[January 27: Update! LinkedIn has upgraded it’s PPC platform, including the ability to target specific companies, matriculated with highly granular job titles. Watch aimClear Blog for upcoming case studies as data rolls in. The concept of this post stands, and we’ll extrapolate on the themes shortly.] LinkedIn Direct Ads get the same sort of bum rap that Facebook Ads had in early 2008. To an extent, complaints from PPC marketers are valid. We’ve never been able to figure out why LinkedIn has invested so much in building incredibly robust advanced organic search tools, while under-investing in such a relatively lame PPC targeting mechanism.
No doubt the rumored post-upcoming-IPO Direct Ads makeover will add more targeting might. Still, we’ve had success with a number of aggressive contextual targeting analogies. This is one of our favorites, a step-by-step tutorial to target B2B buyers with LinkedIn PPC.
As with most PPC targeting grids, it’s better to be as granular as possible. In the “Job Function” targeting option, select “Buyer.” Sure it’s always tempting to select other job functions, but save this for another ad. The more granular any targeting grid is, the more focused ads and landing pages can be.
The next three targeting options, “Company Size,” “Seniority Level,” and “Industry” work hand in hand in crucial ways. Think about how businesses operate. The larger the company size, the lower the job classification of personnel charged with actually determining what will be purchased. For instance, in small companies– say between 1-50 employees– it is often appropriate to target Vice Presidents, CEOs or even owners. In large B2B industrial concerns with over 10,000 employees, purchasing decisions are often delegated to managers. Just use your head– the mojo in building out a cost effective campaign is in understanding how “Company Size” and “Seniority Level” work together in the business world.
Also, designating industry specificity in tandem with  “Company Size” and “Seniority Level” is a critical piece of the puzzle. For instance, targeting a sole proprietor who calls him or herself a “Retail” “Buyer” may not be nearly specific enough to target much of anything effectively. The marketer should consider drilling further into the industry by choosing “Apparel & Fashion” or “Sporting Goods.”
LinkedIn Direct Ads Target Practice
In this case, let’s target humongous companies with over 10,000 employees, where it’s most likely that Managers have hands-on buying duties.
Next, choose the industry. For the sake of this tutorial, let’s select Consumer Goods/Retail.
This yields 2,424 LinkedIn users. Again, think things out. For a professional to self-identify as being a manager/buyer in the retail industry for a company that has over 10,000 employees, we must be talking about stores like Target or Walmart.
It’s easy from here to really flesh out what level of seniority has purchasing duties, to the point where the employee identifies him or herself as a “Buyer” at what size company. Select “Individual Contributor” and “Self Employed” to find 31,760 general “Buyers.”
The problem with these entrepreneurs is that we don’t know what they’re buying… so unless we’re marketing a wholesale service across many verticals, we have no idea what interests these LinkedIn users. This is where getting more specific helps. Choose “Sporting Goods.”
These 1,409 self-employed sporting goods buyers who are individual contributors likely comprise the small town or extremely niche sporting goods stores.
A Way of Thinking
Think about the LinkedIn Direct Ads as demographic research tool, best used to understand LinkedIn’s population. The key to success is to ask questions in the language that businesses actually use. When targeting buyers, consider:
  • What level of seniority would normally have responsibility for buying?
  • For the size of this company, how specific does industry designation need to be to achieve focus in the targeting grid?
  • If we know who the day-to-day buyer is, do we need a complimentary campaign, branding to a higher level of seniority at the same time as we have harder action calls to the actual buyers?
Don’t be put off if the targeting segments are small in numbers. The reason most LinkedIn Direct Ads campaigns are so overly expensive with poor ROI is because marketers tend to build buckets that are not near granular enough. The more time you spend creating highly segmented campaigns the more concentrated optimization efforts can be. Be a toggle-monkey button-pusher! Quickly go back and forth between all different combinations of  “Company Size,” “Seniority Level” and “Industry.” Try as many combinations as possible until you truly understand how these variables work together.
Also, as with any type of demographic research using paid inventory tools, marketers can gain tremendous insight into the community itself. This technique works well for many LinkedIn Direct Ads targeting hacks. Stay tuned. We’ll share more from time to time. Until then, happy targeting!
  • Perry van Beek

    I could not agree more with the above comment about “under-investing in such a relatively lame PPC targeting mechanism.” What I’d like to add to that, that it is ‘currently’ only allowed to place Ads in English, which is surprising, to say the least. LinkedIn has its own office in the Netherlands, and 2,5 million users in the Netherlands according to its LinkedIn Direct Ads Statistics, which I have no reason to doubt. This makes the Netherlands the country with the highest LinkedIn adoption rate.

    Many of my clients are extremely keen to place Ads on LinkedIn but naturally wish to do so in Dutch, as it is their target group’s mother tongue. So here are literally thousands of people waving money at LinkedIn and they are just ignoring it. Facebook verifies each individual Ad. LinkedIn could easily do the same and still be left with a healthy profit!

    I’m hoping the Direct Ads Makeover will solve this issue. LinkedIn wins, business wins; win-win all around!

    Perry van Beek

    • Marty Weintraub

      @Perry van Beek: Thanks for pointing this out to our users. We’ve heard about LinkedIns internal efforts to augment and evolve the PPC platform. Internal search is so robust. We have strong opinions about how the data structure LI uses in their Advanced Search could be leveraged to the benefit of the PPC contextual platform.

  • Perry van Beek

    Thanks Marty! I can’t wait! Seriously can’t wait for the new platform! 🙂

  • Tihomir Petrov

    Very Cool. I will try it and also like Perry can’t wait 🙂

  • Malcolm Gibb

    Has anyone actually had any success or leads from LinkedIn PPC? I have tested it when I received a $100 free voucher, using targeted adverts to target purchasers and procurement in certain sectors like legal and scientific as we sell a service. The campaign brought in absolutely nothing, even though it was highly specific and only reached out to around 2000 members.

    It seems that LinkedIn PPC may be a decent outlet for some business sectors, but IMHO LinkedIn is not really a cost-effective place to find potential leads… even with it’s awesome targeting tools.

    Also what’s up with the English only adverts and $2 minimum CPC??

    • Marty Weintraub

      @Malcolm Gibb: I agree. It’s really hard to squeeze good ROI out of this sucker, for a number of reasons. And yes, it’s overpriced. The ads themselves on the page present rather weakly, with seemingly little standardization of format and page placement. Also, most marketers don’t know how to target the PPC very well, so users are conditioned to see ads that are barely relevant. LinkedIn PPC has a long way to go IMHO, before it has mainstream acceptance amongst people like us. You have to be pretty rich and willing to waste a lot of money to win.

      Honestly, I think the best use of LinkedIn Ads is for demographic research to understand the organic makeup of the community. Then, get yourself an upgraded account, giving you access to reasonably cost InMails, and VERY politely reach out to very few key people. Ironically, for us at least, PPC demographic research is best used to understand the organic community, for classic PR outreach.

  • Mike malone

    Thanks for this post Marty. We are starting to kick off a few LinkedIn PPC campaigns for clients and this information is very relevant and useful.

    • Marty Weintraub

      @MikeMalone: You’re very welcome. Best of luck with your campaigns!

  • Tom ONeill (The Nerdery)

    I see what you did the Marty. Well played sir. Just so everyone here is clear. You can’t poach developers who love their job and work for the best development shop in the Midwest! Good luck trying.

    • Marty Weintraub

      @Tom ONeill: LOL, not our intent, in fact we already have the in-house team we want AND we work with the best external vendor…the Nerdery. It was all in good fun to ping you. Mission accomplished! Cheers and I hope to meet you next time I’m in your shop. Regards to Jake :).