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LinkedIn Advertising Strategy & You

July 5, 2017
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Ah, LinkedIn Advertising. A platform that most mistakenly call the black sheep of SEM, myself included. I admit that during my first run at LinkedIn Ads, I was very underwhelmed. When I first dove into the user interface, it was like walking into a friend’s unfurnished apartment. Empty. Sure, it might be in a great location, surrounded by businesses and professionals, but at the end of the day your mattress is on the floor and you’re eating Easy Mac for breakfast.

It took me a little while to grasp LinkedIn Ads’ place in the SEM ecosystem. It’s not quite Facebook Ads. It’s definitely not AdWords. So that leaves us with one question – What the hell is it?

(Author’s note: I will only be focusing on LinkedIn’s Text Ads, as I have no firsthand experience with the Sponsored Update side)

In short: LinkedIn Ads is a B2B-focused advertising platform that allows its advertisers to laser-target their ads to the exact type of professional they want to serve.

If there’s one thing that LinkedIn can do better than AdWords and Facebook Ads, it’s targeting. In fact, it might be the only thing it can do better. You’re probably asking yourself how dinky little LinkedIn Ads managed to outperform Google and Facebook, the powerhouses of online advertising. Perfectly straightforward question with a surprisingly simple answer: Algorithms… or a lack thereof.

Both Google and Facebook achieved their success in the market largely because of the targeting algorithms implemented in the back-end. In layman’s terms – a very complex equation computes the “best” audience for your ads to be served to, en masse. These algorithms allow Google to serve over 30 billion ads every day (2012 numbers, it’s higher now). For the most part, the algorithms do a great job of finding appropriate masses of people to advertise to, but there’s a limit to granularity.

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LinkedIn Targeting Capabilities

If AdWords and Facebook were chainsaws, LinkedIn Ads would be a scalpel. LinkedIn is the only social media platform where professionals willingly share nearly every detail about themselves, their jobs, and their companies. Doesn’t matter how advanced the algorithm is – it’s not going to beat voluntary user-input.

There is no guesswork, no equation. If you want your ad to be served to HR Directors over the age of 25, who graduated with an MBA, working at a company with 51-100 employees in the Southwest US, that’s who is going to see your ad.

If you want your ad to be served to employees of Berkshire Hathaway with 5+ years of experience, that’s who’s going to see your ad. No question about it.

The one caveat that I have about all the praise I’m giving LinkedIn Ads targeting is that it’s heavily B2B focused. If you have a consumer product, LinkedIn Ads probably isn’t for you. You’re reaching out to a specific professional niche on a professional social network – don’t expect to be selling many jump ropes here.


Before diving in, know that B2B messaging is distinctly different from B2C messaging. Your ads and campaigns must reflect this if you’re to find any success on LinkedIn. There are manymanymany articles written about the intricacies of B2B messaging, so if you’re not familiar, be sure to take a look.

The basics of B2B messaging are:

  • Focus on the business value of the service you’re providing, not the price
  • Create trust with your messaging
  • Realize there are many people involved in the buying decision, speak to the decision-makers

So we know who to target, and how to target them. What about the ads themselves?

Unfortunately there’s not too much to cover when it comes to the actual ad creative. You get a 25 character headline, a 75 character description, and a 60×60 image to play with.

Tricks And Tips

First up, follow the B2B messaging tips I mentioned above. I’m not going to harp on this.

Second, pick a simple picture for your ad – you have very limited real estate. When researching this article, I stumbled upon this blog post claiming that pictures of business-people return the best ad performance. Pictures of businesswomen especially. I tested this on my own, and while I can’t say my results are conclusive, there is definitely a correlation between using professional headshots of women and higher CTRs. A few of my ads have seen a 200% increase in CTR when using a women’s headshot versus a branded picture. Go figure.

Third, test often. Obvious to any SEM worth their salt, but this is especially important for LinkedIn. In addition to further zeroing-in on your ideal audience and messaging, LinkedIn gives new ads an impression boost. You should be concluding your tests after a month. Keep the winner, loser gets replaced with a new test. Rinse and repeat for every campaign!

Follow these three tips, and I guarantee you’ll start seeing that abysmal CTR start creeping up. Our ads see anywhere from .002%-.035% CTR, with the low-end being general targeting. YMMV.

Wrapping Up

Before I conclude the article, I want to leave you with two cool LinkedIn Ads “hacks” that might provide you some value.

  • LinkedIn provides the cheapest impressions, bar none. If you’re looking to expand brand awareness, this is a great way to do it on a budget. Set very general targeting settings so you have a large audience, and let it run. The lack of targeting will lead to some absolutely horrible CTRs, but you could see 1 million+ impressions for around $200.
  • The laser targeting options create an opportunity to size market segments. Have you ever wondered how many people work in Real Estate in New England? LinkedIn knows. Ever wondered how many professional dog-walkers there are in San Francisco? You called it –  LinkedIn knows.

That just about covers LinkedIn advertising! As I alluded to earlier, the platform is still very barebones. I’ve read a bit about LinkedIn’s plans to expand the platform, but don’t hold your breath. In the meantime, remember the basics: be brief, communicate value, and test!

As always, we want to hear your feedback! Doesn’t matter if your LinkedIn Ads experience has been similar or very different, we want to hear it. Not too much has been written in the way of LinkedIn Advertising, so every comment counts.

Best of luck with your campaigns!



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