LinkedIn Audiences and Lead Gen Forms make LinkedIn Advertising Worth a Fresh Look

by | May 11, 2017 | Social Media Marketing Tips

“Keep your mind open, but not so open that your brains fall out” – Prof. Walter Kotschnig

LinkedIn Matched AudiencesI like to keep an open mind about most things. When the local Metalman Brewery releases their latest seasonal beer I’m all over it, even after their Blaager tasted too much like Waterford’s famous floury roll. I’ve been known to have faith in TripAdvisor ratings or throw caution to the wind and use Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” option. Heck, I’m even hedging my bets they really did put a man on the moon.

My outlook is similar when it comes to digital marketing. I try to balance the need to experiment with a healthy dose of skepticism. That keeps innovation in mind but without constantly chasing (and being distracted) by shiny new things.

In today’s article that shiny new thing is an old platform that’s undergone a much needed makeover latestly.

I’m talking about LinkedIn. In particular LinkedIn advertising.

In the past I’ve played around with LinkedIn ads but never really fully committed. I had a few sneaky liaisons but never really enough to have any chance to fall in love.

The biggest thing holding me back?

The cost.

Being more expensive shouldn’t always be a deterrent of course. High quality is worth a premium. The problem was LinkedIn’s excessive minimum bids meant it was too costly to get any significant data without blowing the budget.

On top of that LinkedIn always seem to skew more naturally to B2B rather than the consumer side, where most Agora businesses focus. That made it challenging to get anyone to want to invest in the platform.

LinkedIn has always felt to me like a big online resume for its users and a big recruitment tool for advertisers. I was prepared to check those assumptions at the door if I could get more affordable clicks and conversions.

Sadly, that hasn’t been the case. Recruitment services have accounted for more than half of LinkedIn revenues with another 20% coming from premium subscriptions. That meant only about a quarter of their revenues came from their advertising solutions.

That lack of focus on the ad platform was clear. Unless you were prepared to commit to massive budgets and to work with their sales teams you were restricted by a very limited self-serve interface.

But that’s changed latestly.

Spoiler alert: those two negatives (cost and B2B focus) still remain but latest changes give me hope.

So what has changed?

First off, Microsoft finalised the deal to buy LinkedIn in December last year. It cost them $26 billion so you can be sure they’re going to want to see a return on that investment. The primary purpose of the deal (perhaps other than to change the perception that Microsoft lacked innovation) is really to integrate LinkedIn’s database and cloud based tools with Outlook, Office and other Microsoft products.

Although they have a pretty lousy record for company acquisitions I’m quietly confident this merger should also result in opening the door for advertisers much wider than it is now, either via the MSN ad network or through LinkedIn itself. In fact there have already been a couple of significant signs of that.

  1. Lead Gen Forms
  2. Matched audiences

Each of these features should get the attention of any direct response marketer. More on them in a moment. But first…

LinkedIn changes from a user perspective

Before getting too excited about these new tools it’s worth looking at how LinkedIn is changing for the user. After all, a better (and longer) user experience means better results for marketers.

Microsoft want to make LinkedIn the top news source and destination for business professionals. If they achieve that it will help advertisers in two core ways.

First, it will create a better, more diverse environment to place your messages in front of your best prospects.

Second, it will create greater inventory and bring down prices. LinkedIn, like most ad platforms, is an auction. It works on supply and demand.

Right now, the majority of ad placements are via Sponsored Content, similar to FB promoted posts which appear in the user’s newsfeed. The longer people spend on the platform, the more ad space that becomes available. Currently the average user only spends about 17 minutes per month on LinkedIn. Yes, per month. The average FB user spends longer than that on each visit, almost an hour per day. That’s a lot more ad inventory that results in cost per clicks (CPCs) at a fraction of LinkedIns.

I’ve been quietly impressed with the new user interface so far. If they can draw more professionals to the platform for longer times (and not just to update their virtual resume) advertisers and publishers should see greater success.

What’s really missing though is a version of Google’s quality score or Facebook’s relevancy score. They provide a discount based on engagement factors like click through rate (CTR). That encourages a better quality and relevancy of advertisements and may make the platform more viable for B2C and top of the funnel campaigns.

I’m not holding my breath but I expect that will come. In the meantime, let’s take a closer look at the two latest ad platform innovations that are available right now to everyone.

New LinkedIn Ad Platforms Options

  1. Lead Gen Forms

These are prefilled forms, very similar to FB lead ads, that help improve conversion rates, especially on mobile devices. Of course, the same caveats apply as with FB’s lead forms. The very reason they’re successful (frictionless ease of use) can often result in a lower quality lead. However, the big advantage LinkedIn has over FB is that the fields it can pre-populate, like job title are contact details, are likely to be much more accurate and up-to-date.

They’re perhaps more important for LinkedIn ads too because you can’t currently select the device you want to target ads to as you can with FB. By default your ads will show on desktop and mobile. Automating those leads into your CRM may also be an issue.

My suspicion is that these lead ads, like all LinkedIn advertising, won’t work as well for targeting top of the funnel, like lead gen. They could be a much better prospect for remarketing to abandoners with a specific paid offer for instance.

  1. Matched audiences

These are similar to FB’s custom audiences which allow you to upload your customer data (e.g. email addresses) to target ads or exclude existing readers from seeing. You can do likewise with the web based remarketing to create audiences of visitors to the web pages you place a pixel on.

AIM TIP: place that pixel on all your web properties now to start building up potential audiences.

It appears LinkedIn have finally realised that FB have laid out a pretty decent road map in terms of an ad interface to replicate

As it was with FB, these matched audiences could be huge, especially if they also follow suite with lookalike audiences.

In fact, for B2B marketers it may be even more significant than FB’s version. Why? Because the match rate should be much higher. Most FB users use their personal – not work – emails to login. Many do likewise with LinkedIn but they also store additional emails that LinkedIn can access and match.

LinkedIn also have an additional option with their matched audiences– account targeting. This lets you target specific companies or professional demographics. Again, particularly appealing for B2B.

These matched audiences can work in tandem with some already decent targeting capabilities and ad units available in the self-serve interface.

In addition to the matched audiences you can target by:

Ideal Audiences on LinkedIn

Campaign options for the self-serve interface include:

The LinkedIn Advertising Self-Serve interface

Sponsored content are essentially the same as FB promoted posts. This is the only option, currently, to use for the Lead Gen Forms.

Sponsored InMail appear in the LinkedIn “in box”. These are similar to FB messenger placement, although they must be sent from an actual person, not a page.

Text ads are essentially banner ads, similar to a FB right rail ad. Despite the name they can include an image. These only appear to desktop users, not those using the LinkedIn mobile app.

Sadly, there’s no device targeting. And with the majority of traffic on mobile that’s a big problem. The Lead Gen forms helps but this is an area I expect to change soon. Meanwhile you can run text ads which only appear on desktop, although they likely won’t get huge volume.

Conclusion – what now?

To sum, I’m still skeptical about LinkedIn advertising right now. But I’m quietly optimistic it will become a valuable platform for both B2B and B2C businesses. That won’t happen overnight but it’s a platform to keep your toe dipped in. That way you’ll be ready to act quickly and take advantage of new features…and hopefully more affordable costs.

LinkedIn Advertising Report Card

I’m going to keep working away, testing these innovations and trying to hack the bidding. I’ll report back with updates. In the meantime if you want to discuss further or would like to test LinkedIn for your business please get in touch by email on twitter @grantperry…or hey, why not connect on LinkedIn.


Grant signature
Grant Perry
Marketing Director, AIM

P.S If you want to have a crack yourself you may find some of these further resources helpful.

LinkedIn Advertising Resources

Below are further resources regarding the Microsoft – LinkedIn merger and new ad platform opportunities.

If you’d like to chat about testing LinkedIn for your business get in touch and we can chat.

More information on the Microsoft-LinkedIn deal

LinkedIn + Microsoft: Our Next Play Begins by Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO.

How Microsoft will put LinkedIn to work in Office – TechCrunch

Microsoft just finalized its deal for LinkedIn — here’s what happens next – Business Insider

More Information on LinkedIn’s Ad Platform

LinkedIn’s new Matched Audiences feature just blew Facebook Custom Audiences out of the water for B2B – Marketing Land

LinkedIn’s New Lead Gen Forms vs. Facebook Lead Ads – Wordstream

Introducing LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms: An easy way to collect quality leads for your business – LinkedIn Blog

LinkedIn Matched Audiences – LinkedIn Blog

Connect with AIM on LinkedIn.