LinkedIn ads — a complete guide to optimizing ROI and creating more marketing wins

A professional creating LinkedIn ads

LinkedIn is one of the most powerful social media marketing platforms for boosting B2B sales. However, you may experience a complex learning curve as you start investing in paid ads on the site.

Earning a strong ROI from LinkedIn ads isn’t a mysterious process. There are best practices for LinkedIn ads that can help you generate the results you need — even if it takes time to get comfortable on the platform.

This post will address the basics of LinkedIn ads and provide actionable tips to help you optimize future campaigns for your business.

Four common types of LinkedIn ads

LinkedIn offers four main kinds of advertisements. Each one uses a unique delivery method and should be prioritized to achieve different goals based on your company’s needs, business type, and ad budget. For example, sponsored messaging gives you the chance to communicate directly with leads, but you need to achieve a high conversion rate in order to justify the cost. Sponsored messages should only be sent to your most engaged audiences.

By contrast, sponsored content ads are better for visibility, likes, and comments. The sponsored content format is ideal in situations where you’re concerned with branding and engagement rather than generating short-term revenue on a specific campaign.

Sponsored content ads show up directly in the user’s LinkedIn feed and are marked with a small “promoted” tag underneath the brand name. This is the most basic of LinkedIn ads — and currently the most common.

LinkedIn advertising: Sponsored content

Most sponsored content ads include one or two sentences, an image or video, and a call-to-action at the bottom. Marketers can also upload multiple images into a carousel for viewers to browse.

2. Text ads

LinkedIn text ads appear on the top or bottom right of the screen, usually beneath the “LinkedIn News” section. These are typically smaller than sponsored content ads but stand out more from the main LinkedIn feed because they’re designed to help you create awareness.

LinkedIn advertising: Text ads

Despite the name, text ads have less space for text compared to sponsored content — with only 10 to 12 words allocated to your message. It’s important to craft very strategic copy text for these spaces.

3. Dynamic ads

Dynamic ads are displayed on the right side of the LinkedIn home screen. They’re shown in the same place as text ads but are personalized to each individual. For example, the user might see their name or LinkedIn profile picture in the ad.

LinkedIn advertising: Dynamic ads

This ad could be a “follower ad” and ask you to follow a page, “spotlight ad” where you’re asked to sign up for an event, “job ad” when you can apply for a job, or some other offer. The introduction of personalization may help generate more engagement compared to a basic text ad.

Sponsored messages are a unique LinkedIn ad format that is sent directly to the recipient’s inbox rather than appearing in the home page feed. Messages within LinkedIn are usually restricted to direct connections, but sponsored messages can be sent to anyone. This means sponsored messages are a great way to reach new leads because they guarantee that your content will be seen by your target audience.

LinkedIn currently offers two kinds of sponsored messages.

LinkedIn advertising: Sponsored messaging

Note that you can only send a limited number of sponsored messages to each user within a certain time frame.

LinkedIn advertising costs

LinkedIn gives marketers complete control over their advertising budgets. The cost of your campaign will depend on what kind of ads you want to send and how often you want them to show.

LinkedIn advertising: Estimated costs

LinkedIn makes it easy to estimate your spending with a built-in forecaster that’s displayed during the campaign creation process. You’ll have a chance to tweak variables and see how the changes may affect ad spend as well as performance. Start with a small budget so that you can get a feel for LinkedIn advertising without committing too much money to your first campaigns.

You can spend your marketing funds in three ways — pay per click (PPC), pay per 1,000 impressions (CPM), or cost per send (CPS). You can also set a maximum amount per day or a maximum amount per bid or group of bids.

Three ways to bid gives you more control over how your ad budget is spent. At the same time, it may not be clear how to identify the right bid method for a particular campaign. Staying on top of your advertising budget is one of the most complex aspects of LinkedIn marketing.

Pay per click (PPC)

This spending type allows you to set a bid that represents the maximum amount you’re willing to pay per click. A higher amount is needed for ads that face more competition. This is a good investment if you expect to attract high-value leads.

More will be spent per click than per impression or per send since clicks are the highest level of engagement. But LinkedIn will recommend a bid range depending on the competition as well as your total ad budget. This is a good starting point but always adjust your bid in response to your evolving goals and results.

Pay per 1,000 impressions (CPM)

This second alternative differs from impressions because it’s more challenging to generate. It’s represented as the cost per 1,000 impressions (CPM, or cost per mille) so you’re charged each time your ad is seen by 1,000 people.

CPM is ideal if you want to prioritize visibility over clicks or sales, such as when you’re targeting high-value leads to convert to customers.

Cost per send (CPS)

Sponsored messaging ads charge a cost per send, irrespective of any objectives you’ve selected for the corresponding campaign. You’ll have to pay the same amount whether or not the lead opens or responds to your message, so it’s especially important to target the right users when running this type of campaign.

How to advertise on LinkedIn

When you’re ready to create your first ad campaign on LinkedIn, there are seven key steps to getting started.

1. Create a LinkedIn page and campaign

The first step is to create a LinkedIn page for your brand if you don’t already have one. If this is already done, create a new campaign in the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions platform’s Campaign Manager.

How to create a LinkedIn campaign

Select a campaign group for your ad. Use the default campaign group if this is your first time running LinkedIn ads — just edit the name “New Campaign Group” to something relevant.

2. Set your campaign objective

Consider what you want the campaign to achieve since there are different options like awareness, engagement, and conversions. For example, a campaign designed to maximize visibility will look different from one intended to drive sales. You can’t start the content creation process until you understand the goal.

LinkedIn supports various advertising objectives including brand awareness, website visits, engagement, and job applicants. You’ll eventually run ads for different objectives as you increase your LinkedIn marketing practices, even if what you choose for your first campaign differs.

3. Choose your target audience

The next step is to identify the target ad audience and the number of people you want the ad to reach. The same ad could generate different results depending on the audience. Targeting is one of the most important elements of LinkedIn advertising because it ensures the right people are seeing your ad.

Choosing a LinkedIn advertising target audience

LinkedIn provides robust segmentation tools for marketers. Targeting filters allow you to select a location and language and can narrow down your audience further based on criteria like skills, job title, industry, education level, and more.

4. Select your ad type and placement

Once you know your campaign goal and target audience, select an ad type from the four LinkedIn offers. Remember that the right type depends on the kind of content you’re creating and the action you want viewers to take.

LinkedIn includes a “Forecasted Results” box on the right side of the screen to provide an idea of the results you’ll generate with your selections and how much you’ll likely spend on the ad. Use this to see how the ad type fits into your campaign and budget. The forecast will automatically adjust as you change parameters such as objective, audience, and ad format.

5. Set a schedule and budget

Decide when you want the ad to run and how much you want to spend on it. You can select an end date or allow the ad to continue running indefinitely, but remember the latter continues to charge you until you cancel the ad.

Marketers can also choose a daily budget or a budget per bid. Effectively managing your budget can be challenging but will have a dramatic effect on your ROI. Start small to get a feel for LinkedIn advertising before committing too much.

6. Build your ad

You should already have a good idea of what you want the content to look like. Keep your goals, audience, and campaign type in mind as you start building the new ad.

The specifics will depend on your ad type. Create a compelling headline, draft an informative description, and include an eye-catching image in supported formats.

7. Track performance

Getting started is the key — then make an effort to learn from your campaigns. There are powerful analytic tools in the Campaign Manager reporting dashboard that can help you identify strengths and weaknesses so you can make adjustments. Some important KPIs to track include engagement and conversions.

For example, if your objective was conversions but you fell short of your goal, consider where leads fell off rather than simply calling the campaign a failure. Some users may have continued scrolling after looking at your ad and some might have clicked through to your website but bounced off immediately. This information should be taken into account for the next campaign.

LinkedIn ad targeting

LinkedIn ad targeting

LinkedIn’s robust targeting features are one of the main advantages of the platform since users tend to share personal information such as job title, location, and achievements. It's easier to target a niche audience since there’s plenty of data. Take advantage of this available information to help segment your LinkedIn ads.

Some important distinctions might include:

You can also import email contacts into LinkedIn from a separate list or target leads who have recently visited your page. These options offer outstanding flexibility to segment for LinkedIn campaigns.

LinkedIn advertising best practices

You will discover what works best for your brand and your target audiences the more you work with LinkedIn ads, but there are some best practices that can help you run your LinkedIn campaigns.

1. Keep the customer journey in mind

Consider who’s going to see the content you’re creating and where viewers are in your sales funnel. Don’t overwhelm your entire audience with every kind of ad and don’t send messages to people who aren’t familiar with your business.

For example, sponsored messages should be limited to users who are most likely to be interested in your content. Spending a high bid to directly message someone who isn’t engaged often is a waste of funds. Additionally, your messaging should be different for a new lead compared to someone who has already interacted with ads in the past.

2. Segment and target correctly

Segmentation is just as important as content creation. Showing the right ads to the right people at the right time is one of the toughest elements to master with digital advertising. If you’re having trouble with LinkedIn ads, consider using targeting tools to focus on your audience instead of your message.

LinkedIn also allows marketers to target users based on past engagement. You might run an initial ad to generate impressions, and then create a second ad to convert users who clicked on the first ad.

3. Use insights from other social campaigns

LinkedIn differs from other social channels but some of the same tactics still apply. Use what you’ve learned from advertising on other platforms and experiment with the same strategies on LinkedIn.

You can also gather valuable information by analyzing LinkedIn campaigns from other brands — particularly your direct competitors. Learn from their successes and failures and implement some of their winning tactics in your own campaigns.

4. Carefully select your content

Ensure your content is aligned with the target audience and the type of ad you’re running for a cohesive message that appeals to viewers and motivates them to take your desired action.

For example, if you want to generate leads consider sending a product-focused ad to a narrow audience of LinkedIn users in decision-making roles in relevant industries. If you’re more focused on visibility and earning LinkedIn followers, create a more general, aspirational ad and show it to a larger group.

All three factors — content, audience, and ad type — should be considered in connection with one another.

Getting started with LinkedIn advertising

LinkedIn ads are ideal for increasing brand awareness, generating more engagement, and bringing more revenue to your business. The robust targeting features make it easy to reach your target audience and use your marketing budget efficiently.

Fully optimize your LinkedIn campaigns with a solution that connects directly to LinkedIn so you can run ad campaigns and generate leads natively. Adobe Marketo Engage streamlines the process of setting up campaigns, tracks user activity, and evaluates your results. Adobe Marketo Measure integrates with LinkedIn through Sponsored Content to provide insight on the ROI of your LinkedIn activity. And Lead Gen Forms can help you run ad campaigns that generate leads.

Watch an overview video or take a free product tour to see how simple it is to get started.