LinkedIn opens new ad network to sell Sponsored Content ads on others’ apps, sites
Unlike its old ad network, LinkedIn Audience Network centers on the work-centric social network's native ad format and skews toward mobile app inventory.
LinkedIn is resurrecting its ad network, but with a twist.
A year and a half after LinkedIn decided to stop syndicating brands’ ads to other publishers’ sites, the Microsoft-owned company is rolling out a new ad network called LinkedIn Audience Network. At its core, LinkedIn’s new ad network is like its old ad network: brands can target their ads to LinkedIn’s users and have the ads shown to those users on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Unlike the old, fairly traditional ad network, however, the new one centers around LinkedIn’s flagship Sponsored Content ad format and skews towards syndicating that native ad primarily across mobile apps. It also resembles Facebook’s ad network, from carrying the same name to needing to address advertiser concerns over transparency and control.
LinkedIn Audience Network will extend brands’ Sponsored Content ads beyond LinkedIn to between 100 and 150 sites and many more mobile apps, said LinkedIn product manager Divye Khilnani. As with Facebook’s ad network of the same name, LinkedIn Audience Network is heavily mobile, with mobile apps accounting for 95 percent of its traffic by volume, he said.
For the mobile app inventory, LinkedIn will go through major mobile ad exchanges operated by Google, Twitter, Rubicon Project and Sharethrough. For the web inventory, LinkedIn hand-picked sites whose audiences overlap with LinkedIn’s and will buy their inventory through deals with its parent company, Microsoft and AppNexus, which has had close financial and business ties with Microsoft for years.
As with all major ad sellers’ ad networks, the purpose of LinkedIn’s Audience Network is to extend the reach of brands’ ads by expanding the footprint where LinkedIn can place those ads. During a testing phase with more than 6,000 advertisers, the ad network increased the average number of unique impressions served for a campaign by between 3 percent and 13 percent, according to Khilnani.
Add-on for click-based Sponsored Content campaigns
Advertisers will only be able to buy LinkedIn’s Audience Network inventory when purchasing click-based Sponsored Content campaigns. However, Sponsored Content campaigns that have lead generation forms attached to the ad will not be able to run across the ad network. LinkedIn decided to limit Audience Network buys to these click-based ads for two reasons, said Khilnani. First, charging by the click mitigates fraud concerns, and second, it makes it easier for advertisers to gauge the return on their investments, he said.
Brands buying click-based Sponsored Content ads will be opted in to buying Audience Network by default. They can deselect the ad network from being added to a campaign, but they cannot choose to buy Audience Network inventory separate from on-LinkedIn inventory. For now, Audience Network can only be added to campaigns that target audiences in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, India, Singapore and New Zealand.
LinkedIn will break out Audience Network separately when reporting brands’ campaign results. Advertisers will be able to see how many impressions, clicks, likes and comments their ads received, as well as money-minded stats like average cost per click, average cost per thousand impressions and the total amount of money spent on Audience Network inventory.
Transparency and control
As much as LinkedIn’s ad network’s name mimics Facebook’s, the work-centric social network plans to avoid some of the roadblocks that Facebook has run into with advertisers. Major ad buyers including GroupM and DigitasLBi have advised clients against buying Facebook’s Audience Network inventory because of a lack of control and transparency around where their ads appear. Facebook has started to address these issues, and so will LinkedIn.
For now, advertisers will be able to specify where they do not want their ads to appear. To block their ads at the category level, advertisers will be able to select from a couple dozen content categories — including news, business, health and fitness, real estate and shopping, with sub-categories such as local news, advertising, weight loss, apartments and couponing — based on the IAB Tech Lab Content Taxonomy.
If advertisers want to be more granular, they can upload lists of specific sites or apps that they don’t want to carry their ads. These blocklists can contain up to 20,000 website domains, iTunes App Store URLs and Android Play Store URLs per campaign. LinkedIn settled on the 20,000 mark as a trade-off. The company wanted to let advertisers block as many publishers as necessary, but it didn’t want those blocklists to be so long that the time required to check each entry in these lists when placing a programmatic buy delays the bid from being placed in time, Khilnani said.
LinkedIn plans to roll out other tools to give advertisers more control over and transparency into where their ads are placed. The ability to whitelist, or specify the sites and/or apps that a brand does want its ads to appear on, is on that roadmap. But “before we begin offering a whitelisting feature, we want to be even more transparent to advertisers,” said Khilnani. So LinkedIn is working on a way to report a list of the apps and sites on which a brand’s ad appears as soon as those ads appear there. That would one-up Facebook’s own placement lists that only report the sites and apps on which a brand’s ad may appear.