How B2B tech marketers succeed with LinkedIn advertising in 2021

Cecilia Bylund • 1 Mar, 2021

This is a transcription based on the joint webinar we had with AJ Wilcox, founder of, where we learned how B2B tech companies can succeed with their LinkedIn advertising.  

Why should you use LinkedIn ads? 

LinkedIn has by far the best business targeting of any platform out there and it's at a lot of scale. Especially here in North America, we see like 95% of white collar professionals will have a LinkedIn account. And in Europe I know it's less, but it's growing really significantly, so if you're looking for access at scale to exactly the right people, LinkedIn is a great one. 

The other one is we as users, we tend to keep our profiles up to date. So as advertisers, we know that we're not wasting a lot of our impressions on someone who used to have that job title six months ago, but has since changed jobs. When someone's on LinkedIn, they're thinking about their job, they're thinking about their career. And so when you give them offers that help them in their job or their career, they're a lot more open to it. And so, you're reaching them really at the right time. 

And then finally, LinkedIn, every time we've studied it, it always closes the largest deal sizes. So think of LinkedIn like you're hunting for whales and not fishing with a net and getting lots of small fish. LinkedIn is very much for the big fish. 

But the big challenge that most face immediately with LinkedIn is it's really expensive. In North America, we pay an average of eight to $12 per click when someone engages with our ads. And in Europe, it's significantly less, thank goodness, other parts of the world. But if you're going to be advertising to a North American audience, be aware that it's expensive and it will take a lot more budget to generate the data you need to see that it's working and optimize. 

Because of the high costs, we know that you probably want to make sure you have a large lifetime value of a customer or a large deal size. In North America, we say that that's $15,000 or more, as a lifetime value means that LinkedIn is going to be a really good answer for you. But also, as you go in Europe, and Asia, and South America where the costs are lower, then that lifetime value requirement can go lower as well. 

How do you succeed with LinkedIn ads? 

With every sort of social media campaign, there are three things that you need, and I use the acronym, A-M-O, and it stands for your Audience, your Message, and your Offer. The audience is really who you're targeting, and this is why we pay LinkedIn a premium to access their advertising because it's access to this premium audience. The message is really what you decide to show to your prospect, so what kind of ad format you use what, what text, or video, or imagery you decide to use. 

But by far, the most important is the offer. And this is really, you can think of it like, what's your call to action is this? Are you asking them to view a blog post? Are you asking them to talk to a sales rep, or buy something, or something in between? So, we'll go into a lot more depth there, but, your offer is by far your most important part. 

What ad formats works best?  

As we explore some of the ad formats, we have available to us, there's like 12 combinations, or maybe even more of the different ad formats. What I want to share with you are the few that you should care about. And what I've done here on the slide, you can see this ad format is 95% recommended. I would recommend that everyone start with this ad unit as you're testing things out. 

Single image sponsored content
Regarding to single image sponsored content. It shows up in the newsfeed with an intro text above, a headline text below, and then a big image that pretty much stretches across the whole screen on mobile devices, and on desktop, it looks like this that you see on screen. It's a great middle ground. You can pretty much offer anything and it's not the least expensive ad format, and it's not the most expensive. It's just right there in between and gets a lot of views and eyeballs. 

Text ads
The next most recommended is called text ads. The text ads are only 15% recommended, so you can see how far we've jumped from 95% of the time you should be using a single image sponsored content to 15% of the time the next ad format. But these are so great because they're low risk. They are the cheapest ad format on LinkedIn, but they also get a really low click through rate. And because of that, they can't spend very much unless you have a massive audience. 

So as opposed to the eight to $12 per click that you might pay targeting a North American audience with sponsored content, with text ads, you'll probably pay between about three to $5. So significantly less expensive. Pay attention to that click through rate here on the screen, 0.025%. What that means is two-and-a-half clicks out of every 10,000 times these ads are shown. So very little engagement, but they work so well as a compliment to your sponsored content ads. You can think of it as a lot of free branding impressions. 

Dynamic ads
Then you have dynamic ads. I really only recommend these once you've already taken advantage of the newsfeed ads, the sponsored content. But if you need to grow your followers, this is the best ad format for it. There's an ad format where you can see it, it takes your picture as a prospect and sticks into the ad, so it's a little bit more eye-catching. And you can have a direct like follow this company button, which is pretty exciting. But otherwise, I don't recommend it a whole lot. 

Sponsored messaging 
Then you have a class of ads called sponsored messaging. And as opposed to the other ads that I've shown you, where you can tell LinkedIn, I'm only willing to pay when someone clicks on and engages with my ad. With these sponsored messaging ads though, you pay per person that you send them to. So they look a lot less expensive. You can see here on the slide, in North America, we pay an average of 35 to 65 cents to send a message to someone, but then they have to see that they got it. 

And then they have to open that message, it's like an email, and then they have to click on what we're asking them to click on. So if you do that math, these on average become LinkedIn's most expensive ads. So I don't recommend them a whole lot of the time, unless you have a really special VIP offer. It feels very personal, it feels very exciting. If it comes across like a spam email would it's not going to work very well. 

So message ads are really like an email, you pay to send someone an email to their LinkedIn messaging. But the next one I want to show you is conversation ads. Now, with conversation ads, it works the same way, except you ask them a question and you can have multiple responses there. So this example on screen, you can see for Samsung, someone can click to find out more. Or they can say, "I already have this phone." 

Newsfeed ads
Then we have some other sponsored content or newsfeed ads. Video ads are extremely popular on Facebook and on YouTube, and they're very inexpensive. On LinkedIn, they work very much the same way, but they're not inexpensive at all. We pay an average of like 10 to 25 cents in North America again. This is where I have all my benchmarks, sorry, but to get people to watch for at least two seconds. Make sure that you've really tested your video, maybe on other channels, maybe organically before you try it on LinkedIn, at least through ads, because video ads can be significantly more expensive than static.  

So, start with static and test into video is really my recommendation. I tend to recommend, unless you need multiple calls to action in an ad, probably don't waste your time with the carousel ads. 

Lead gen forms
Then any kind of newsfeed ad, so sponsored content or any of the sponsored messaging ads, you can attach, what's called a lead gen form to it. And the lead gen form ads make it so when someone interacts with your ad, a drawer will slide down and auto-fill so they'll be able to see these questions, a form. And LinkedIn will auto fill everything they know about the person to make it so easy, so all they have to do is say like, "Click the submit button. Yes, I'm interested."

And because you didn't have to take them to another website and wait for it to load, because they stay on LinkedIn and there's a lot of trust on LinkedIn, we tend to see conversion rates that are significantly higher. So you might notice 10 to 50% higher conversion rates by using these, which is awesome. But also realize, you're asking so much less of someone in order to get them to convert on one of these ads. And because of that, their exposure to your brand will be less, and so your sales team might say that these leads are a little bit lower in quality. 

So be aware, you're going to get a higher number of leads. They might not be as qualified, but they still will obey the targeting that you set up in your LinkedIn ads. Of course, when someone enters their information into one of these forms and it goes out, that information stays on LinkedIn. And then you, as the marketer, you have to get that information out.  

So if you use Eloqua, Marketo, Salesforce, HubSpot, Microsoft Dynamics, those all have a native integration where you can get the leads out of LinkedIn and into your CRM or marketing automation system. But if you don't have one of those platforms, the integration or their $20 per month plan, that can integrate into about anything. 

How do you succeed with the targeting?

Now we get into the exciting part, which is the targeting. This is why we pay LinkedIn a premium price that we do. We can target people by their job titles, what levels of seniority they are. Individual skills that they've listed on their profile or groups that they've joined by name. What department they work in. You can target their company sizes, their industries. You can even target by specific company names. 

We've been able to do this on LinkedIn since 2008. While account-based marketing is all the rage right now, it's fun to know that we've been able to do this for quite a while. We have education and demographics, and everything on this slide, it's only about a fifth of all of the targeting options that LinkedIn has available. So, there's a lot there.  

And we get to use them in combination with each other, like you can say, "They have to have this job title and to be at this company size, and be in this industry to get really micro-targeted, and I love that. You can also exclude by a lot of these segments as well. So you can do things like, "Hey, LinkedIn, here's a list of all of my competitors. Make sure that my competitors don't see my ads." That's pretty cool. 

Because LinkedIn has so many different ways to target, we have about four that we like to use all the time and try to test into. Because each is going to have a little bit different of a personality or a nuance. Job titles, for instance, we know it's very, very precise. But we also know that LinkedIn only understands about 30% of job titles. So, if you're targeting only by job title, you're going to miss about 70% of your ideal audience. 

And it's also the first targeting facet that pretty much every marketer rushes to when they first try out LinkedIn ads, because job titles make a lot of sense to us. And what that means is it's going to get more competitive. So you'll pay a higher price to use job title targeting. On the other end of the spectrum, if you target them by their department and seniority, it's a lot more broad. LinkedIn understands probably 99% of people's departments or job functions as they call it. 

So it's the most broad, which also means it's going to be the least expensive and it's going to give you access to a lot of volume. Then you have two that are in between targeting by a skill with a level of seniority and targeting by groups either with seniority or without. And groups, if you've gone out of your way to go and join a group about a specific topic, chances are, you are really excited about that topic and it makes for a good targeting, but not very many people are active on groups and not very many people go and join groups, so it's going to give you some lower volume. 

We like to try setting up this targeting like all four different ways of targeting if we can, to a specific persona. And what we learn is we find some where the lead quality might be higher or somewhere the click costs can be lower. Or some that bring us more volume and they're more predictable. So I would recommend, try to test around with your targeting and see if you can find a way to reach your ideal audience that your competitors would not. 

I mentioned at the beginning that your offer was by far the most important thing about your campaign on LinkedIn, and this is absolutely the case. What you can see here up on screen is all different kinds of calls to action that we can ask our potential clients to do, ordered by their level of friction. So something that is low friction means it's probably more generally interesting to a lot more people and cold audiences will be willing to do it much more.  

Whereas something that's high friction like talk to a sales rep, or buy something now, or try a trial of something, or get on the phone with a sales rep for a demo. Those are very high friction things that probably won't work very well to a cold audience, but might to a warm audience. So what we find is on LinkedIn, you want to avoid the extremes. If you go too high in friction or lower in this funnel, then people won't see value in clicking on your ads, and so they just won't get clicked on. 

Or if they do, LinkedIn is going to charge you a lot of money for those clicks and they probably won't convert very well. On the other end of the spectrum, if we're paying LinkedIn's high prices to just send people to a blog post or to view an infographic, those offers don't have a strong call to action and won't convert very high. So you'll see that your cost per lead or cost per conversion is very high. 

But if you can land in the middle where I've called it, the sweet spot, this is where you are providing value to them, and in exchange, you're also asking for them to identify themselves to you and fill out a form. We call this lead magnets or gated content. And some types of gated content that work really well on LinkedIn are things like here's a free checklist, or a free cheat sheet, or a guide. Come join our free webinar. Here's an ebook, come to this free in-person event when we start having those again. Those are the types of offers that tend to work really, really well on LinkedIn. 

What is retargeting?
If you're not familiar, it's a very, very powerful way of augmenting your digital marketing. LinkedIn does have retargeting, and I'll explain for those of you who don't know. It's like if you've ever looked at a product and then decided not to buy it and left, and then for the next week or two, every time you load a new page on the internet, you see a picture of those same pair of shoes, or that same dress, or purse, or whatever. That's retargeting. 

LinkedIn does have retargeting, but it's really weak. But Facebook and Google have the best retargeting. So my favorite strategy here is to drive traffic from LinkedIn, where I know this audience is extremely high quality and get them to my website, so my Google and my Facebook retargeting can pick them and stay in front of them for... It's a lot more effective and a lot less money to do that. So, I love incorporating my Google and my Facebook into my LinkedIn. 

How should you build your ads?  

I want to show you a concrete example of how you can build ads on LinkedIn really effectively. There are two pieces to most of the ads. You have the ad copy or the words that you put on there, and then you have the imagery or video as the case may be. What you need to realize about LinkedIn is, everyone on there is on their way to do something, they're in a hurry. So rather than trying to tell them a story and get them emotionally invested, you should be short and to the point. 

Tell them immediately about a value you're providing or a pain point of theirs that you're solving. I use this acronym here. W-I-I-F-M. It sounds like a radio station, so I call it everyone's favorite radio station. But it's, What's In It For Me? So, if you write your ads in a way that someone will immediately understand what the value is to them, it's going to work a lot better than you just saying, "Hey, I want your money." And don't be afraid to share a strong call to action. 

And then with your imagery, realize that LinkedIn is very blue, gray, and white in color. And if you look on the color wheel, a designer will tell you this, wherever blue is, if you want something to stand out against that color, you look to the opposite of the color wheel. The opposite of blue is orange, so if you want your ads to really stand out, try using things like oranges, greens, reds, purples. Those will really help your ads get noticed. The job of your imagery is just to get someone's attention. It's not to convert them, so make sure your image is good at getting their attention so that they will read your ad copy. 

And then most of us have worked really hard to come up with a great title for our asset, so use the title down there. And if you follow these steps, it's really hard to create an ad that doesn't perform better than LinkedIn's averages and benchmarks. 

Questions from the attendees  

"How well seamlessly does lead gen forms work with workflows with HubSpot, for example?" 

Ooh, very seamlessly. HubSpot has probably the best integration into LinkedIn of any platform out there. Yeah, you can set the workflows, so as soon as a lead comes in, you can treat it any way you want in HubSpot. You can also integrate the LinkedIn ads, so you get all the stats into HubSpot directly, so you can even pause and maintain how the campaigns from HubSpot as well.  

"What do you feel gives the best results, targeting titles or job functions?" 

It depends on what you need. Let's say you're on a smaller budget and your goal is just to get the very highest quality leads possible, then I think groups targeting is a great place to start. And I think job title makes a lot of sense, because in order to match by job title, they really have to have that exact job title. Whereas job function might be too broad. 

If you're trying to target digital marketers by chance, for example, then targeting by job function, the most narrowed in you can get is the marketing job function, so you'd be getting all marketers. But if you do have a target audience that's like heads of sales, or heads of IT, or heads of operations, that kind of people you can get well by department and seniority. And so, I'm a big fan of using the job function with seniority targeting and get a larger, cheaper audience. 

"Do you think a call-to-action button has a positive effect on the click through rate?” 

With a lot of the ads, you can either add or customize a call to action button. And so I say use those whenever you have one. That makes a lot of sense. But we've also had clients who will put a call to action button on their imagery. And we've found sometimes this improves things and sometimes it doesn't, so definitely worth testing. I would imagine that if it doesn't work well, probably the reason why is because it looks like an ad. When it looks like it was created by a designer, people might scroll past it just thinking, oh, that's an ad. So if it looks a little bit more organic, maybe people will slow down a little faster to or I guess, slow down slower to look at what it is you're actually asking. 

“How specific can I pinpoint my target audience geographically in a LinkedIn ad campaign?”

 It used to be, this was two years ago, you could get down to the country and sometimes provinces, or regions, or states within that country. But about two years ago when LinkedIn integrated all of their geographies into Microsoft's geography engine, basically came from bang ads, then now you'll have to check and see in your region where you want to target. But in the United States, we can get down to most cities, even smaller ones, and any audience you can get down to a minimum of 300 people. 

So, if you're going in on a very narrow region, but you end up with fewer than 300 people, you'll probably need to either expand your targeting or expand your region. 

“Do you see any difference in the quality that on the leads that's being generated from a landing page and a lead gen forms?”

Yeah. Landing page, conversions generally have a much higher... I won't say much higher, somewhere between about like 10 to 30% graded higher quality. And I think the reason for that is when someone comes to your website, they're exposed to your brand, they can click over and see like the about us section and see what else you're offering. And it gives them a lot more social... I won't say social proof. 

They might see social proof, they might see like brands we've worked with and that kind of thing that they wouldn't be able to see on LinkedIn. Versus if you keep them on LinkedIn, the conversion rates are significantly higher, but they don't get exposed to all that. And LinkedIn made it so easy for them to fill out the form because it was all pre-filled. All they had to do was just hit the submit button. So, it didn't require as much from them, meaning it wouldn't be perceived as high of quality, but certainly worth testing both. 

“InMail campaigns, do they work? For what type of clients or sectors would you recommend them?”

The sponsored InMail or the sponsored messaging ads, the conversation ads, the types of offers I found these work well for are like something very VIP, very personal. So some examples would be like, because of who you are in the industry, we want to give you early access or a sneak peek at something. Or we're interested in you for a job opportunity, you look qualified. Do you want to apply? 

Come and attend this free in-person event, when those become a thing again. Come and rub shoulders with your colleagues and have a free dinner and drinks. Those are the kinds of things that work really well like these sponsored messaging ads. But if you're just trying to say, "Talk to our sales rep," or, "Download this free piece of content," it's going to be really expensive and I would stick more to sponsored content for that.  

“Best practice for LinkedIn lookalike audiences?” 

Yes. There are two different kinds of lookalike audiences on LinkedIn. One is where you go in and either create a retargeting audience, or upload a list of companies, or individuals, and you can turn that into a lookalike audience. So, you're telling LinkedIn, "Here's my base data, go and find people who look like this." 

The other one that I absolutely hate is when you go and create a campaign, LinkedIn will auto check a box that says, "Enable audience expansion." I think it's poison. It's terrible that that's automatically checked. 

What I really think about it, I don't know why LinkedIn came out with lookalikes other than the fact that Facebook already had it. Because the reason we use lookalikes on Facebook is Facebook doesn't understand who people are professionally, and so we love to use a lookalike to try to find these additional business audience. 

But because we can be so specific about business audiences on LinkedIn, I would say, don't even worry about any sort of lookalike. Just target by the titles, and seniorities, and skills and groups of your ideal target audience. And then when you run out of audience there and you need to expand, sure, look at audience expansion or look at lookalikes, but I don't think you'll need to at the start. 

“Any advices on the bidding strategy?”

I love this and thank you for asking that. Bidding on LinkedIn is really difficult because LinkedIn doesn't set you up for success. When you set up your first campaign, they will set you on a bidding model that it used to be called automated bidding, I think it's called maximum delivery by impression right now. And basically, that's the most expensive way to pay for your ads about 90% of the time. 

So immediately, the first thing I do when I go to create a campaign is, I will choose maximum cost per click bidding. And as soon as you do that, LinkedIn is going to give you recommendations, it will say something crazy like, we recommend that you bid $16 per click. And the average that people are bidding is between 12 and $36 per click. Just ignore that. It's probably lies. 

Instead, you go in and just put the lowest amount possible into that box. So you might put like a one and see if LinkedIn lets you bid that low down to like $1 or one Euro or whatever. Most likely, LinkedIn will pop up a little red message that says, "The minimum bid for this audience is actually 534," or "615." And then when they tell you that, now you know, the minimum amount that you can bid to still get into the auction. So, my recommendation would be, start by using a maximum cost per click bid and bid really low, and only increase that bid when you need more traffic. 


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