If you're intimidated by the wide world of LinkedIn advertising but you want to explore it, this podcast is for you. If you're already advertising on LinkedIn but you need some guidance on more complicated targeting sequences, this podcast is also for you.
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Host George B. Thomas and guest AJ Wilcox leave no stone unturned in Episode 564 of Marketing Smarts, talking best ad formats, budgeting, user behavior, and even what boxes you should check or uncheck when doing target advertising—which is a necessity, AJ says.
"When you run Meta campaigns, if you just take the default all the way down, you're probably going to do OK. It's what I would call a 'kind' platform. LinkedIn is not kind. There are three things that are automatically selected for you that are not in your best interest."
There are also some surprises, like AJ's initially inexplicable love for text ads. They have a low clickthrough rate and they aren't very versatile, so what gives?
"The fact that they have such a low clickthrough rate is really good in this case," he explains. "It means lots of free impressions. When we're running sponsored content like newsfeed ads, and we turn on text ads with just our logo and a little message, we find that the clickthrough rates on our other ads of sponsored content jump by about 13%."
Check out the episode for more detailed wisdom on LinkedIn Ads. You can listen to the entire show from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.
George B. Thomas: Now and then, the moon, the sun, the stars align. I'm super excited because today, and every so often, I get to talk to somebody who I consider a friend. I've known AJ Wilcox for years. When I think of his name, what word comes to mind? LinkedIn. With that, ads. LinkedIn Ads with AJ Wilcox. Today we're going to be talking about the myths, the hurdles, the strategies that B2B marketers need to know right now. We're going to talk about what keeps AJ up at night, success, hurdles, all sorts of fun things. We're even going to talk about myths that AJ wants to debunk about some of the LinkedIn Ads that you've thought about but maybe didn't run.
AJ Wilcox is a LinkedIn Ads pro who founded B2Linked.com, a LinkedIn Ads agency, in 2014. He's managed over $150,000,000 in spend on the LinkedIn platform. AJ is the host of The LinkedIn Ads Show Podcast and has managed five of the world's Top 10 LinkedIn Ads account. He's a ginger and a triathlete. He lives in Utah with his beautiful wife and five adorable kids. His company car is a wicked fast Go-Cart. The B2Linked Agency are official LinkedIn partners, so you know today we're talking with a pro. It's time for LinkedIn Ads, the myths, the hurdles, the strategies that you need to know with AJ Wilcox. Let's get into the good stuff.
I'm excited because today we're talking about LinkedIn Ads, very specific, the myths, the hurdles, and strategies that you the B2B marketer need to know. Of course, I am not the gentlemen who will be teaching you these items today. I am here with my pal, my buddy, my friend, AJ Wilcox.
AJ, how are you doing today?
AJ Wilcox: I'm doing great. I'm so excited to get to be on the podcast with you. We go way back, and this is a fun new development.
George: Way back. I think it was Social Media Marketing World a lifetime ago, or something like that, where we first met. I've been watching your career, watching you do cool stuff, and I can't wait to see and hear the value that you're going to be able to bring to the Marketing Smarts listeners today.
Let's start off with that value in a fun way. I like to ask fun questions. I find they get us into some really good talking points. The first question, I fully understand that it could be a nightmare or it could be a dream. What keeps you up at night around B2B marketers and the use or lack of use around LinkedIn Ads for their marketing strategy?
AJ: I think that has to come into something that really has been keeping me up at night over the last year or two. In B2B marketing, we used to just assume that we could capture someone's email through a gated piece of content, then sales would follow up, and boom, we have ROI off of social ads. Whether that was always wrong or whether consumer behavior has just changed, we have noticed over the last several years that the conversion rate from MQL to SQL has approached near zero from that tactic. What we had to do as marketers is actually think about the lifecycle of a lead. How do we take someone through that process of they don't know you at all to know, like, and trust? We've dived deep into the methodology behind it, and that's the background of my world for the last couple of years.
George: I think it's one of those things that's a nightmare if people aren't paying attention to it, it's a dream if they are. When you were talking about that, the word nurture came to my brain. Understanding that you're nurturing people along their buyer's journey into the customer journey. If you've ever thought of those as divided pieces, or never thought about how you could do that with LinkedIn Ads, then you need to stick around because we're going to get into success, hurdles, and all sorts of stuff.
Here's the thing. People need to be paying attention to LinkedIn Ads, I will agree with that. However, like anything else in social, it's sometimes death by a thousand needles. There are so many things that we can do on LinkedIn. My question is are there LinkedIn Ads that B2B marketers should pay attention to more than others, like AJ's top three ads, or maybe just a top one or two? Where does your brain go?
AJ: I definitely have some tips here. My first would be if you have access to video creative—George, you're the one we should be talking to about this—video creative used to be something, like I would not tell people two years ago to use LinkedIn video ads because they were expensive and people on the platform were in a hurry, so they wouldn't stick around to watch video content. That was for YouTube and the Meta properties. But just in the last couple of years we've seen user behavior change where now I can actually get video ads to outperform static image ads.
Then the question becomes, can you get access to video? Of course, if you're a Fortune 1000, you have a video studio and budget, and you can go high-class here, but I don't actually recommend that. We've been testing this and we find that videos that are better produced perform worse than those are just you talking to your phone, or your founder, or your head of marketing or head of sales talking to the phone. That's number one, figure out video so that you can utilize video ads.
The next would be single image ads. These are by far the easiest to produce. You have a little bit of text, like 150 characters, a big beautiful image in whatever format you want, horizontal, vertical, or square, and then 60 more characters of text at the bottom. Any marketer can whip some of that up. ChatGPT can help you out if you're at a loss of words. It's not the least expensive and it's not the most expensive way to drive traffic on LinkedIn, but it is a happy medium where it's in the newsfeed, that's the default experience for everyone using LinkedIn, whether you're on the mobile app or on desktop.
The third is actually going to be a little bit of a surprise. I love text ads. Text ads were the very first ad that LinkedIn released back in 2008. They have a minuscule click through rate, 0.025% to be exact, that's two-and-a-half clicks out of every 10,000 times these ads are shown. They're way over in the right rail, only on desktop. They are obviously ads, that's why no one clicks on them and they don't get any attention.
Your obvious question to me would be, AJ, why in the world do you like these ads? The reason why is because they are the cheapest ad format on LinkedIn. While you might be paying $10-16 per click on the other ad formats, on these you can pay all the way down to $2, so already pretty cool.
The fact that they have such a low clickthrough rate is really good in this case. It means lots of free impressions. When we're running sponsored content like newsfeed ads, and we turn on text ads with just our logo and a little message, we find that the clickthrough rates on our other ads of sponsored content jump by about 13%. Now when people see your ads, they're like, "I don't know where, but I've heard of this company before. They must be legit." That's why I love text ads.
George: It's interesting. Marketing Smarts listeners, I think you should rewind that part and listen to that for which ones fit you. AJ, when you were talking about text ads, I was literally thinking, "Say what? Did we ask the right guy onto the podcast?"
But I love that this is like a great pairing, a great wine to a great steak, or a brandy to a cigar, depending on who you are, the idea of this working with your other ads. Then you started to mention that even though they don't click on it, they see it, and so psychologically now, all of a sudden, you guys are everywhere, I see you everywhere. Even though it's not getting the engagement, it's getting the visual representation of the brand. I actually love that a lot.
We talked about three LinkedIn Ads that you could be leveraging. One of the things that I think scares most modern marketers, other than the fact that when they listen to you talk, they might not realize that LinkedIn has changed, it isn't the old platform that I thought it was, maybe I need to put more effort into it. Beyond that, when they think about running ads, I don't know about you, but I do a little gulp, like am I going to waste money, I don't like to waste money and I know CEOs don't like it when marketers waste money. So, I want to get into what I think is maybe the crux of some of this conversation that we're having.
What are some of the ad elements that help B2B marketers be more successful when running the ads for their products and services, meaning what can we do to get more ROI and be for sure we have job security because we didn't just jack up our budget on LinkedIn Ads?
AJ: Awesome question. I think it comes down to a few things. First, what we talked about earlier with user behavior having changed. There are certain elements I can tell you about in a campaign that will help your ads perform better, but none of that is going to matter unless you actually understand the user journey through your sales cycle. It sounds a little cryptic, as I'll explain.
Marketing hasn't changed ever. It's still the same principles. There are new tactics and new platforms, but the need to introduce your product or service to someone and then get them to a position where they're ready to buy, the process hasn't changed. We're still humans, we still need to be nurtured. Make sure that's solid, number one.
Number two, when you actually have that in place, LinkedIn has great retargeting now. We can run sequences for people, so the platform has you covered. Now when you're actually building a campaign there are three things that I think trip people up, and they're all default settings inside of a campaign. It's funny because when you run Meta campaigns, if you just take the default all the way down, you're probably going to do okay. It's what I would call a kind platform. LinkedIn is not kind. There are three things that are automatically selected for you that are not in your best interest.
The first is right when you get past your targeting when you're creating your first campaign, there's a little box that says enable audience expansion. You always have to uncheck that. I do not know why it's checked. You're already paying a premium to advertise on LinkedIn. You do not need LinkedIn to show your ads to people who aren't part of your target audience, and that's what that box represents.
The next is something called placement. LinkedIn by default will put you in not only advertising when people are on LinkedIn, but on something called LinkedIn's audience network that is showing your ads around Microsoft properties and other partner websites, even apps. This isn't necessarily a terrible thing if that's part of your strategy, but we've noticed that when you run on the LinkedIn audience network, your budget for the day can be zapped in less than 20 minutes. That's not always the case, but it can be, so uncheck that.
The third is LinkedIn's default bidding method is called maximum delivery. Doesn't maximum say that you're going to be paying a lot for this? It's true. It's cost-per-impression bidding, so you're going to pay regardless of how many people click. It's the most expensive way to pay for your traffic on LinkedIn 90% of the time. It's a hidden option, so you click on "show additional options," and then click manual bidding.
Then you can start by bidding only when someone clicks, and you can bid significantly lower than what LinkedIn recommends. The only danger is if you bid too low, you don't spend your budget for the day. The next day, you can incrementally increase it until you actually are spending what you want to.
Just those three tips will probably end up saving you half on every click on LinkedIn.
George: I feel like you just saved a lot of the Marketing Smarts listeners who use those three uncheck these things philosophies a crap ton of money. Ladies and gentlemen, when you see AJ out at an event, you should probably buy him a steak dinner because he saved you a lot of money. Speaking of events, AJ, I heard that you're going to be joining us at the B2B Forum. Can you share a little bit about what you're going to be talking about there and all the good stuff that's about to ensue?
AJ: Yes. We're talking kind of a high level about LinkedIn Ads in general, like how you should consider it and what to avoid. But in the talk at the B2B Forum, we're going to go into a lot more depth, a lot more detail. Don't miss it. If you're on the fence, you have to come. It's one of the best conferences you'll attend this year, for sure.
George: It is like a family reunion at B2B Forum. By the way, I would say this is touching the surface. If you want to take your LinkedIn Ads to the next level, then definitely join AJ and me at the B2B Forum October 4-6.
AJ, I want to go off the beaten path for a second. You just skirted right by something in that last segment when you were talking and I was like, "Wait, I need him to explain that to me, selfishly, and to the Marketing Smarts listeners." You said these words, "you can then run sequences for them." Can you please unpack what you mean by run sequences for them?
AJ: Yes. For the longest time, up until 2017—I've been running ads since 2011, so this feels like a long time ago for me. For the longest time, we could only target by LinkedIn's native targeting criteria and we couldn't create any sort of sequence. Then LinkedIn bought a company called Bizo, then they released something called LinkedIn Audience Accelerator that was built off of Bizo, which was a retargeting company. They announced that they were folding Bizo, which caused their stock price to drop in half, which allowed Microsoft to come in and buy them, so that's a totally different story.
What they did is they took this retargeting technology from Bizo and in 2017 they rolled it into LinkedIn's campaign manager, allowing us to target by website visits, just like what we've been able to do on every other platform. LinkedIn was way behind the curve, but now we could do it.
The next thing that they started rolling out was in 2020/2021, somewhere in there, they started releasing a retargeting that was event-based. Website retargeting is not event-based, it's cookie-based, it's user-session-based. What happens when iOS 14.5 and disrupts the cookie and now you can't realistically expect to retarget 100% of the people who landed on your website, that kind of sucks. But with event-based retargeting, if I login to LinkedIn right now and I click on an ad, I'm logged in, LinkedIn knows exactly who I am, they know what time it is, they know where I'm located, they know what ad I clicked on, and they can just keep this little memory bank of AJ clicked on that ad, interesting, good to know.
Let's say it's your ad. You could now go in and set weeks down the road set up a retargeting audience on LinkedIn and say anyone who interacted or clicked on my single image ad, let's create an audience for them. Now we have the beginnings of retargeting where you can start to retarget people with 100% match rate. Pretty cool.
What we can also do with LinkedIn Ads is we can exclude audiences. I can say something like I am going to target IT professionals, let's say IT decision makers, anyone who clicks on one of those ads, I can create a retargeting audience so that I can show them the next message in the sequence. I can also create an exclusion on that first audience that says anyone who joins this new audience are now excluded from seeing the first ad.
Now it's stairsteps, we're actually walking people through sequences, and we can now tell stories, not just show ads.
George: We can now tell stories, not just show ads. There's something to that. Marketing Smarts listeners, I hope you were understanding or feeling the power that you have at your fingertips. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that we did an episode with Arsen Avakian that is The End of Third-Party Cookies is a New Beginning for Digital Advertisers. That might be a great pairing to what you're listening to today if you have not listened to that previously. Let's get back to AJ.
I love the show Mythbusters. I could probably the same episode three times and just nerd out on it. One of the questions that I love to ask for the Marketing Smarts audience is the common myths, the things that people think that just aren't true. What is a common myth, or myths, I feel like there's a lot to social ads in general, about LinkedIn Ads that you want to debunk right now, right here on the Marketing Smarts Podcast?
AJ: "LinkedIn Ads are too expensive." It's funny because ever since the platform came out in 2008, I've tracked mentions of LinkedIn Ads across Twitter and across the web since the beginning. The same statement keeps coming up: "LinkedIn Ads are too expensive." Back in 2008, they were $2 per click, minimum. That was expensive because at Google you were oftentimes less than $1, on Facebook you were fractions of a cent per click. So, yes, LinkedIn has always been more expensive than the other platforms.
Now in 2023, the average cost per click on the platform is $10-16. Costs go up when more and more advertisers are joining and competing. We still keep seeing the same myth perpetuated: "LinkedIn Ads are too expensive." Let me ask, if they were too expensive, would costs be increasing over time rapidly? No, they wouldn't. People are finding value in them. To just give a cop out and say they're too expensive, you shouldn't advertise, I think you're missing the point.
We actually have a client right now who we have really deep insights into their other channels, so we've been measuring our LinkedIn traffic against their Meta Facebook traffic. What we find is the cost per lead coming from Facebook is probably one-third of LinkedIn's cost per lead. Of course, right at first blush you would look at LinkedIn and say LinkedIn is two to three times more expensive to get leads, we maybe shouldn't do it. But again, that's missing the point.
When you follow it through the sales cycle and you start to look at a cost per sales opportunity, or a cost per proposal given, or a cost per closed deal, what we find is because LinkedIn's targeting is so much better, you're able to get in front of exactly the right people. 95% of the Meta leads that this company is generating Sales has to throw out. They only disqualify 5% of the LinkedIn leads. By the time you follow this traffic through to the sale, LinkedIn is closing deals for half the cost of Facebook, double the ROI off of platform that costs three times per conversion.
George: I love this conversation so much. I wish and I hope in the future that more marketers realize that the lead isn't a necessary metric—it's a needed one, it's not a necessary one—but the closed customer, quality sales opportunity is the metric, that's where we want to get to. So many of us marketers over the last five, seven, eight years got into this lead, lead, lead mentality, which unfortunately has led to garbage in, garbage out, and a little bit of dividing the silo between Sales and Marketing around this qualified lead conversation.
Let's dig in a little bit more. You know me, we've been friends for a long time. I love to get tactical, I love to get strategical. When you think about LinkedIn Ads, are there any tips, tricks, hacks, templates that B2B marketers can use when creating or conceiving their future LinkedIn Ads?
AJ: Yes. There are so many directions I can take this. I have three resources I want to share here.
The first is if you're just barely getting started in LinkedIn Ads, every new channel I start out trying, I always get really tripped up by you need access to some page, what level of access do I need, and where do I need to get it from. We actually put together a free checklist. It's free-free, it's not put-in-your-information gated free. If you go to B2Linked.com/checklist, you can download the checklist of everything that you need in order to get started, plus a whole guide and walkthrough of how to do it. That's resource number one.
Resource number two, let's say you're already advertising on LinkedIn. You don't necessarily need a checklist to get started, but you want the meat, you want the advanced stuff. We actually just very recently put together an advanced guide, The Ultimate Guide to Advanced LinkedIn Advertising. You can get that at B2Linked.com/advanced-guide.
The last resource, as we talk about tips, tricks, strategies, I'm the host of The LinkedIn Ads Show Podcast, and I put everything into that show, every tip, trick, or strategy I learn. We just released episode 100 as of the time we're recording. If you're into podcasts, if you like to listen to them, go subscribe and you'll get all this stuff pounded into your eardrums weekly.
George: I don't know about you, Marketing Smarts listeners, but I love it when stuff is free-free. Free-free always beats out just free. I'm going to throw that out there.
I know people are going to listen to this and be like, "Okay, it was a misconception, maybe they're not going to be too expensive for me. I've now got these tools and tips, I have the podcast I can listen to. I actually want to start doing this," and they're going to run into hurdles. What are some of the hurdles that you've seen B2B marketers face when trying to implement LinkedIn Ads in their overall ad strategy that you can warn them about so they can jump over those hurdles without any problem?
AJ: I love this question. One thing, I don't see it a whole lot now, but I saw it for lots of years before. When someone would test out LinkedIn, they would treat it like search campaigns, like they treated their SEO and their paid search. That was when someone is actively looking for what it is you do, you can send them right to a sales page, send them right to a demo, they're already showing that intent. But with social media, they haven't expressed interest yet, we're trying to pique their attention, catch them, and start to educate them, rather than let's boot up a LinkedIn Ads campaign and drive all of this cold traffic to our demo request, you're going to get crickets and you're going to pay too much for those crickets, it's not a good look.
A lot of times, people would even do this with Facebook, but back in the day, it was a fraction of a cent per click, you could afford to throw away leads and traffic just to test out the platform. On LinkedIn, when we're paying a premium, I don't think that quite makes sense.
George: You have to watch those dollars, you have to watch the strategy. I love that you brought that up as the hurdle. I like to look at both sides of the same coin, if you will. We talked about the hurdles and we talked about the struggle there that they want to pay attention to. How do we map out what success look like? Meaning, what does LinkedIn nirvana look like, how do we know that we're on the number one pedestal, gold medal around our neck because we've just run an amazing LinkedIn Ads race?
AJ: I love LinkedIn Ads nirvana, and here's what it looks like. It is a platform that does take time to get working, but you have now created a demand creation and a demand generation machine. This is something that you can reliably reach cold audiences who have never heard of you before, you walk them through the know, like, and trust process, they will respond when you show ads or ask them to hop on calls, get demos, talk to sales, and then they turn into closed customers. That is LinkedIn Ads nirvana right there.
George: So good. Marketing Smarts listeners, I hope that you heard demand creation and demand generation. Those are not the same thing, by the way. Being able to use LinkedIn to do that one-two punch for your marketing is going to be absolutely amazing. Time flies when you're having fun, but we're at the end of the podcast episode. I've been watching you, you have been on a journey. By the way, a little maybe unknown fact by some folks. I'll never forget the first time I watched you, back when it was Lynda.com, doing a LinkedIn Ad training. Now it's LinkedIn training, LinkedIn Education, because they purchased it. I remember when that happened for you, so you have been doing this for a long time. Meaning, you've gathered some nuggets along the way, which I like to call words of wisdom. As we head out of the podcast, what are the words of wisdom that you would want to share with the Marketing Smarts listeners about social media ad strategy, LinkedIn Ads, or maybe even just life itself?
AJ: I'll do a little grab bag here, I'll do both. First off, with life, I have to quote the venerable Bill & Ted with, "Be excellent to each other." That's a great piece of advice no matter what you do and where you do it.
I think parting advice here around LinkedIn Ads, LinkedIn Ads should not operate in a silo. In fact, no platform should. I was an SEO guy back when all of the major Penguin and other Google updates happened. I watched businesses who were 100% reliant on organic search traffic go out of business in less than a week because all of their leads, all of their business dried up and they couldn't sustain. Every business needs diversity, and sometimes that means putting money into other platforms that you may not know or understand yet, but you have to put out your feelers and test.
We can create a demand generation machine with LinkedIn and just like hey, we're waiting for people to come to LinkedIn, which they don't do as often as other networks, and we nurture them over time and turn them into customers. But how much better is it if your LinkedIn can bring in exactly the right people you know are the most qualified, and then your Meta, Google, Twitter, Quora, everything is retargeting that traffic wherever they go on the web? Now they're getting this big digital hug, they're being reminded constantly about your brand, you're staying top of mind, and then when they are ready to make a purchase, you're right there.
Even being a LinkedIn Ads fan, I still can't tell you to build your entire platform around LinkedIn Ads. We didn't even talk about the organic side of LinkedIn. Outside of ads, there is so much you can do organically. There's so much you can do on every other platform. Don't bite off more than you can chew, but definitely you have to be diversified.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with Chris Rodgers about how artificial intelligence is impacting SEO, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on September 21, 2023
AJ Wilcox, a LinkedIn Ads pro who founded B2Linked, a LinkedIn Ads agency, in 2014. He's managed over $150M in spend on the LinkedIn platform. AJ is the host of the LinkedIn Ads Show podcast, and he has managed five of the world’s Top 10 LinkedIn Ads accounts.
LinkedIn: AJ Wilcox
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