In a remarkably short time, LinkedIn has grown to become a major player in B2B advertising (at about 20% of total industry spend, according to industry watchers), quickly rivaling search advertising on Google. LinkedIn’s big advantage over its key competitor – and the reason it’s now cannibalizing so many marketing budgets previously reserved exclusively for paid search (SEM) – is its ability to target specific audience demographics: job title, industry, etc.
At our demand generation agency, LinkedIn advertising is a staple of most client campaigns, and yet when we propose LinkedIn to clients, we often hear comments to the effect of: “We tried and couldn’t make it work.” Indeed, because Cost Per Click on LinkedIn can be higher on average than Google, first-time advertisers tend to have little patience with the channel. Here then, based on our experience, are some of the key reasons why many of those campaigns fail to meet expectations:
(A quick caveat – the list below applies almost exclusively to Sponsored Content, the most common ad format on LinkedIn, and, in our experience, the most effective for demand generation.)
* Non-Content Offers. LinkedIn is inherently a content feed, and for that reason, content offers (white papers, ebooks, reports) generate much higher engagement compared to more late stage calls to action such as trials, demos, or “talk to an expert.” The relatively high cost of LinkedIn advertising can lead some marketers to want to generate only highly-qualified leads or those further along in the buyer journey, but attempting to have the offer itself qualify those leads can be counter-productive.
* Stale Creative. As native advertising, and as different from Google (where a prospect only sees your ad if he/she is searching on a relevant topic), LinkedIn ads have a finite shelf life. Unless your LinkedIn ad performance and ROI continues to hold steady, plan on introducing a new ad at least once a month. Note: you can extend the shelf life of a specific content offer by simply changing ad creative, especially with a new image.
* Saying Too Much. LinkedIn may afford you more real estate than Google Ads, but brevity is still your friend. Keep headlines under 150 characters, and descriptive copy under 70 characters (anything over 100 will be truncated). Be sure to include a clear and specific Call to Action (e.g. “Download Report”). Running out of space? Use text in your image to convey additional information or detail (e.g. “What you’ll learn”, “3 reasons to attend”).
* Poor User Experience. On average, 57 percent of LinkedIn users are on mobile devices, so ensuring a mobile-friendly user experience is key. If your ad links to a custom landing page, make sure that page is fully responsive and that the form is easy to complete on a mobile device. Or opt for LinkedIn’s Lead Gen Forms, which generate a pre-populated contact form inside the app. You’ll generate a higher conversion rate compared to third-party forms, but you’re also more likely to capture a personal (vs. business) email address.
* Audience Size. It’s tempting to get carried away with audience targeting options on LinkedIn (Geography, Industry, Job Title, Groups, Interests), the result being an audience size that’s either too large or too small. It’s important to strike a balance – too large an audience and you risk unqualified leads or a poor click rate due to lack of relevancy. Too small and you won’t generate the volume of impressions to drive meaningful results. A good rule of thumb is to aim for an audience in a range of 15,000-100,000. If anything, start low and expand from there. (See “Not Testing Audience”, below.)
* Not Testing Enough. As with virtually any digital platform (email, display, search), if you don’t test, you not only don’t learn anything, you’re also putting all your eggs in one proverbial basket – betting, in effect, that one offer, one headline, one image is enough to do the job. Mitigate that risk by running at least two ads in each campaign and testing key variables: headline, descriptive copy, image (just keep the changes simple so you know what made the difference). Depending on the volume of impressions, pause the lower-performing ad after 2-4 weeks (or at whatever point you feel confident that the results are statistically significant) and replace with a new test. Note: in our experience, visuals (images) are most likely to have the greatest impact on engagement.
* Not Testing Audience. Ad creative (headline, descriptive copy, image) is the obvious variable to test in LinkedIn, but it can be just as powerful to learn which audience segments respond best to a specific content offer. LinkedIn allows you to create two duplicate campaigns, change the audience criteria in one, and then run those campaigns against each other. Does targeting by “Skills” work better than “Job Title”? Only testing will tell.
* Poor Company Page. Expect that some percentage of people who view your Sponsored Content will opt to click through to your company page. Making sure that your company page is current, accurate, informative, and populated with relevant content will help to establish trust and drive additional engagement from those who feel less inclined to click on an ad.
Thanks to Tim and Allie on the Spear media team for their contributions to this post.