What’s Going On With Advertising on LinkedIn?
Advertising on LinkedIn is an enormously powerful way to reach high quality prospects in a business setting. For B2B marketers, LinkedIn is far and away the best social media outlet to run ads on. By Advertising on LinkedIn, marketers have access to a wellspring of data, and LinkedIn’s ad platform makes it easy for even fledgling marketers to get started in a dynamic and profitable way.
From sponsoring posts, to text ads, to sponsored in-mails, LinkedIn offers marketers a variety of ways to engage businesspeople that may be interested in what their business offers. More importantly, leveraging LinkedIn’s data to target your ads has proved to be a highly effective way to get your content in front of the right people at the right time.
However, LinkedIn has been lagging behind competitive ad platforms (namely, Facebook) in a real way when it comes to the usability of their ad tech.
And LinkedIn knows it.
For example, conversion tracking, something as fundamental to the success of an ad campaign as a credit card for which to pay for your clicks, was only recently implemented into LinkedIn’s advertising ecosystem. And conversion tracking through LinkedIn still doesn’t work all that great.
LinkedIn reporting isn’t as flexible or dynamic as “power users” (richer advertisers) would like it to be, and overall, their system isn’t nearly as robust as Facebook’s.
For a lot of businesses, advertising on LinkedIn has left quite a bit to be desired.
A lot of that is about to change.
All The News They Print We Fit
One of our clients at AdVenture Media spends a truck load of cash advertising on LinkedIn each month. Because their are certain features of LinkedIn ads only available through an internal management team at LinkedIn, we work with dedicated representatives (super nice people – they treated our entire management team to steak dinner in NYC a couple months ago) to help us manage our spend in the most effective way possible.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with our rep this past Friday morning on the 25th floor of the Empire State Building, and he gave my client and me an exciting peek into some of the major changes and updates coming to LinkedIn ads, all slated for public release early 2017. I’m not making this stuff up, but if none (or only some) of what follows gets released, don’t blame me – I’m just the messenger.
First, the entire LinkedIn interface and UI is set to be redesigned from the ground up. I don’t have any screenshots or mockups to share with you here, but the design is a flat (shocker) cleaner aesthetic focusing the user’s attention more centrally on the news feed.
As our rep explained to us, the idea was to take the success and positive feedback from their mobile experience and translate that into a desktop and tablet experience. The new design will help users engage more with their newsfeed, with a much needed improvement to LinkedIn search.
But none of that happy crappy has much to do with what we came here to talk about in the first place – LinkedIn ads updates.
1. LinkedIn Display Going 100% Programmatic
LinkedIn already has begun to open up ad inventory to live auctions, but until recently, if you wanted to run display ads on LinkedIn’s property, you needed $25,000 per month ready to burn and you needed to get in touch with their sales team to get a campaign rolling (a process that took about a month on average). Unlike sponsored posts and text ads, there was never (and there still isn’t) any self-service way to launch a display campaign from within LinkedIn ads manager.
According to our rep, LinkedIn is making their entire display inventory available through the ad exchanges sometime early next year.
Many major brands are going “programmatic”, which is a fancier way to say that they’re going to try and make more money from their ad inventory by allowing buyers to bid on every individual impression instead of simply targeting a population using LinkedIn’s data sets.
Programmatic ad serving relies on real time bidding technology (RTB), a bidding system that has exploded in popularity and adaptation over the past 5 or so years. If you’re not familiar with programmatic ad serving, here’s a great beginners guide worth checking out.
While programmatic ad buying has been proven to help the publisher (LinkedIn) maximize ad revenue, it also has been proven to help advertisers (you and me) maximize our profit per impression. Simply put, instead of targeting ads based on third party data alone (LinkedIn’s data), you can target ads based on thousands of unique data points, including third party data, your own first party data (remarketing) and the user’s previous browsing history.
For example, you may be working with a third party data company that collects information on millions of website users across the internet. Through years of painful and expensive testing, you may have found that your third party data companies in-market segment labeled “peanut factory enthusiasts” has performed really well for your products or services. With programmatic ad inventory available on LinkedIn, you can still target that exact same in-market segment (the same people), when they’re browsing LinkedIn. Pretty cool, eh?
Of greater import, perhaps, is that there will no longer be a $25,000 per month barrier to entry to advertising on LinkedIn (for display). Anyone can get in the game, as long as you bid enough in the auction to win an impression.
In order to run programmatic display campaigns on LinkedIn, you’ll need to be working with a DSP (demand side platform). DSP’s are the layer of technology between you and the ad exchanges, and they work on behalf of the advertiser to ensure you bid appropriately (in a way that maximizes profit) on each impression the auction throws their way.
Some of the major DSP’s include Doubleclick Bid Manager (Google), MediaMath, AppNexus, Turn and a handful of other behemoths. If you’re finding the concept of a DSP difficult to understand, you’re not alone. It can be tricky if you’re unfamiliar with the concepts involved.
Think of advertising on AdWords on the Google Display Network (GDN) as a DSP. The AdWords interface is a piece of software that allows you to configure bids, settings, ad creative and more. When your ads are shown on websites across the internet, it’s because you won the auction for that space through real time bidding and programmatic ad serving systems. Speaking of AdWords, it’s unclear whether or not you’ll be able to target the LinkedIn display inventory through the GDN alone (without using a separate DSP like Doubleclick Bid Manager). Our rep said that he’s almost positive AdWords will be able to bid on LinkedIn’s inventory through the GDN, but that’s something that’s still unclear at the time of writing this. Either way, advertising on LinkedIn is going to become a real force as more an more inventory becomes available through the ad exchanges.
Getting back to LinkedIn, this new model presents a fantastic opportunity for advertisers to run high level, sophisticated ad campaigns on LinkedIn itself, a highly desirable property. One of the primary issues in running large scale display campaigns through a traditional DSP is the quality of the placements (websites) your ads are served on. It’s not uncommon for an advertiser to spend a lot of money on clicks only to realize 90% of their impressions were shown on websites that brought in very low quality traffic. Advertising on LinkedIn through programmatic buying allows you to bid for impressions at a price that works for you while showing impressions to businesspeople in a business-minded setting. It’s a win win (as every ad platform has said until they take your money and leave you wondering what the hell even happened).
Just to reiterate: Advertisers can already bid on LinkedIn display inventory through their DSP’s, but LinkedIn will be releasing 100% of their inventory to the exchanges starting early next year.
How much will advertising on LinkedIn cost?
Expect to pay $10-$12 CPM’s (cost per thousand impressions) for most ad campaigns exclusively targeting the Linkedin display network. That’s not cheap, but I think most companies targeting a B2B environment will be able to make that price point work for them. Like Google, LinkedIn values CTR as a human-centric way to assess how appealing your ads are to users, so be mindful of optimizing for click through rate as you design and deploy your campaigns.
Part of the appeal of advertising on LinkedIn has always been their user centric design. Thankfully, LinkedIn only shows one ad per page, and that one ad impression is always above the fold. That’s a huge advantage over typical display campaigns. If you’re paying on an impression by impression basis (you are), you want to make sure your ad has at least a chance of being seen by an actual human being. When advertising on LinkedIn, they do … every single time. That’s huge.
Furthermore, while LinkedIn is making display a BYOD (bring your own data) bonanza, our rep also told us that you’ll be able to combine your own data with custom built LinkedIn audiences – but that will still need to be set up with your own rep and a dedicated internal sales team at LinkedIn. These campaigns targeting both your own data and custom LinkedIn audiences will be considered semi-private auctions, which you can read about here, but really just amount to the same essential thing as bidding with your own data exclusively.
2. Remarketing. On. LinkedIn. It’s About Damn Time.
I can go on for a long time about remarketing (I actually have, for more than 8 hours here) but I won’t. You’re welcome.
Simple retargeting has been sorely lacking from advertising on LinkedIn since inception, so I was excited when our rep brought up the planned release for fully capable remarketing and audience targeting from within the LinkedIn ads manager UI.
Of course, given what we just discussed about programmatic display, remarketing through that medium is a given – but LinkedIn will be integrating remarketing into their internal self-serve ad products.
LinkedIn will be releasing a self-serve remarketing system from within the LinkedIn ads manager that will allow you to create, select and target custom audiences in your sponsored posts and text ads campaigns. For any company advertising on LinkedIn, big or small, being able to remarket to your past website visitors on linkedin is a huge step forward for the ad platform as a whole. This is the singular most important feature that LinkedIn will be announcing, and it conveys a deep respect for the advertiser and their specific needs.
While this hasn’t (and won’t be) mentioned by anyone at LinkedIn, a part of the hesitation to release remarketing capabilities internally is because advertisers are likely to spend less on ads (at least from the outset). There’s no better way to test drive a new ad platform than to run ads specifically targeting your website users. It minimizes risk, curbs potentially wasted spend, and it can give you answers relatively quickly. And you’ll spend less (in most cases), becauses your population is smaller than Linkedin’s (unless you’re Facebook, in which case your remarketing campaigns will probably spend more than a traditional display campaign).
So a nice big round of applause to the good folks at LinkedIn who finally cottoned-on to the notion that we’d all spend more money in the long run if you give us the ability to control our ads with a little more nuance and sophistication.
Based on what our rep told us, it sounds like LinkedIn will also release an exciting Google Analytics integration that will make their internal remarketing system all the more useful.
3. Sponsored Content Beyond LinkedIn.
This is actually really cool.
What makes advertising on LinkedIn such a unique opportunity in the first place is the accuracy and value of their data. People are much less likely to lie or fabricate any personal information on LinkedIn than they are on Facebook. Because LinkedIn is such an integral professional tool, there’s a high degree of honesty in how people fill out and display information about themselves. That’s a gold mine for advertisers, and LinkedIn knows it.
That’s why they’re introducing sponsored content beyond Linkedin, which allows an advertiser to use LinkedIn’s data (like demographics, company size, position, years at company, etc) but instead of promoting content exclusively in the LinkedIn news feed, advertisers will be able to target those same people while they’re browsing a host of other news sites around the internet.
Exactly what websites these sponsored ads will appear on is unclear, as is how these ads will look, but it’s a new ad product that is sure to make advertising on Linkedin more appealing to many companies looking to explore new opportunities.
Given the indubitable value and accuracy of LinkedIn’s data, it just makes so much sense for LinkedIn to monetize that data off of LinkedIn itself, and for marketers to likewise find value in targeting those same people beyond the confines of the LinkedIn news feed.
4. In-ad Call to Actions … Of Course!
The value for B2B marketers to collect lead information from within an ad itself is so blazingly obvious, it’s almost incomprehensible that to date, such a feature hasn’t been released.
The call to action part we’ve all seen before (think Facebook and Twitter ads). There’s nothing that exciting about an ad with a “Download Now” or “Learn More” button embedded within it (which makes it all the more astounding that we’ve seen nothing of the sort with LinkedIn ads yet). What’s really neat about this new update is the ability to capture lead contact info inside the ad itself, without the need to send the user to an outside landing page simply for the sake of filling out a form to access some gated content.
Companies advertising on LinkedIn will now be able to set up forms as a dropdown inside their sponsored posts. Think about that … it’s huge.
So many B2B marketers are running ads to landing pages with ebooks, white papers, consultation CTA’s, free trials and more, as the desired conversion action. Rarely are LinkedIn advertisers trying to sell a product or take a credit card payment as a direct result of an ad click.
Now, imagine this: you target your ads to your selected audience promoting your ebook or whitepaper giveaway. The user, scrolling through their news feed sees your sponsored post, and clicks the “download ebook” button right then and there. A form dropdown appears already filled in with the users info, and the lead happily submits the form.
Because LinkedIn will also be providing integrations with your CRM of choice, you’ll automatically get the lead info logged in your CRM (remember, this was not necessarily someone already in your network), and the new lead will get their ebook sent to them automatically. Yes, you’ve spent hours, days, weeks on your landing pages, but as Stephen King is fond of saying, kill your darlings.
I think this is going to be a feature that has the potential to take advertising on LinkedIn to the proverbial next level.
5. Self-Serve Buffet of Sponsored In-mails
Most of you probably never heard of LinkedIn In-mail campaigns, and that’s for good reason. It’s not something the company has focused that heavily on in the past, it’s not a self-serve ad product, and for most companies, it’s not a core component of advertising on LinkedIn. In-mail campaigns allow you to send In-mails (linkedin’s version of email) to anyone on LinkedIn (targeting works the same way as with any other ad campaign on LinkedIn). The In-mail shows up as a sponsored In-mail in the user’s inbox, and Linkedin claims an incredible response rate from brands using it as an advertising medium.
Linkedin In-mails will be going self service, which means anyone can try them out and see how they perform. Moreover, you can also use your retargeting lists in your in-mail ad campaigns, which again, is super cool.
Conversion Tracking 2.0 (I hope?)
Our rep was rather vague here, but he did mention that Linkedin is planning to overhaul their conversion tracking tech sometime toward the beginning of next year.
I wish I had some more insight to share on that, but from what he said, we could expect better integrations with google analytics and other popular business data analysis tools, better functionality for multiple conversion actions, and enhanced reporting accuracy.
There’s simply no better place in the digital ecosystem to reach businesspeople at scale. LinkedIn has been lagging in ad tech and if they want to really appeal en masse to the general business population they need to clean up their act fast and improve their ad experience by about a factor of ten.
From what I hear, they’re well on their way to doing just that over the next few months.
Keep your ears to the ground, start planning some campaign blueprints, and convince your boss (unless you are the boss) to seriously allocate marketing budget to advertising on LinkedIn. Even if you’ve come to the LinkedIn ads smorgasbord before and left less than sated, come back for seconds … the chow is about to get a lot tastier (fingers crossed).
And as always, keep on truckin.