LinkedIn Ads: How to target your ideal prospect, every time
Columnist AJ Wilcox walks you through LinkedIn targeting methods and campaign strategies that will help you reach your audience efficiently and at a lower cost.
LinkedIn Ads is the undisputed king of targeting professionals in the world of advertising, and it does it at scale.
In an ideal world, we’d love to simply target by job title and know that we would reach everyone who’s relevant. The issue that comes into play is profile completeness.
LinkedIn, like any social network, struggles with profile completeness. This is because it relies on the user to volunteer information about himself/herself.
For instance, if you expect to reach 100 percent of the possible CMOs on LinkedIn by using the job title “CMO,” you’re going to be disappointed. Similarly, if someone neglects to join any groups, then they’ll be ineligible to be targeted through Groups targeting.
Because of the inherent weakness in relying on users to provide all of their information accurately, I recommend combining multiple types of targeting around the same persona. This manifests itself as multiple campaigns targeting the same type of person in your LinkedIn Ads account.
Eventually, as you gather deep-funnel data about each of these audiences, you may find that some are more efficient than others. These insights allow you to spend dollars on only the most efficient audiences to become a finely tuned, lead-generation machine.
Introducing the four pillars of LinkedIn targeting
Whenever considering any potential audience, I think through the following targeting methods:
- Job Title (usually the easiest)
- Job Function + Seniority (the broadest)
- Skills + Seniority (broad + specific)
- Groups + Seniority (narrowest and most specialized)
Each targeting type is nuanced in its own way, so here are some things to consider about each one:
Job Title targeting
There are as many potential job titles as there are jobs, so LinkedIn made the Job Title field on your profile a freeform field where you can write whatever you want. Then the platform must inspect those titles and categorize them into common buckets for advertisers to select. For LinkedIn to justify creating a bucket for a certain job title, many hundreds of professionals must exist with that job title.
I’ve found that Job Title targeting is generally the first type that marketers will try because it’s the most straightforward. For the rest of us, that leads to increased competition and higher costs per click (CPCs).
Pros: Precise targeting
Cons: Small audiences and high CPCs
Job Function targeting
I like to think of Job Function as which department someone would traditionally sit within in a company. This is the broadest targeting available on LinkedIn, which means it gives you access to the largest audiences but doesn’t get very precise.
For instance, if you wanted to reach digital marketers, the Job Function of Marketing would be too broad, since it would reach all those in marketing roles, and not only those in digital.
It’s best used when you’re trying to get in front of as many people as possible, with a big budget.
Pros: Creates largest audiences
Cons: Often too broad, and will show to people you’re not interested in
Not everyone joins a group, and not everyone who is interested in a given topic is a member of a group around said topic, which leaves you with small audiences.
However, if you join a group on a certain topic, that means you’re likely REALLY passionate about that topic or your job is quite dependent on it.
Pros: Active, relevant audiences
Cons: Often results in smaller audiences
Skills are similar to groups, except they are simpler to add to your profile, making the targeting much broader.
For instance, I’m a technical marketer, and I have SQL as a skill on my profile. Would you want to hire me for a job creating SQL queries, though? No. You absolutely would not.
By targeting skills, you get access to professionals with more precision than Job Function, with pretty large audience sizes. They won’t be quite as relevant as a group or a specific job title, though.
Pros: Large, self-selected audiences
Cons: Sometimes too broad
Don’t combine any of these four pillars, as doing so makes audiences small without becoming meaningfully more targeted. That being said, I do find it effective to layer the pillars as exclusions to targeting under certain advanced circumstances.
Audience size importance
In the above targeting types, I made reference to small audiences as being negative, but there are great reasons to have both large and small audiences. The goal in my strategy is to get as specific an audience as your budget can accommodate.
LinkedIn will tell you to make sure you have at least 300,000 in an audience, but I strongly recommend against ever having an audience even remotely that large, unless you have a massive budget.
On any sort of limited budget, you might as well make sure your dollars are spent on the most perfect audience. Don’t be afraid to focus your limited dollars on only the most applicable people. Don’t feel the need to make your audience larger than they need to be, just because it’s “best practice.”
I like audiences to be between 20,000 and 50,000. Any larger than that, and you’re unlikely to learn much from the performance of any single audience. When faced with a larger audience size, I like to break it up into multiple smaller segments and split them up by seniority or geography. This allows me to measure the differences in engagement based on facets that help me better craft meaningful messages and content.
A real-life example
Let’s use a digital marketer, for example. Let’s say you are looking to sell your product to Digital Marketing Managers. Here’s the thought process I would go through:
- Job Title – Digital Marketing Manager (YES!)
- Job Function – Not helpful because Job Function + Seniority would only get us to a Marketing Manager. That would leave you with a bunch of irrelevant marketers who aren’t guaranteed to have digital marketing responsibilities. (NO!)
- Skills + Seniority – We can target digital marketing skills like “technical SEO,” “paid search” and “paid social,” while layering on the Manager level of seniority. That gives us Digital Marketing Managers quite precisely. (YES!)
- Groups + Seniority – We can target groups that digital marketers would join, such as “Social Media Marketing,” “Online Marketing” and “LinkedIn Advertising Group.” Then, as with #3 above, you’d layer on a Manager seniority, and be left with Digital Marketing Manager. (YES!)
As you might be able to tell, Seniority is one of my most often-used filters, but recently added is the Years of Experience filter, which can work as an alternative to Seniority. That may be useful for targeting someone with a certain longevity to their career, regardless of the outward title.
Use them interchangeably as needed.
Now that you’ve specified the right person, it’s time to qualify what type of company they work for. You’ve got a few options for this:
- Company Industry
- Company Size
- Company Name
Pretty straightforward — target the industries that bring your ideal customer.
The most helpful filter in differentiating your targeting between Enterprise, Startups and everything in between.
I’ve found that many marketers like to define their target by yearly Revenue, while LinkedIn gives you employee size. A simple heuristic is to multiply Employees x 100K to get an average revenue. (e.g., 50 employees x 100k = roughly a $5M/year company).
This is by far my favorite filter as Account-Based Marketing continues to heat up. Specify a list of up to 100 companies (more coming soon!) to target by name. Determine these target companies yourself, or poll the sales team for bonus points, and watch your leads get treated with extra care.
Putting it all together
Now that you’ve assembled your targeting around both the professional and by the type of company where that professional works, you’re ready to craft messaging and show advertisements to those audiences.
I recommend naming your campaign after your targeting, which will create an evergreen campaign you can continue to use for as long as this is an audience you find worthwhile to show ads to.
Let’s say you’re targeting:
- Digital Marketing Titles
- High-tech Industry
- Company Size of 200+ employees
- In the United States
I might name that campaign something like:
Digital Mktg Titles | Tech Ind | CS 200+ | US
This way, it’s easy to group all similar audiences alphabetically for easy comparison of each type of audience. You also have all targeting attributes in the name, so reporting is simple to pull out insights (i.e., a quick pivot table in Excel can group all US campaigns or performance by larger company sizes).
By testing separate audiences of the four pillars of LinkedIn targeting (Title, Job Function, Skills and Groups), you can find efficiencies in reaching your audience at lower costs and higher performance.
Layer on your company information to ensure you’re reaching companies that are a good fit for your products/services.
Compare the campaigns against one another to fine-tune which messaging/content most closely engages the various personas you’re targeting.