How to Build LinkedIn Self-Serve Ad Campaigns and Reach Professional Decision Makers

Why LinkedIn?

With so many options out there, you may be tempted to dismiss paid advertising on LinkedIn, but for marketers hoping to reach a professionally focused audience, LinkedIn self-serve ads may be just the marketing tool you’ve been looking for.

There’s good reason marketers have been slow to recommend the platform to their executives and clients. It’s not your typical social network. LinkedIn ads cost more yet its membership is smaller, dwarfed by giants like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Still, you’ll be hard pressed to find this one key feature on the other social media platforms:

  • Direct access to decision makers.

While your widget ad has to compete for attention with selfies and viral news stories on Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn members navigate to LinkedIn under a completely different mindset. You’ll be hard pressed to find cat pictures here (believe me, I’ve looked).

LinkedIn members tend to have higher average salaries and more job responsibility than the demographics of other social networks. On LinkedIn it’s entirely possible not only to reach the management staffer searching for a high-budget business solution, but to reach the VP who has to sign off on it. It’s also likely both these individuals have high career aspirations and will take action on a good opportunity. So users visiting LinkedIn are usually focused on two things:

  • Business solutions (be it products, services, or talent) or
  • Career advancement (acquiring new skills or connections).

Whatever you’re advertising, you can likely make a strong case for your product or service fitting into one of these categories.

Getting Started

Let’s say you’re sold on the “why” and now you’re ready to get acquainted with LinkedIn’s offerings. How do you get started?

Let’s take a look at what different ads look like, how to execute a campaign in only four easy steps, and suggestions for when to use each type of ad.

Self-Serve Ads

There are two types of self-service paid advertisements you can create and manage yourself on LinkedIn. You can either create an ad or sponsor content.

Each type of campaign will appear on different parts of the site, varying the way your products or services are presented to your target user. 

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Display and Text Ads

Many marketers choose to take advantage of LinkedIn’s display and text ads. These types of campaigns can be completed in only a few steps, without any technical or design demands. You won’t need to come up with a lengthy content narrative here either. (Save that for your conversion page on your website.) 

Where You’ll See Them

You can find these ads appearing throughout the site on a number of LinkedIn pages: 

  • Home Page (The landing page a user sees once they’re logged in.)
  • Profile Pages (Both the target user’s and other profile pages they view.)
  • Inbox Page (Where users view their InMail messages and invitations.)
  • Search Results Page (A display page for any member searches the user performs.)
  • Groups Pages (Group pages the user views.)

For any of these pages, there are two webpage areas where target users will see your ad:

  1. The image and ad copy of your display ad could appear in a designated advertising box in the right column of any of these pages. Your ad will likely share this area with up to two other display ads. 

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Note: While all three ads will be highly targeted to the user viewing them, I’ve found that LinkedIn does a good job of varying the topics of the three display ads. So if you sell widgets to businesses, it’s unlikely you’ll go head to head with other widget sales ads. More likely, LinkedIn will pair your ad with, say, an ad for getting a certificate in widget engineering and an ad for storage solutions for all those business widgets your target keeps buying from you.

  1. Or your text ad or just the ad copy from your display ad could also appear as a single line of text at the top of any of these LinkedIn pages. This time your ad gets all the glory, no other ads will share space with you here. There can be only one!

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How Do I Build It?

Let’s build a display ad campaign by choosing “Create an Ad” on the left.

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  1. Set Up and Compose Your Ad Campaign

Now we have a basic form to complete. Just fill in the text fields and choose an image. For this example, let’s say I’m advertising a professional dog walking service to busy, senior-level professionals. (My example happens to be a B2C campaign, but you’ll also see many B2B campaigns here as well.)

linkedinasset4Campaign Name First, I’ll name this campaign. This is a high-class hypothetical dog walking service for discerning businessmen, so I’ll choose a name that reflects that. Choose something that works for your situation. As the blue pop-up explains, this field won’t be visible to other LinkedIn users.

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If I were going to organize a number of campaigns for this business targeting slightly different groups of users, I should pick a campaign name that tells me more info. In that case, something like “Dog Walking ICV Kansas City CEOs 55+” might be a better choice. 

Language The language of this ad is English, although I could choose to create the ad in any one of the 19 languages currently supported by LinkedIn. However, once your campaign goes live you won’t be able to edit this selection.

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 Ad Destination The ad destination field allows you to choose where a click on your ad sends the user. One option is to direct the user to your website’s URL. A specific landing or conversion page for each campaign will get you the best results. Let’s pretend I’ve set up just such a conversion page on my website.

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You could also direct the user to an internal LinkedIn page. This destination can be your personal LinkedIn page or your company’s page.

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 Next fill in the content of your ad. Each display ad has a headline, a description, and an image.

 Headline Your ad’s headline must be short and grab attention. You only have 25 characters!

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Description The ad description is somewhat longer at 75 characters, but still needs to be short and actionable enough to prompt your target customer to click.

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 Image Now let’s choose an image to accompany the ad copy. I’m going to pick this picture of Max, He’s wearing his leash and is ready for a walk. One nice feature: you don’t have to worry about image resizing here as LinkedIn will shrink your image to the right size and dimensions.

linkedinasset12 Note: LinkedIn notes these three kinds of images have the best click-through rate:

  • Logos
  • People
  • Products

So if I wasn’t playing up the cute animal angle here, I’d go for one of these other options. Remember this is a thumbnail, so avoid choosing an image with tiny text or intricate graphics that won’t look good at this small size.

Preview So we’ve now filled out the visible elements of our ad. We can see a preview of our ad on the right hand side of the screen, paired along other member advertisements, just like the finished version.

linkedinasset13Ad Variations I can click “Add a variation” at the bottom left of this form page to come up with some alternate versions of this same ad. I could create up to 15 variations for this single campaign.

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Protip: Lisa Raehsler notes on ClickZ that your best ads will be shown to your target audience more often. She suggests optimizing your campaign with several versions of the same ad. Make two live, watch how they perform, and replace the weaker performer with a third version of the ad.

Now that the composition of the ad is set, we have to decide who sees it.

  1. Choose a Target Audience

Targeting Options Next, you can narrow down LinkedIn’s 313 million members to your desired audience using a number of options to choose who sees your ad.

Choose a location, company, and job title for starters, or get more specific with filters for schools, skills, LinkedIn groups, age, and gender. You can also filter out specific keywords for many of these targeting options.

Beta Feature A newer beta feature called Audience Expansion offers to extend your ad’s reach. When enabled, it lets the targeting algorithm show your ad to select demographics that are similar to your target, but outside the limits you’ve set for one or more options.

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 Note: As you can see in the screencap, I’ve stuck with a filtering limits for location, job function, and job seniority for my hypothetical dog walking campaign. But if my target customer were to include all busy professionals with dogs, I might branch out from the high seniority targets I picked for this example. Alternately, I could build additional campaigns tweaked to target, say, professions that are likely to require frequent travel.

Audience As you add filters to target your ideal target, you’ll notice the potential audience for your campaign shrinks to more manageable numbers.

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There are varying opinions on how big your target audience for a LinkedIn campaign should be. LinkedIn’s help center suggests 60,000 to 600,000 for the best results, but other smaller or larger audiences may work best for your particular campaign.

Protip: Writing for Marketing Land, Ben Spiegel finds the most success with his LinkedIn advertising when applied to specific narrow-reach campaigns. He prefers to run up to 20 campaigns simultaneously, each with target audiences of around 5,000. The ads are highly relevant to each of the small audiences, leading to a higher overall ROI for his purposes. 

  1. Choose Your Campaign Options and Budget

Step three is where we choose the campaign’s strategy and budget. Seasoned online marketers will recognize LinkedIn’s cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-1,000 impressions (CPM) campaign options. But the interface makes the process easy enough for almost anyone to use.

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CPC Vs. CPM So which should you choose? It depends on your marketing goals, but CPC campaigns will likely fare better with:

  • The customer who has a problem but hasn’t taken the next step to start researching a solution. Depending on the language of your ad, you’ve presented your product or services as a solution for just such a problem, enough that she clicks your ad.
  • The customer who is already thinking about a solution. He needs x product or y services, sees you presenting that solution, and clicks your ad.

Because of the nature of LinkedIn and its user base, this is often a marketer’s best choice. 

On the other hand, CPM campaigns can help: 

  • Introduce a new company to the marketplace.
  • Gauge the interest of various target markets by setting up test campaigns.
  • Get the word out about a new product or service from an existing company to a known customer base.

Minimum Bid and Suggested Bid Range For both cpc and cpm options, you’ll see a minimum bid and a suggested bid range. There are a number of factors that affect the price you’re quoted here:

  • How in demand this particular target audience is.
  • How well this audience has responded to campaigns similar to yours.

LinkedIn’s prices do tend to be higher than other social networks—thanks to all those advantages I mentioned in the introduction. I’d recommend bidding somewhere in the suggested range in order to make your ad more competitive with other ads vying for screen time. 

Budget Next, you’ll set a daily budget based on your campaign goals. The minimum daily budget is $10. With my quoted CPC suggested minimum bid of $5.72, I’d only get one possible lead per day with the minimum daily budget. It’s easy to see how a LinkedIn campaign could quickly run up a tab, so it’s best to test your strategy on a few campaigns before committing to a large budget.

Note: Notice the fine print underneath that says your daily spend could be up to 20% over the budget you set. The explanation? The campaign will turn off once you reach your budget, but your ad may still remain visible and clickable on the screen of LinkedIn members who loaded the page before your budget was reached. If they also click on your ad, you’ll be over, but LinkedIn does offer a cap at 20%, even if the number of clicks exceeded that amount.  

Campaign Duration Finally, your last step is to choose how long you want this campaign to run. You can choose an end date or run your campaign indefinitely. If you choose “indefinitely” your campaign will run daily until you disable it on the campaign manager page.

  1. Pay For and Submit Your Ad Campaign

Finally, we’ve reached the end! Your ad campaign is almost ready for the world. Step four takes you to a very standard-looking checkout page where you’ll enter your billing and credit card information. 

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 Since I don’t want to actually publish my campaign and have busy executives and their dogs showing up at my door, I’ll click cancel here. But I am still taken to LinkedIn’s Campaign Manager dashboard where I can review the metrics of my hypothetical campaign.

I can review the overall spend on my campaign and toggle campaigns on and off as needed.

linkedinasset19I can also see a comparison of the three ad variations I created back in step one.

linkedinasset20Notice the status of “Under Review.” This isn’t just because I skipped the payment step. All LinkedIn ads are reviewed before going live. You will probably want to check out the full guidelines here to make sure you don’t delay your ad being approved. Mostly this is standard stuff, but a few rules having to do with your ad copy’s capitalization and grammar are worth noting.

Once your ad campaign has been approved, you’re good to go.

Sponsored Content

But wait, there’s more! While LinkedIn’s display ads are an effective tool for reaching that valuable decision-maker audience, sponsored content offers you yet another way to meet your marketing goals. For marketers interested in a more traditional take on social media marketing, this is the tool for you. 

Where You’ll See Them

Sponsored content appears on the targeted LinkedIn member’s home page. Much like Facebook and Twitter, this content shares space with updates from a user’s friends, colleagues, and group and company pages. 

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 As you can see in this example, there’s room for a link (which generates a preview with image, title, and text excerpt) as well as a space for you to offer context or editorial on your sponsored post. Users can:

  • Follow your company page.
  • Like your sponsored post.
  • Comment on your sponsored post.
  • Share your sponsored post.

This gives you a great opportunity to get feedback from a target audience, answer questions, and promote your product or service.

How Do I Build It?

There’s one important distinction between display ads and sponsored content. While individuals or company pages can both create the former, only company page admins can create sponsored content. You’ll need to create a (free) page for your company if you haven’t already, or become an admin of an existing business page in order to proceed. 

  1. Create Your Ad Campaign

Once your company page is set up you’ll begin by selecting “Sponsor Content” from the self-serve ad menu.

Once again, you’ll choose a descriptive name for your campaign and the campaign’s language. This time, you’ll also select your company page from a drop-down menu. If you haven’t been given administrative access to a company page, you won’t be able to post on its behalf.

If the selected company page hasn’t posted any updates or you want to create new sponsored content, you’ll choose “Direct Sponsored Content” to get started.

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 If your page has existing updates, you can choose to promote an existing post by selecting it from the list.

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Next, you’ll see a preview of how your post will appear in the user’s update feed. There are options to view the mobile and tablet appearances as well, but not to individually edit each version.

  1. Choose a Target Audience

Once you’ve chosen the content that you want to sponsor, the process is exactly the same as for self-serve display ads. You’ll choose a target audience for the campaign, keeping in mind the goals you have for a content campaign may be very different from for a display ad campaign.

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  1. Choose Your Campaign Options and Budget

You’ll follow the same process to choose your campaign options, budget, and campaign duration. Here, it may be preferable to choose CPM over CPC, but as you can see in this example, the cost could add up quickly with those options.

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  1. Pay For and Submit Your Ad Campaign

Finally you’ll see the same payment processing page as for display ads.

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You’ll fill out this info and submit your sponsored content. You’ll see the same type of campaign management dashboard for your sponsored post campaigns as you will for display ads. You’ll be able to turn the campaign on and off and monitor your metrics. 

When to Use Display and Text Ad Campaigns

Each type of self-serve campaign has its own unique strengths. Display ads are the necessary choice when you want to target users throughout the site, beyond just the home page. They’re also great for:

  • When you want to get the user to visit a specific landing or conversion page.
  • When your target audience likely has a good reason to act: they’re aware of a business problem or they’ve been looking for a solution or opportunity.
  • When you have multiple audiences for a product or service who may be swayed by ad variations that appeal specifically to them.

When to Use Sponsored Content

Sponsored content has its own benefits. These campaigns can be a good option when:

  • You want to target users while they’re viewing social updates.
  • Are introducing your company or a new product or service by an existing company.
  • You’re interested in researching the interest of a particular target audience.

Conclusion

Whatever your marketing needs, you can likely find tools to help you reach your LinkedIn goals with self-serve ads. LinkedIn isn’t your typical social network, and in a way, that’s a good thing. With easy, do-it-yourself options to build your LinkedIn advertising campaign, you’ll have unique access to a sought-after demographic of professional customers.