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 are more focused on lead generation, text ads with PPM bidding may be a better route to go. Warm them up and when they click, there is a better chance they will already be in your marketing funnel.
It is recommended that you start with a smaller bid and increase as you see positive results. That way, you don’t deplete your budget too quickly. Include an end date for daily budget bids, to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Take Advantage of Freebies
Even if you aren’t on a budget, who would say 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 platforms is kind of dated, so there is room for improvement. By default, you can only do a campaign-level or an ad-level report. It 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 primarily still used for recruiting. The competition seems close with other platforms continuing to upgrade their features as well, 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 LinkedIn remains top dog for B2B professionals in 2017, so we look forward to seeing where they go from here. If you have utilized LinkedIn ads, please share your successes or lessons in the comments.