LinkedIn Ads Targeting Like a Pro – How to Reach Your Audience

LinkedIn Ads are by far the best way to reach the c-suite and managers from medium to large companies at scale. With an Account-Based Marketing Strategy, LinkedIn is an incredible platform to reach key decision-makers with account targeting as well. This article goes over how to approach targeting on Linkedin and the main strategies I use when I set up campaigns for clients both big and small.

Article by Philip Ilic,
B2B Growth Specialist.

Targeting is a crucial part of running a successful LinkedIn targeting campaign. If you get your targeting right, you’ll be able to tap into much higher engagement, and ultimately access higher conversion rates. You’ve got a message to convey, so it’s important to make sure it’s getting to the right people: LinkedIn ads offer more than 200 targeting characteristics. That’s why I’ve created this LinkedIn targeting guide because harnessing the power of LinkedIn targeting can be a true game-changer. Let’s find out how you can reach your audience by leveraging the potential of LinkedIn targeting.

How does LinkedIn targeting work?

LinkedIn targeting uses its members’ rich profiles to create data around many targeting factors. It leverages user data, allowing advertisers to make the most of the available information and target their dream audience. There are two targeting categories on LinkedIn: “Audiences” and “Audience Attributes”.

LinkedIn is a very special place. Unlike any other platform, its members are motivated to keep their profiles updated and accurate to be able to connect with their community, discover job opportunities, and keep track of changes in their industry. That’s one of the reasons why LinkedIn targeting is so effective – your target audience is out there, and there are truly efficient ways to reach it, using the very information that users have so diligently put out.

LinkedIn targeting allows you to reach members using data, such as:

  • Job experience
  • Job functions
  • Job seniority
  • Job titles
  • Member skills
  • Years of experience
  • Education
  • Degrees
  • Fields of study
  • Interests
  • Age and gender

LinkedIn takes into account all of these factors and separates targeting into two categories. The first category is called ‘Audiences’, and the second goes by the name of ‘Audience Attributes’. Let’s go over these two categories in more detail.

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Audiences

LinkedIn’s Audiences allows you to choose from different powerful parameters. You should combine at least three or four to make the most out of your targeting campaign.

The first step is to upload a list of contacts of companies to your LinkedIn into Campaign Manager. You’ll then be able to choose from that list, so pick wisely. This is great because it means you don’t have to start from scratch when choosing the data to base your targeting from – you can use existing data that you may have already worked hard on gathering.

I’d advise you to go for the company list if you’re doing an Account-Based Marketing strategy (ABM), so you’re able to target a list of accounts as well as job title, function, or seniority. You can check out my article on ABM and Linkedin advertising here.

There are many different parameters to choose from when creating your targeting strategy. It’s my advice that you combine at least three or four different options to make the most out of LinkedIn targeting and get precise results. LinkedIn will let you create a lookalike audience on which you can base your targeting off of, time and time again. Using retargeting, you’ll be able to retarget:

  • Company pages: anyone who visited or clicked onto a call to action on your company page
  • Events: anyone who engaged with your LinkedIn events
  • Lead Gen Form: anyone who open and/or submitted a lead gen form
  • Video: anyone who watched up to a certain percentage of a video you uploaded
  • Website: anyone who visited your website, though you need to install the LinkedIn insight tag first

You can also integrate your third-party data provider in order to use it as a targeting source. A quick tip is to avoid limiting data when inputting into the Campaign Manager: ​​it will prompt you to add other relevant job titles for example, which you should accept to make sure your campaign reaches as far as it can.

Audience Attributes

LinkedIn’s Audience Attributes allows users to target new audiences thanks to plenty of demographic and firmographic options, like company growth rate, size, connections…

The audience attributes function will allow you to target new audiences through demographic and firmographic options. Let’s go through them.

Company

The company option is pretty unique to LinkedIn, through its large array of firmographic options:

  • Company Category: where companies have been put into groups or buckets based on some kind of list or segment. For example ‘Fortune 500’ or ‘London Stock Exchange.
  • Company Connections: allows you to target the 1st connections of employees from selected companies. This is only available for companies that have over 500 employees.
  • Company Growth Rate: this targets companies growing at a certain rate, like ‘10-20% company growth’. Growth here means new employees, not revenue
  • Company Industries: where you can select the specific industry you want to target.
  • Company Names: where you can input the names of specific companies you want to target. If you have a large list of companies it may be easier to upload a whole list.
  • Company Size: where you can select the company size according to how many employees it has, which often has revenue implications, though it depends on the industry.

Demographics

The Demographics option will allow you to target by age and gender.

  • Age: because there’s no mention of age on LinkedIn profiles, the Campaign Manager assumes peoples’ ages based on their job title. I wouldn’t generally recommend using this as targeting.
  • Gender: we also do not state our genders on LinkedIn, so the system sometimes inaccurately categorizes names as more female or male-sounding. However, LinkedIn recently added a pronoun feature, in an effort to become more inclusive. The pronouns users add become visible on their profiles. .

Education

The Education option is interesting because it allows users to target people based on their degree, their school, or their general field of study.

  • Degrees
  • Field of study
  • Member school

Job Experience

Job Experience is probably one of the most useful options here because it allows us to target based on job title, skill, department, and experience.

  • Job Function: this allows you to target departments like HR or IT, which can be extremely useful according to your field and industry.
  • Job Seniority: this lets you filter users by managers, directors, owners, VPs, etc.
  • Job Title: this is the most widely utilized option by all Linkedin advertisers because it allows targeting users by job titles (unsurprisingly).
  • Member Skills: a great option that allows targeting by skills that are listed on LinkedIn profiles.
  • Years of Experience: this allows you to target people according to the number of years they have worked, which can be anywhere from 1 to 12 years.

It’s important to note that LinkedIn only recognizes around 40% of job titles because of the fact that job fields are free form. Therefore, if you’re targeting by job title, you’re most likely missing out on 60% of your target audience.

Interests and Traits

Interests and Traits allows users to target by filtering through interested groups and traits, like:

  • Member Interests: where we can target based on users’ interests.
  • Member Groups: this is a really powerful option because LinkedIn group users are generally truly passionate about topics and probably are more avid LinkedIn users than average.
  • Member Traits: this is where you’ll be able to target certain traits like ‘Ex-pat’ or ‘Job Seeker’ or Frequent Traveller’.

5 powerful LinkedIn ads targeting strategies

Making the most of LinkedIn targeting and reaching your audience means knowing how to target (beyond just job title). There are so many factors available that it’s sometimes difficult to choose from them, but I can recommend 5 different strategies to help you structure how you think about targeting.

We’ve previously discovered the many different targeting variations offered by LinkedIn. It’s sometimes difficult to choose from all of the factors, though your choices could have a deep impact on the efficiency of your ad campaign. Let’s dive into a few of my recommendations as to which targeting variations you should focus on, for the perfect LinkedIn ads targeting strategy.

Job Title + Industry

This is the preferred targeting type for many – it’s often used as a benchmark. Of course, targeting by job title is probably the most accurate, though it often isn’t the most affordable option. We’ve previously discussed how LinkedIn’s job title segment is free-form, which means it is only able to recognize an average of 40% of members’ job titles. If you go for the job title option, you’ll most likely miss out on 60% of your user persona (the less advertised too segment). I recommend you use Job Title targeting type as a benchmark, BUT to use at least one other targeting type to a/b test with.

A quick thought on A/B testing

When your campaign is live, you’ll want to create a slightly different campaign to see which performs best. This is what A/B testing is, and it ensures you find the best combination of targeting types, by testing two related campaigns that have a minor variation in targeting criteria. The easiest way to do so is to duplicate the campaign you just created, tweak one of the criteria in order to alter targeting parameters ever so slightly. You’ll then be able to sit back and watch which performs best.

Groups + Seniority

As you may have noticed already, LinkedIn groups are pretty inconvenient, and not very user-friendly. Therefore, those who use LinkedIn groups are most likely very passionate about the topic which the group revolves around. It could also mean that members of the groups spend more time on the platform than other users. I find that targeting according to a list of LinkedIn groups can sometimes perform even better than by job titles, so I recommend you A/B test this. In fact this is one of my favourite types of targeting.

Skill + Seniority

Skills can be a truly powerful way of targeting your prospects. I even think that sometimes it can be the best. For instance, let’s say you wanted to target me. You’d first try looking for a job title along the lines of ‘LinkedIn ads specialist’, and would quickly find it doesn’t exist. However, you could effectively target me through the skill ‘LinkedIn ads’. I definitely recommend choosing long-tail skills, to hit specific skills – ‘conversion rate optimization’ instead of just ‘marketing’ for example, especially if you’re trying to reach decision-makers that have specific expertise.

Job Function + Seniority

When LinkedIn mentions Job Function, it means department. Layering Job Function atop Seniority is an effective way of targeting users you’re missing out on with just the job title option. It can reach those under served people in your target segment which job title misses out. This is also a good option if you are trying to scale your ads up and need to reach more of your target audience.

Company List Targeting

Company List Targeting is a marvelous way of getting extremely specific targeting results. With Company List Targeting, you’ll be able to upload a list of 300 – 300,000 companies into Campaign Manager (though I recommend inputting between 3000 – 10000) and layering Function or Job Title onto that list. If you’re running an ABM strategy, this could be a game-changer for you, because you’ll be able to target a list of accounts that have been determined as high value. We’re going to be diving into what ABM is and how it could help below.

It’s important to note that you’re better off unticking the ‘Enable Audience Expansion’ checkbox. It’s not great to give LinkedIn control over who you want to reach. Why? Because one of the main benefits of LinkedIn targeting is the amount of control users are able to maintain, so that’s not something you should be giving away.

Account Based Marketing (ABM) and how it can help

Account Based Marketing (ABM) has been gaining traction the past few years. It contrasts with the traditional marketing technique of loading up the funnel in hopes that at least one good lead would come out of it. ABM was a revolution – however, it may not be for you. Let’s find out why.

B2B marketing hasn’t always been quality over quantity. 10 years ago, B2B marketers used to just shove heaps and heaps of leads into the funnel, hoping that one would bite. Then, in the late 2000s, Account Based Marketing (ABM) completely revolutionized B2B marketing by focusing on the specific accounts that were 100% a good fit to sell services or products to. Nowadays, ABM is a huge hit. Want some proof? Let’s look at a few stats.

Who is ABM for?

Sorry to spoil the fun, but ABM isn’t for everyone. I’d say that ABM is specifically tailored to organizations with Serviceable Addressable Markets (SAM’s) that are on the small side, and sales-led rather than product-led companies with a high Life-Time Value (LTV’s).

Why? Because if you have a large SAM, you should probably be leaning on more scalable systems to be able to reach a broader amount of your Ideal Client Profile (ICP). Similarly, if you’re more marketing-led, the bulk of your conversions will most likely happen with a human touchpoint, like a sales team.

Why is ABM relevant?

ABM can basically allow you to target and initiate relationships with accounts that you’ve identified as being of great value to your business. Of course, this can save you heaps of time and energy. Customizing your marketing efforts and tailoring your approach to each customer will allow you to cultivate richer relationships and hit your goals. Lastly, you’ll be able to provide a much more qualitative customer experience, thanks to more time being allocated to communicating with potential clients.

ABM is actually growing increasingly relevant. Why? Because decision-making is becoming more and more complex. There are so many people participating in the buying process, so the question is no longer simply trying to convince one person. There are many different motivations, at many different levels that come into play. This should be incorporated into your approach to your marketing campaigns.

ABM and LinkedIn: the best place to start?

Let’s cut to the chase. LinkedIn is a highly effective channel for ABM (Or Account Based Advertising). The ads platform allows you to target by uploading a list of accounts into the system, which LinkedIn will match with its plethora of firmographic data, on top of which you can add:

  • Job title
  • Function (think department)
  • Seniority level
  • Skill

So, the targeting options are plenty, and you have your ABM list of accounts. Now it’s time to work out the strategy, by focusing on some key objectives. Let’s go through how to implement an Account Based Advertising strategy with LinkedIn.

A LinkedIn ABM strategy

LinkedIn can be a great place to leverage an ABM strategy. The important thing to keep in mind is a clear strategy to stick to throughout the process: facilitating sales and converting to leads. Let’s discuss how to implement a LinkedIn ABM strategy.

Though most people think of the impressive features of LinkedIn for advertising without necessarily working with a set strategy in mind, I would definitely recommend you don’t. LinkedIn is a powerful tool, especially when used right.

The two main objectives for your LinkedIn advertising strategy are most likely to:

  • Make sales easier
  • Convert them to leads

Making sales easier can be done by warming up high-value prospects so that they’re tuned into your brand by the time sales reach out to them. Your aim should be to create some exposure and outline your key value proposition. You can do this by advertising ungated content, like blogs or free downloadable resources.

Converting prospects into leads is often done by offering a low friction offer, which is gated content. However, do remember we aren’t marketing-led, so our aim isn’t to get them to necessarily purchase anything from these interactions. You should actually be trying to get them to become a lead so you can follow-up effectively through an omnichannel way, which encapsulates:

  • LinkedIn In-Mail messages
  • Cold emails
  • Phone calls
  • Retargeting via Google Display Network, Facebook, and Instagram

Implementing your ABM strategy through LinkedIn Ads

Before we dive in, there are a few things to remember. I previously mentioned that I recommend uploading around 5000 companies to the Campaign Manager, though you can upload between 300 – 300,000 companies. Another thing to remember is that there are 13 million LinkedIn pages you can match your target accounts to. Lastly, you should be keeping in mind engagement and conversion objectives alike. By the way, if you want plenty more tips on LinkedIn targeting, I have a Youtube video on the topic that will definitely help.

Alright, now that we’ve got things crystal clear, let’s go over the two ways you can upload a list of accounts.

Uploading a list

I’d recommend going for this method if your list of accounts is over 1000 items. It’s really quick, though unfortunately not hugely efficient. For some reason, LinkedIn is unable to fully match the list of accounts you upload. It always comes back with a message like ‘we have matched 90% of the accounts’, which is frustrating because you won’t know what it didn’t match. Therefore, I would advise you don’t use the list method if there are some accounts you want to target more than others because you can’t be sure they went through.

Inputting companies within the targeting section

Conversely, this method is accurate but time-consuming. You’ll have to individually input each company name. I’d recommend this technique if you have a shorter list of accounts you want to target, or if you want to focus on some really important accounts.

The bottom line – how to LinkedIn target like a pro

Well, it saddens me to say that we’re approaching the end of this article. Don’t worry, I won’t just leave you high and dry. LinkedIn targeting like a pro isn’t really that difficult – it just takes some thought and strategy. By implementing LinkedIn’s numerous and powerful data, as well as your own (using ABM or not), you’ll be able to connect with those who matter the most to your business. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind, like:

  1. There are many different targeting options
  2. All targeting options are not created equal – some are more suited to you than others
  3. Your best bet is to combine various targeting options to meet your needs
  4. LinkedIn only recognizes around 40% of job titles because of the fact that job fields are free form
  5. I recommend you A/B test all of your campaigns
  6. I don’t recommend you tick the ‘Enable Audience Expansion’ checkbox
  7. Go into your LinkedIn targeting with a strategy, especially if you’re doing ABM

Hopefully, you’ve got a good grasp on LinkedIn targeting by now, and understand how you can reach your audience best. However, feel free to browse through my Youtube channel and my blog. You can also subscribe to my newsletter for weekly marketing tips, insight, news, and trends. I’m a B2B marketing expert, and it’s one of my passions to help people unlock the great potential of LinkedIn targeting!

Useful Resources & Tutorials

I hope you found this ebook helpful. Down below, I’ve listed some links to tutorials that you might find useful if you’re looking to set up LinkedIn ads.

How To Run Successful LinkedIn Ads in 2021 – a step by step 38-minute tutorial where we cover all the fundamentals of running LinkedIn ads.

LinkedIn Campaign Manager Tutorial – a 9-minute video that’ll give you a deep overview & bring you up to speed on how LinkedIn Campaign Manager works.

Lead Generation Forms (step by step tutorial) – this 10-minute tutorial will show you how to use lead generation forms & get the cheapest cost per lead.

Which LinkedIn Ads Objectives – Explained (2021) – in this 13-minute video, I cover how to properly use the right LinkedIn ads objectives to your advantage.

Philip Ilic

Philip Ilic

B2B Growth Specialist

Phil helps B2B SaaS companies with growth marketing and is a deep specialist in Linkedin advertising and paid social more generally (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). He runs a paid social agency called Superlumen.co and is the founder of B2Bhero.co.

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