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How to Win at LinkedIn Ads

by Patrick Cusumano   |   Mar 13, 2018

Facebook usually dominates the paid social conversation, with Twitter a distant second. But have you considered LinkedIn for your next digital marketing initiative? Many advertisers are turning to this professional networking site—and with a sound strategy, the right businesses can excel with it.

So, should you use LinkedIn?

First, it's important to consider your product and your customer base. LinkedIn is likely a good fit if you offer a product or service to businesses and know the decision makers you're trying to reach. We generally see good results with B2B offerings, because LinkedIn reaches professionals who are sifting through relevant content in their feed. Compare this to Facebook, which usually works better for B2C products and services.

Ultimately, LinkedIn ads are highly targeted and can reach a precise audience based on geographics, demographics, job title, employer, role, skills, groups, and more. If you have an idea of your customer personas, then LinkedIn ads should certainly be in your consideration set.

How to Do LinkedIn Ads

Ready to get started? First off, you should follow LinkedIn’s account setup instructions. Next, it's time to start building your campaigns! This blog will review how to get started.

1. Target the Right Audience

If you only get one thing right, make it your audience targeting. The people you reach are arguably the most important factor in the success of your campaigns. The first targeting criteria to choose are age, gender, and location. Easy enough. But then you have 14 additional criteria you can target. So how do you choose? While I’d like to tell you there’s a magic formula, it really depends on your personas.

For example, if you're selling group health insurance to small businesses, you may want to target by company size less than 50 employees, and job titles like “owner,” “founder,” and “CEO.” If you’re looking to hire young lawyers to your firm, you may want to target people with law degrees and three to five years of experience. Or, if you are selling apartment management software, you may want to target those with the job title of “property manager” and “leasing specialist” who are part of LinkedIn groups like “Residential Property Management Professionals.”

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2. Pick the Right Ad Formats

To create a marketing funnel, reach different people for different offerings you may have, or even just to test different groups, you'll need to create multiple campaigns targeting different audiences. These campaigns need ads—so let’s look at the different ad types and when to use them.

The first decision you'll have to make is which type of ad you want to use. Let's review the three choices you have.

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content is the bread and butter of LinkedIn ads. These look very similar to other posts that appear in the newsfeed. You can either “boost” (to use a Facebook term) an existing post from your company page, or create an ad from scratch called Direct Sponsored Content. These are great because you can upload a large image to help you stand out in the newsfeed. They also offer plenty of room for text in the headline and the description that appears above the image.

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Text Ads

Text ads are the banner ads of LinkedIn and appear all around the page and can take different shapes. They allow for a small thumbnail image and a short headline. The image should be something recognizable like your logo, or a short eye-catching phrase like “Free PDF,” and your headline should be just as to the point about who you are or the offer you’re promoting.

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Sponsored InMail

Sponsored InMail ads appear in users’ inboxes as a direct message. The greetings are customized to the user, and like Gmail ads, allow plenty of room for a message, an image, and a CTA button. You can even attach a lead form to these if you’d like.

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3. Ongoing Optimization

Once you launch your campaigns, you’ll start gathering data. This data can be used to inform your decisions as you make changes and continually work to improve results. To make sure you’re getting as much helpful data as possible, you’ll want to set up conversion tracking. This will allow you to see right in the LinkedIn Ads interface which campaigns and ads are generating meaningful actions on your website. And to get an even better understanding of user behavior in Google Analytics, be sure to append UTM parameters to the ends of your ad URLs.

With tracking in place and the ability to identify the top performing campaigns and ads, it’s time to test. Without the multitude of options we have in paid search and display, the only three main aspects to test are ads, audiences, and budget settings.

Ads

It's best practice to run at least two different ads in the same campaign at a time. That way, you can compare results and determine which sort of messaging or imagery resonates best with your audience. You can run nearly identical ads with just one difference between them for a precise test on one ad element. Or you can run completely different ads with unique messages, images, and CTAs.

The main metric ad tests affect is CTR, with conversion rate as a secondary metric unless you’re testing lead ads where the conversion happens right on the ad itself. To test conversion rate directly for the other ad formats takes a landing page test. To do this, you run identical ads with different destination URLs, and then compare the conversion rates knowing the only difference in the user experience was the page on which they arrived to the site.

Audiences

Audience tests help you hone in on the most responsive portions of your target and are especially useful if you’re casting a wide net to start. The main tactic here is to create identical campaigns with different targets. You can of course do this with any aspect of the audience and multiple at once if you’d like. By testing the same messaging on different subsets of your target audience, you'll learn which locations, age groups, positions, education levels, companies, are most responsive to your brand. From there you can trim off the less valuable portions of the audience and focus on what works.

Alternatively, you may discover that different subsets of the audience are equally responsive, but to different messaging. The accountants might like to be spoken to differently than the lawyers. Or the users in more populated areas may be interested in different products or promotions than those in more rural areas. In this case, you don’t need to cut them out, but make new campaigns catering specifically to their needs. If your audience is too small to do this kind of testing, a test in and of itself can be enabling Audience Expansion. This option allows LinkedIn to go beyond your targets and add users to your audience who it believes are similar to your targets. And the LinkedIn Audience Network can place your ads on LinkedIn partner sites. Remember to mark the dates you enable and disable these so you can compare results with and without the features.

Budget Settings

The “Bid and Budget” tab has a few options to try, not so much in an A/B test fashion, but to compare against past performance. The first option is bid type. The go-to for most users here is CPC. But there may be some merit to testing CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions) for a bit. If your CPCs are rising and your impression count isn’t that high, it may be worth testing if CPM actually ends up saving you money on ad spend.

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Need Help With Paid Ads on LinkedIn?

There are thousands of potential customers waiting for you on LinkedIn. And if you’ve made it this far, I’m sue the brainstorm brewing in your head is ready to be unleashed. While this blog provides an overview of implementing a successful LinkedIn advertising strategy, there are still some things you can do to make the most of your efforts.

Download our guide below to learn more about LinkedIn Ads.

Drive better leads with LinkedIn advertising.

Our guide teaches you how to target the right audience and win at paid social advertising.

portrait of Patrick Cusumano

Patrick Cusumano

Patrick joined the Workshop Digital team in May 2015. He discovered his passion for the industry while competing in the Google Online Marketing Challenge at James Madison University, where he earned his B.B.A. in Marketing. That passion leads him to find unique opportunities for his clients, and generate innovative digital marketing strategies to help drive their businesses forward.