When businesses go looking for expert advice on how to drive business growth through LinkedIn, AJ Wilcox has earned that reputation for knowing exactly how and when to utilize LinkedIn’s numerous advertising options.
In terms of cost per click, LinkedIn is higher than other platforms. But what it does really well is allow for more niche target capabilities on a platform that already has the right people in the right mindset to become leads that convert at a much higher rate.
Rich: He’s a longtime digital marketer who fell in love with the LinkedIn ads platform in 2011. He founded B2Linked.com in 2014, which specializes in LinkedIn ads, account management, training, and consulting. Since then he has managed hundreds of accounts and a combined $100 million in ad spend on the network. He has worked directly with several of LinkedIn’s top 10 accounts. His entrepreneurial journey is deeply rooted in his faith.
After he was fired from his last job he was offered multiple job opportunities, but he prayed to God to figure out what he should do, and the answer was to turn them all down and start his own business, and he’s never looked back. Welcome to The Agents of Change Podcast, AJ Wilcox.
AJ: Thanks so much, Rich. I’m excited to be here.
Rich: I know, we were talking before. You just seem like a guy who is exited as your normal state. Is that correct?
AJ: Yeah, I’m pretty much happy no matter where you put me. And I think that goes to show when you’re specializing in something seemingly boring like LinkedIn, if I can be excited about that I can probably get excited about anything.
Rich: Alright. So let’s just get this piece out in the open. I’ve dabbled in LinkedIn ads, both for myself and for my small business client over the years, and I just haven’t had good results. What am I doing wrong?
AJ: Well your story is definitely not unique. I’m sure there are several things that could be an issue, but more often than not people are attracted to LinkedIn ads because the targeting is absolutely incredible. You can target people by their job title, the department they’re in, the skills that they have on their profile, groups they’re members of, levels of seniority, it just goes on and on and it’s extremely powerful. But where oftentimes people fall down is the ads are just plain expensive. The average cost per click is somewhere between about $6-$9, so what we found is if you make a mistake early on, it’s oftentimes an expensive mistake and may turn you off from the platform. So it’s really helpful to understand laying the groundwork of the economics, does this have the potential to work, can it work at these elevated costs per click.
Rich: Alright, and I want to definitely dive into that. Let’s start with maybe a more basic question because I’m guessing that LinkedIn advertising isn’t for everyone. Who should be advertising on LinkedIn, what kinds of businesses or industries?
AJ: Well I’ve got three niches that I think tend to work really well. The first is the largest niche, and this is business to business – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a product or a service – with a high lifetime value. So when I’m saying this in my mind I’m thinking, if you’re going to earn $15,000 or more from the lifetime of one of your customers, then LinkedIn ads is pretty much a no-brainer. If it’s much less than that, than it could be a challenge. Obviously if you’re paying those higher CPCs up front, it means you’ve got to have a larger payoff in the backend to have a return on investment.
But there are two other niches that tend to work really well. The next one is white collar recruiting, so if you’re looking to hire someone in white collar it tends to work really well. And then the third is higher education. If you’re looking to place someone in a Ph.D. and an MBA program, the targeting on LinkedIn around education is really good.
Rich: Is this for when you’re targeting someone just graduated from college? What do you mean exactly?
AJ: Well yeah, I mean if you’re an MBA program and you’re looking to recruit people in, you’re going to have your own profile of you want to target, and oftentimes that’s somebody that has 5+ years in business but they have their Bachelor’s but they don’t yet have their Master’s degree. Something like that. But yeah, it really can work with whoever the school is looking for.
Rich: Alright. Walk me through the advertising opportunities on LinkedIn. What do the ads look like, what are the targeting tools like, where do they appear? Let’s start with targeting, you teased that a little bit at the beginning, talk to me about some of the targeting opportunities you have? If you’ve got a case study or something that you’ve done in the past jus to help us anchor that down and understand it that would be great, too.
AJ: Sure. Well the targeting is by far my favorite part on LinkedIn because it’s so powerful. And the real interesting part here – because you can have really good targeting on other platforms – but this is targeting at scale. So if you are trying to target by job titles on Facebook, you’re probably only going to hit 5% of people who actually have that job title, because only about 5% of those people are actually going to write that into their personal profile.
But on LinkedIn, when you signed up for a profile, you put all that information in. So they have this data when you want to reach a “Senior HR Manager”, you can reach them across the entire globe at probably a 95% rate. So it’s that “at scale” which is incredible.
The types of targeting you can do, if you’ve heard of “account based marketing” – or sometimes we refer to it as “ABM” – LinkedIn has really powerful targeting around that where we can target just specific companies or a list of companies. It’s super cool if you say we know the 300 companies worldwide that we want to work with, we’re super niche, you could put a campaign together and just target those 300 companies and not waste $1 on anything else.
But lots more. You can target in education, demographics, but like I mentioned the seniority in job titles, the department, company sizes, company industries.
Rich: And I’m guessing you can also use multiple filters. So if I wanted to get in touch with all the HR professionals in New England, that is something that we’d be able to create as well.
AJ: That’s exactly right. You might do a job function of HR, the geography of New England, you might do seniority of Manager and above, you might say company sizes of 50 and above or 200 and above, jest depending on the type of company you want to go after.
Rich: Now on Facebook I know that we can advertise and target people who have visited our website, or we can upload an email list and advertise to those people. Do I have the same opportunities on LinkedIn?
AJ: Yes, very similar. On LinkedIn we can upload a list of email addresses to either target or exclude, you can upload a list of company names to either target or exclude, and we can also use landing page retargeting, when they’ve landed they get a cookie. Where the latter is not extremely powerful, we found that retargeting across both Google and Facebook is really good on LinkedIn because it requires having a cookie on your machine, and iOS devices like iPads and iPhones don’t carry cookies, we found that usually half of your audience doesn’t get cookied and isn’t part of that audience. So I wouldn’t say that retargeting on LinkedIn is the end all be all, but you can certainly do it.
Rich: Ok. I would think though that most B2B people are using the same laptops or desktop computers because they are at work when they’re checking out your website, so maybe there is a little bit of mitigation going on there. I don’t know.
AJ: Yeah, maybe it’s a higher rate. But in general we see about half of traffic is using an iOS device, at least in the United States. So what I say is, drive the right traffic from LinkedIn, but make sure that you have Facebook and Google ads retargeting on the backend to retarget that traffic, just to make it as efficient as possible.
Rich: Interesting. So we talked a little bit about retargeting, this may be a very basic question, but what do the ads look like and where do they appear? Like, I know I’ve seen ads on LinkedIn like big corporations advertising and things like that. Are these text-based ads, are they image ads, do they appear in the feed, the sidebar, Messenger, how do those all work?
AJ: Yeah, so there are five different ad formats that you can get access to. The very first that you probably noticed is if you open up the homepage on desktop, or the app on mobile, the first thing it drops you into is the newsfeed. The second item in your newsfeed will say “promoted”, and it will be by a company that you don’t currently follow. So those are called “sponsored content”, that’s what I recommend starting with 95% of the time.
But then there are four other ad formats. One is if you’re on desktop, if you look in the right rail you’ll see a purely text-based ad, it has a 50×50 image with it, but other wards looks like a really old Google ad. Twenty-five character intro and seventy-five character description, those are the cheapest ad format by far. You can pay as low as $2-$4 to click on those ones, but they have really low click through rates so it’s hard to spend a whole lot there.
The next one that’s really interesting is if you go to your inbox, sometimes you’ll get what are called a “sponsored in mail”. And this is where – unlike other ads – where you have to pay per click, this one you pay per send. So you pay to send it to someone’s inbox like a sponsored email.
And the last two formats I’m happy to go over but they’re not nearly as interesting.
Rich: Well let’s just mention them for completion.
AJ: Ok, sounds good. So we have one called “dynamic ads”. This is where you’ll see an image-based ad in the right rail on desktop hat will actually feature your picture in it. So the ad, when it’s serving, will stick your picture in there to try to get your attention. Click through rates on those are not very good and the cost per click are pretty high. So I would much rather stick with text ads if I were just going to be on the right rail on desktop.
And then finally there’s a 300×250 banner ad, but you actually can’t access that through LinkedIn, you have to do that through programmatic like using Google’s double click.
Rich: Ok, that makes a lot of sense. Ok, so we’ve talked about targeting, where the ads are going to be, what they look like. Once we do that, once we set that up, what are we doing with that audience? We’re trying to get people I assume to click through, are we trying to get them to land on our website, on a landing page, on our profile, on our company page, and do we even have the option?
AJ: Absolutely. So more often than not I’m going to say you want to get that traffic to your website so you can 1) retarget it with Facebook and Google ads, and 2) so you can track it with UTM parameters which I’m sure a lot of your audience are using religiously.
So that’s #1, like if you’re going to pay LinkedIn’s high cost per click, let’s get that traffic to where you’re going to make the most money off of it. However, we do find that some clients have troubles putting together a really high performing landing page, and so LinkedIn does have an option to bypass a landing page and just have a form directly within the ad very similar to Facebook’s lead ads, LinkedIn calls it a “lead gen form ad”. So inside of sponsored content you can have a little drawer pop down with fields, and someone can convert right in the ad. It generally gives you a higher conversion rate but a little bit lower of a quality of lead just because they haven’t gotten to surf around your site and learn more about you.
Rich: Alright. Of all these, have you found one, in working with your clients, that is more effective or less effective? You mentioned the dynamic and the 300×250 programmatic ads is not your favorite, so of the other three are there ones that like if I’m a small business that I should be more focused on, is there a low hanging fruit here?
AJ: Well sponsored content I mentioned is the one that I would suggest 95% of the time people start with. And the reason for that is it’s just a really good all-around ad format. It takes up a lot of space in the user feed, so it tends to get a pretty high click through rate. Which means if you’re targeting a fairly niche audience, you can still spend some budget on them.
It also is a great all-around ad unit because you can pretty much put whatever kind of message you want in there. It’s a nice 1,200×627 image and three fields of text, so that’s a great place to start. And you’re probably going to pay somewhere between $6-$9 per click.
However, that text ad that’s over in the right rail over on desktop, those are a lot cheaper. So if you have a pretty broad audience – let’s say you’re going after an audience of 4 million people – you can use those text ads and still probably spend your budget and you’ll pay less. So if having the lowest cost per lead possible is your biggest goal, than the text ad is good.
And then sponsored in mail does really well if you have an offer that feels more like a personal invitation. So a free event in your area that you’re cordially invited to, an early access or sneak peek about who you are professionally, something like that is going to work really well in sponsored in mail, where as something else like a more general offer to join a webinar or download a whitepaper, might not work as well.
Rich: Are the sponsored in mails also kind of a bidding process, or is there a set fee on those, or how does that work?
AJ: Yeah, it’s eventually going to be more of a bidding environment. But they’re new-ish, we just got access to them in late 2017, or probably 2016, and not a lot of people use them. So the auction environment isn’t super exciting yet, which pretty much means that whatever you bid you’re probably going to get sends for that price. So if LinkedIn tells you the floor price is $.40 per send, you can probably set your bid at $.40, and probably fill your budget.
Rich: Ok. And of course I always think about my own Agents of Change conference and thinking about sending out personal invites to Directors of Marketing for them or their team, and putting them into their inbox might be a good way of broadening my reach as well.
AJ: Definitely. And one thing I would caution you on is that any sort of cold touch where you’re asking someone to open up their wallet, LinkedIn doesn’t do very well on. People on LinkedIn – and this might be across all social, too – but as a cold touch if they don’t know, like, or trust you yet, whether you’re asking for $20 for something for a small product or $1,000 for a conference, we have a really hard time getting people to actually convert on that. But of course as a warm touch, people who already know you, that can work quite well.
Rich: Alright, so if I have a warm touch, they’ve been to my conference, or can I target them because we’re already connected? Is that one of the filters or targeting offers I have?
AJ: You know what, I used to have a hack for this but I don’t anymore. LinkedIn used to allow you to export all your connections to a CSV file, and one of the fields they would give you is their email address, so you could then take that list of email addresses and upload it to the ad platform. Unfortunately about 2 months ago LinkedIn removed that ability to export email addresses. So yeah, you used to be able to do that.
One potential way around that is you can target company page followers. So if these are all people who have followed your company page, you can target them. Now let’s be honest, most of the attendees have probably not followed your company page.
Rich: No. Not only that, we don’t have a company page for Agents of Change, we have one for flyte new media which is different. It’s surprising to me that LinkedIn wouldn’t let you advertise to first, second, and third type of connections because that seems like an easy way for me to reach my ideal customer.
AJ: I agree with that, I hope that’s on the horizon.
Rich: So I think when some people hear you should expect to pay $9 per click, especially if you run a small business, you kind of feel like you may have just been punched in the stomach. For people who may be used to paying $1-$2 per click on other platforms, that’s a big spend. And you addressed this a little bit earlier, you’ve done a lot of these, you mentioned $100,000,000 worth of ad spend. Have you seen certain types of landing pages or asks on the landing pages that help convert at a level that kind of justifies that spend? Do you have any tips for higher converting LinkedIn landing pages?
AJ: Yeah, sure thing. So what we have found is that when someone is on LinkedIn they’re in the right mindset. In general we see a conversion rate coming from LinkedIn between 12% and 20%. While you may be used to paying $10-$15 per lead on Facebook because the clicks are cheaper, you’re going to find that the lead quality is a lot lower versus LinkedIn where people are going to convert at a higher rate, and because the targeting was so good, they’re making sure that the leads that are coming in are exactly the right people you want to go for and they’re totally qualified. So because the lead quality is better it’s oftentimes helping people over that hump of, it seems really expensive I don’t know if this is worth it. So higher conversion rates plus better quality leads definitely makes it worth a test, in my opinion.
Oh, and then you asked about “asks”, this is a really good question because we know that if we put up an ad that just says, “Here’s what we do, click here to talk to our high pressure sales rep”, no one is going to click on that ad ever and we’ll end up getting a low relevancy score, and LinkedIn will just shut the ads off because they’re not making money off of it. So what we found is if you have something – it’s always a free educational asset like a checklist or cheat sheet, guide, webinar, in person event, eBook, white paper – anything like that tends to perform about the same. So what I find is if I go to a sales team and asked them what are the two or three questions that everyone asks – obviously everyone is going to ask about price – but find the other stuff that shows where their potential clientele are really bleeding, they’ve got a major pain point, figure out how to solve their biggest pain point through content. And whether that comes out as a one page checklist, or a 40-page eBook, or a one hour webinar, it almost doesn’t matter as long as you fulfill the promise of we know you feel this pain and we’re going to teach you how to solve it.
Rich: So something you said kind of struck me, or surprised me, I should say. You mentioned LinkedIn’s relevancy score. Now I certainly know there’s a relevancy score for Google, I did not realize that LinkedIn had its own. How is LinkedIn actually tracking if people are clicking through on your landing page versus just coming back to the platform?
AJ: Yeah, every ad platform wants people to think that their platform is better than what it is. Google told us for years and years they’ve got 220 factors they evaluate their quality score based on, LinkedIn is definitely no different here, but it’s a much simpler formula than what you might expect from relevance on Facebook or a quality score on Google.
In general your quality score or your relevancy score on LinkedIn is calculated by your current click through rate and your historical click through rate from that campaign. So basically if you’ve run something and it’ successful at getting clicked on, you’re probably going to get a great relevancy score.
Rich: Ok. One thing I wonder is do these ads work better if you already have a robust network on LinkedIn, or are those things unrelated?
AJ: They’re pretty unrelated. The one piece here is you do run all ads on LinkedIn from your company page. And so if your company page has 20,000 followers and there’s a lot of content coming through it, that can act as a legitimizer or social proof that you’re really a great company. But what we found is probably only 3% or 4% of the people who click on your ads actually click through to your company page. So what you do personally, your personal profile, is entirely disconnected from your ads. What your company page does, if your company page is just total crap and you filled up the minimum fields and you just have a logo, you’re probably not going to drag your campaign down too much, just because so few people are going to care, it’s more of the content of what’s in the ad.
Rich: So that’s interesting. So I don’t know if I realized that. So if you want to advertise on LinkedIn you have to be connected to a company page?
AJ: You don’t have to be connected to a company page, but you do have to have a company page associated to an Ads account.
Rich: Well right, but I don’t know if we’re splitting hairs here. So if I‘m an entrepreneur or a solopreneur, and I have always had just my personal profile on LinkedIn and I say I want to do some LinkedIn advertising, are you telling me that I need to create a company page so that I can run those ads?
AJ: Yup, that’s exactly right. Which can be a pain.
Rich: Oh, I didn’t know that. I mean, it’s just an extra step.
AJ: That’s exactly right. And you don’t have to give it a whole lot of attention, because as we mentioned before, people aren’t spending a whole lot of time checking out your company page before clicking on your ad.
Rich: So AJ, in your experience, how long should we wait to see results and is there an average monthly ad spend on LinkedIn?
AJ: Well it’s not necessarily a time period that you want to be advertising, it’s more about getting enough data to be statistically significant. So what we found is usually between about $3,000 and $5,000 spend on LinkedIn is enough to have statistically significance down to the conversion rate of two different offers, which is a great place to be. Whether that spend of $3,000 to $5,000 is over the course of 2 days or over 6 months, it’s not really that big of a deal as long as you’re willing to be patient.
What we found though is if someone is working with us, they’re going to be paying us a minimum monthly management fee. And so because of that it sure makes sense to spend probably that $3-5k in month one, just so by the end of the month we can say yes this is working and we should keep going, or no this sucks and you should fire us now and then they only pay the management fee for one month.
Rich: And the way that you sell this to your clients is just like you did right now, it’s like you’re going to pay us every month to manage this because there’s a certain amount of hours we need to put towards it.
AJ: Exactly, so that’s why we do month to month contracts because we do approach everything like a pilot and if we get to the end of month one and LinkedIn ads isn’t a good fit for a client, we want them to fire us, we don’t want them to get wrangled into spending on a platform that’s not going to work for them.
Rich: Now on some other platforms I’ve heard that you really need 3-6 months of data. Are you saying it’s not the time period it’s just the number of people seeing the ad?
AJ: Yeah, I think those other ad platforms are probably saying that, and it’s for good reason, to control for seasonality. Like Q4 on LinkedIn is an absolute bloodbath. If you decided to launch right after Thanksgiving or any time before the New Year, you’d probably say this platform totally sucks. But if you were elongating that test at the beginning of January, January is the best performing month. So by an ad platform putting a rule of thumb out there saying “make sure you go 3-6 months”, they’re controlling if you happen to try them at the worst time of the year. But of course we understand the seasonality well, I feel really confident to tell you within a month that you’re gonna know, you’re gonna know.
Rich: Right, because nothing says Christmas like LinkedIn advertising.
AJ: When all of your sales people are on vacation and all of your prospects are saying, “Let’s catch up after the New Year”, it’s perfect timing.
Rich: Alright. AJ this has been great and I’m sure a lot of people are interested in learning more about you, where can we find you online?
AJ: Alright, so if you go to B2Linked.com and you fill out the contact form on any of those pages, here’s a dirty little secret for you, you will not be dropped to a sales rep and you won’t be put on our mailing list, you will come just to my inbox. So feel free to reach out and ask any question you want and I’m more than happy to help in any capacity there.
I’m also on Twitter at @WilcoxAJ, and I tend to respond pretty quickly there, so feel free to fire off any questions. And then I do have a special offer for your listeners. If what I’ve said about LinkedIn ads you’re thinking to yourself this actually sounds like the perfect platform for me and you want to get started, go to B2Linked.com/checklist and you can download that same onboarding checklist we use with our clients, it’s the 8 things that you need to get started. And that should give you a nice leg up if you want to give it a shot.
Rich: Fantastic. AJ, this has been fantastic. I learned a lot today and I’m sure our listeners did, too. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your expertise.
AJ: Thank you Rich, anytime.
AJ Wilcox is an expert when it comes to helping businesses utilize the power of LinkedIn’s marketing objectives, by taking advantages of their niche targeting capabilities, on a platform that already has people in the right mindset to become qualified leads. Check out his handy checklist that he uses with new clients, and connect with him on Twitter.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.