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LinkedIn Advertising Best Practices

By Ryan Nicholson

Feb 18, 2016

About 18 minutes

Follow LinkedIn's ad tips and waste money or follow these and get the best results on your spend. Read on for a smarter LinkedIn Sponsored content strategy.
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Table of Contents

Native advertising on LinkedIn gives organizations the opportunity to serve social media updates directly into the feeds of targeted LinkedIn members. Here are 7 simple rules for successful content and offer promotion using LinkedIn & advertising on LinkedIn.

Rule #1:

LinkedIn Advertising is Still Social Media

This is as good of a place as any to start. You may want to think of these as pure ad campaigns but they are not. A LinkedIn Sponsored Update campaign should be viewed from the perspective of a social media campaign. This sounds simple right?

It might sound simple, but it's a challenge for many organizations. Why? Because 1) they aren't doing social media very well in the first place, and 2) they expect to be successful just because they can now specifically target their posts to a wider audience.

To do LinkedIn Sponsored Updates well, it helps if you're already doing a good job at being social on LinkedIn. Check out our other article on how to share content on LinkedIn Company Pages to learn how to get better at social sharing.

When you treat a LinkedIn ad like an advertising campaign and forget that it's social media, you're breaking the number one rule of native advertising.

If you consider what makes your organic social media great and consider the benefits of "relevance score," then you're on your way to social media advertising success. Let's take a look at how this all works together.

Organic Social Media Is a Great Leading Indicator for Ad Performance

This advertising is optimal when it looks as natural as possible inside of the social media feeds of your target audience.

Your best performing updates in organic social media are your easiest opportunities for success when it comes to advertising promotion.

  • Look for successful updates that helped garner a lot of likes, clicks, and possibly conversions. 
  • If a successful organic update aligns with your advertising goals, then sponsor it.
  • If your best updates don't match with your strategic advertising initiatives, consider what made those updates different and try to replicate that.

To get an idea of what's worked for others check out this gallery of LinkedIn Sponsored Updates.

Rule #2:

Clearly Define Your Goals

When you decide to build out an ad campaign on LinkedIn, you should have some goals in mind. Knowing your numbers is going to help you understand how successful your campaign is and make projections prior to launch.

Metrics to get to know

  • Click through Rate: clicks/impressions - This is your total number of clicks divided by impressions. Most of your paid clicks are clicks to your destination page, some of your paid clicks are clicks to your company page. Your rates will vary, but I usually see 80-90% or more go to the destination page. 
  • Engagement Rate: total engagement/impressions - This is the sum total of all engagement divided by the number of impressions. This includes clicks, likes, shares, follows, comments.
  • Cost Per Click - CPC is the amount you paid for a click
  • Cost Per Thousand Impressions - CPM is the amount you pay for 1000 impressions. 
  • Total Spent - How much you spent for your clicks and/or impressions
  • Conversion Rate - if you're trying to get visitors to convert on content or an offer then you'll want to understand the percentage of visits who perform a desired action--like filling out a form.
  • Cost Per Conversion - For paid campaigns this can be done in a couple of ways:
    • Simple version: total advertising spend divided by number of conversions
    • Slightly more complex: total advertising spend+content And/OR offer fulfillment costs divided by number of conversions
  • Responder to Marketing Qualified Lead - The percentage of responders on your landing page who turn into MQLs
  • MQL to SAL Percentage - The percentage of marketing qualified leads that convert into sales accepted leads
  • SAL to SQL - The percentage of sales accepted leads that turn into sales qualified leads
  • SQL to Win - The percentage of sales qualified leads that result in closed business
  • Average Deal Size - How much is an average win given your advertised offer
  • Total Lifetime Value of Customer - A best guess at future net profit based on your current average customer retention time and average customer profit per year.

If you don't know your metrics, then you're going to have to work backwards from your campaign results to figure out how well your campaign did. If this is the case, it's best to start out with a pilot project and experiment with it.

Knowing your metrics will help you build native advertising campaigns with clearly defined goals.

Goals for Achieving Conversions

If your goal is to achieve conversions, then understanding your current marketing metrics is extremely important

Knowing your metrics will help you determine the click rates and click costs that you need to meet for your advertising effort to be profitable. If you don't know these numbers, then this will be a bit of an experiment.

Goals for Achieving Impressions and Engagement

Not all campaigns are created to attain conversions. Here are some other goals that advertisers try to achieve with LinkedIn Sponsored Updates.

  • Branding and brand awareness
  • Social media engagement - likes, shares, comments
  • New company page followers
  • Getting users to join your LinkedIn group

Regardless of your ultimate goal, it's important to establish a value for the actions that you're trying to drive so that you can make the most out of your CPC or CPM costs.

Rule #3:

Think About Your LinkedIn Audience

Specific targeting is one of the reasons why LinkedIn Sponsored updates is so valuable. The precision of your targeting is only limited by the fact that you need to find at least 300 LinkedIn members in your target audience to launch a campaign.

Do Not Listen to LinkedIn's Audience Tips

A quick note of advice here: Do not listen to LinkedIn's recommendation that you should have at least 70,000 people in your audience for your campaign to be effective.

Your campaign will work best when you have targeted updates going to a targeted audience. If that means you're only targeting 500 users in a certain industry, within a certain title area, with certain skills, in a handful of selected states...then do that.

LinkedIn's goal is to get you to spend money. Yours is to pinpoint your best-fit audience and attract them with content and offers that resonate with them. Don't expand your audience arbitrarily.

Native Advertising - Target like a Pro

Who are you trying to attract to your content or offers? This is one of the most important questions to consider when you're developing out your strategy. To drive optimal performance for your native ad campaign, you should follow the concept of multi-factor targeting when building your content and selecting your audience.

For the best results, you should combine any or all of the targeting segments below (there are more segmentation possibilities, but these are some of my favorites). A simple combination to start with is Persona+Industry.

Industry Targeting

This is an easy place to start. If you can build your content and offers around a specific set of interests for people in a specific industry, you'll see targeted gains, not generic cross-industry content. 

Persona Targeting

If you haven't sat down and tried to create a buyer persona, try it out with this buyer persona guide. The knowledge you gain from building your own will help you develop a sound native advertising strategy that is targeted to the audience or audiences you have in mind. 

Persona targeting is so important for success that the next 4 rules will be devoted to understanding behavioral advertising targeting. 

Skill and Group Targeting

Skill and group targeting come in handy when you're trying to do precision targeting. Consider which endorsed skills your target audience might have. Think about which LinkedIn groups they might be members of and what that membership says about their interests and motivations.

Geographic Targeting

Geographic targeting can be helpful if you have highly location-specific content or offers. By segmenting your content and offers by city or state, for instance, you should see a slight uptick in your success metrics compared to offers with non-specific or general  geographic targeting. 

Audience Targeting Golden Rule

Aim to build campaigns that target a persona plus one additional non-company demographic targeting factor. Many advertisers try to go as broad as possible. Generic content and offers will yield generic results. Try to get as specific to your target audience as your content/offer creation budget will allow.

Audience targeting on LinkedIn can help increase engagement rates, especially when your content or offers target multiple factors at a time.

Rule #4:

Consider the Channel of Distribution

Behavioral Targeting for LinkedIn

One-size-fits all content doesn't consider an important factor of behavioral targeting: What is the intent of your audience on a given channel? 

People will react to your content and offers in different ways depending on where they find them. Someone who finds a specific page on your website may convert more than someone who traveled from that same offer from one of your blog articles.

A Facebook follower is going to engage with different kinds of content and in different ways than a LinkedIn follower. Since we're taking about LinkedIn here, let's consider these questions:

  • Why do people log into LinkedIn?
  • Why would my target personas log into LinkedIn?
  • What do my target personas do on LinkedIn?
  • What do I know about their buying intent?

Think about why you log into LinkedIn. Users are there for a variety of reasons. Some of the top ones are to look for jobs, to look for new hires, to network and catch up with colleagues, and to try to sell things.

Very few of your LinkedIn targets logged into the social network specifically thinking about solving a business problem for the company they work for. Even fewer of them are going there for specific product research. 

While your solution and/or product based content and offers may get some uptake from a very small subset of a very specific audience on LinkedIn, don't expect a lot of engagement. LinkedIn can be a great way to target your precise B2B buyer personas with product and service based marketing. But to do so effectively, you must know your conversion metrics. 

If you're going to use LinkedIn Sponsored Updates for middle and bottom of the funnel content and/or offers, consider taking the following routes:

  1. Have a great offer for your audience (something so good it hurts a bit to give it away). Something that is actually going to cost you time, money, and resources and will be perceived as valuable by your target audience.
  2. Avoid "giving away" sales calls disguised as consultations. People see right through these offers.
  3. Know your goals and your percentages. The advertising could get very expensive very quickly with either cost-per-click or cost-per-thousand-impression bidding. If you're shooting for conversions then make sure you pay attention to your cost-per-conversion. Make sure the costs justify your results. This includes the costs associated with any content or offers that you're giving away.

It's very important to know your numbers and to make sure you're getting the pulse of your campaign results. This will help you make quick pivots if you see that you aren't achieving your targeted metrics. 

What Type of LinkedIn Advertising Should You Choose?

A few years ago, LinkedIn's self-service ad inventory was limited. Today they have many ad formats to choose from depending on your objective. These include:

  • LinkedIn Sponsored Updates--These ads appear in the social media feed of LinkedIn members
    • Single Image Ad
    • Carousel image ad
    • Video Ad
  • Follower Ads
  • Spotlight ads
  • Message ad--aka, LinkedIn Sponsored InMail
  • Text Ads

For a rundown on each advertising type read my latest blog: LinkedIn Advertising Formats - Which One is Right for You

Rule #5:

Find the Intersection of the Personal and the Professional

Rule #5 is similar to rule #4. Where rule #4 focuses on the channel, #5 gets to the heart of why the person is using the channel. What are the personal and professional drivers, not just the ones that brought them to the channel, but that motivate them in their day-to-day lives?

For the best engagement rates, you're going to need to put your strategy hat on. You've thought about the persona, you've honed your targeting, and even considered user behavior on the channel. How do you put this all together to create great content and offers that create brand engagement on LinkedIn?

By finding the intersection of the personal and the professional, you'll be able to craft focused offers that will entice a higher percentage of desired actions.

Building Content and Offers for the Persona, Not the Business Pain

Remember that you're not marketing to a business with pain. You're trying to market to a person on a professional social media network. What are their drivers? Why did they log into LinkedIn?

Once you brainstorm with your sales people and your strategy team, you should be able to come up with a handful of consistent themes that will appeal to your buyer personas. Let's dive into a few in the next section.

LinkedIn Offer and Content Brainstorming - Themes to Consider

What are some themes that work well on LinkedIn? Here are some themes that we've found success with:

  • Professional advice from industry leaders
  • Professional skill enhancement and resume building tips
  • Tips on hiring/Tips on firing
  • Tips on getting hired/Tips on avoiding getting fired
  • Content and offers catered towards group membership or endorsed skills
  • Content and offers geared toward industry, role, and seniority

Finding the best recipe for you may take some testing. Aligning your message themes with your marketing workflows may take some imagination. Be ready to try out multiple messages and different content and offer directions. The marketplace of clicks will tell you what's working and what's not.

Rule #6:

Test Multiple Updates with Direct Sponsored Content

Build Content Specific to Your Audience

The direct sponsored content feature allows you to test multiple variations of your message. This feature allows you to post updates that are ONLY seen by your targeted ad audience. They're invisible to the followers of your page.

This allows you to test different copy and/or image versions of your posts without filling up the feeds of your followers with the same message. Don't just post one version of your update, cross your fingers, and hope for the best! Be creative!

Test Out Different Messages

Try different headlines, test different social media copy, swap out meta-descriptions, and adjust your images to see what post variations get the best results. This can help you increase your click-through-rates and decrease your cost-per-click. Experimenting with different copy and images over time can also help inform your overall social media strategy.

Your audience will "vote" for what post variations they like with their clicks, likes, shares, and follows. Think of direct sponsored content as a your social media laboratory.

Build Unique Visuals for Your LinkedIn Content

Part of your message testing will be trying out different visuals for your posts. Whether it's the post image that renders from your landing page, an update image that you upload, or an image or file attached post, try to make sure that it's unique. This will help your message stand out inside of users' feeds. 

How do you know which images are the most appealing? Try out multiple versions, and let your audience decide. Direct sponsored content will allow you to test out messages where everything is the same EXCEPT for the image. This will give you some insight into what drives engagement. 

Rule #7:

Align Your Landing Page with Your Advertising

Symmetry in Online Marketing

If you're attempting to drive clicks to a landing page or other content, then make sure that your pages are in alignment with your post copy and images. Here is an interesting experiment on the impact of symmetry in online marketing

Make sure that the page visitor isn't having an incongruous experience. This can happen when you send them to a page that isn't aligned with the messaging that they clicked on. 

The basics of this rule go something like this:

  • Make sure your visuals are similar between your update and your destination page
  • Make sure that your copy is similar between your update and your destination page

Audience Targeting Alignment

I'll call this part of the rule: lesson learned (the hard way).

That is because I've broken this one in the past. Clients have asked to target multiple personas across a variety of industries, and I've tried to improve our CTR by building targeted ad sets with targeted copy variations. 

While this can help lead to better click-through-rates, your conversion rates will probably hover at around the same rates. When your targeted audience gets to a generic landing page that fails to speak to them, this poor user experience will hurt your conversion numbers. It's much better to build offers that align with your audience segmentation than to try and bait-and-switch them with social media updates that don't align with your landing pages.

LinkedIn Sponsored Update Benchmarks

I've developed these tips from using and LinkedIn Sponsored updates since August of 2014. Since then, I've managed hundreds of thousands of dollars in client and internal spend. Based on my experience, here are some achievement benchmarks that you can strive for if you take these rules to heart:

  • CTRs between 0.60 and 1%. (I worry when CTR dips below 0.20%)
  • Cost-per-click in the $10-20 range. I've seen lows in the $5-$10 range and highs in the $30-$40 range for very competitive audiences and generic content/offer promotions.
  • The ability to move to more cost-effective CPM model with some targeting segments.
  • 0.60-1.5% engagement rates.
  • Conversions for great TOFU content from 20-55%, on average shoot for over 10%.
  • Conversions for middle and bottom of funnel content and offers in the 0.20-1% rate (based on total clicks).

LinkedIn Content Strategy Session

Are you looking to achieve these kinds of numbers now without months of trial and error?

Reach out to our sales team, and let's set up a time for a consultation to talk about your native advertising content strategy. Mention in the notes section of the form that you're interested in a content assessment and/or content strategy session, and one of my team members will reach out to you to discuss your options. 


Tags: LinkedIn, advertising, social media marketing