Your Handy Reference Guide to Targeting and Bidding for LinkedIn Advertising

December 7, 2016

How to advertise on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is what happens when social media gets down to business. While other social networks are for passing time, members invest time on LinkedIn. They use the platform to create a professional brand, make connections, and further their careers.

As members pursue career goals on LinkedIn, they share a wealth of data about their professional lives. This data makes LinkedIn a unique platform for marketers.

LinkedIn offers the ability to target using up-to-the-minute, first-hand information. We deliver the right audience and the right context—you supply the exceptional content.

Despite the advantages of the platform, however, I’ve found that many marketers still struggle with getting the most utility out of advertising on LinkedIn.

With a little knowledge boost and a few tweaks, most LinkedIn marketers can make their campaigns easier to deliver, less budget-intensive, and more effective.

Over the next two posts I’ll be focusing on key subjects which can help you run more successful marketing campaigns on LinkedIn. First up: Targeting and bidding strategy.

Targeting: Find the Sweet Spot

When you choose your targeting criteria in Campaign Manager, the estimated audience size is automatically calculated on the right side of the screen:

  • How to Advertise on LinkedIn

This estimate makes it possible to find the sweet spot; that is, the largest audience that will still find your content relevant. You don’t want to miss people with whom your message will resonate, but you also don’t want to chase people who will never be a customer.

LinkedIn Marketing Solutions’ best practices advise the following:

●     For Text Ads, keep your target audience between 60,000 and 600,000 members

●     For Sponsored Content, have an audience above 300,000+ members

In EMEA, you may be challenged to reach these audience sizes, especially if you are only targeting a single region or country. The targeting solutions that work in the US may not apply in other regions.

For example, targeting a campaign in France to members in the tech industry who are senior marketing employees will only result in 24K members. The same campaign in the US would net 210K members.

I generally advise clients to aim for an audience size of at least 50K members, regardless of what ad unit they are running.

Of course, there are always going to be exceptions. For example, if you are running an account-based marketing campaign, or an extremely specific campaign (such as “legal role, tech industry company, 5 years experience).

If you are running a campaign to an audience of this size, ensure your content is extremely relevant to your target audience and you are starting your campaign with a very strong bidding strategy in place. 

Targeting: Choose Criteria Wisely

There are two often-used targeting criteria which can needlessly restrict your audience size:

Job Title: I understand why it may be tempting to add job titles to ensure you are reaching an extremely relevant audience. But it can be time-consuming to target each specific job title out of the 28,000 available in the Campaign Manager. There may be dozens of very similar titles that you would need to select individually to cover all the bases.

I recommend using the Job Function criteria instead. This criteria standardizes the thousands of job titles into 26 basic functions. You can get a degree of specificity without potentially excluding relevant people.

For example, if your region is Germany and you target a list of 50 marketing job titles, you would get an audience of around 60,000. But if you used marketing as a job function instead, the audience would be 80,000.

Age: Age targeting has its place on certain campaigns. But use it cautiously, because it could reduce the size of your audience by up to 90%.

When members sign up to LinkedIn, they are not asked for their age or date of birth. Ages are calculated assuming members are 21 years old the year they graduate college.

You can imagine how often this calculation could be inaccurate—some might graduate early, some may have a gap year or two (or ten), and some might not supply their education information at all.

Usually when marketers use this criteria, they are looking for people in senior roles or with a great deal of industry experience. In both cases there are better criteria to use: Seniority and Years of Experience will both yield more accurate results.

Bidding: The Power of the Content Relevancy Score

Members come to LinkedIn to read valuable, high-quality content. When marketers strive for excellence in their content, everyone wins: The content is more likely to inspire action and members are motivated to invest more time on LinkedIn.

The Content Relevancy Score (CRS) is an algorithm that helps LinkedIn promote the content members engage with more frequently. CRS takes into account the likes, shares and comments a marketers’ previous content has earned.

When the platform is determining which content to display (i.e., the winner of a bid auction), it uses a combination of the highest bid and the CRS. That way, it’s possible to win an auction with a lower bid but a higher CRS than a competitor.

Here is how bidding works with the CRS to the benefit of members, marketers, and LinkedIn:


To boost your CRS, it’s important to adjust your campaign frequently, adding budget to top-performing content and removing low performers.

Bidding: Make Strong Bids Based on Goals

The best bidding strategies are all about budget management. To begin with, choose cost per thousand impressions (CPM) or cost per click (CPC) depending on your campaign goals. For raising awareness, stick with CPM. For driving leads, CPC is the best bet.

Set competitive bids to make sure your ads get seen, especially in the beginning of your campaign. The Campaign Manager will provide a suggested bid range, but we have seen better results bidding slightly higher than that range. 

  • Advertise on LinkedIn

Bid auctions on LinkedIn are what is known as “second-price auctions.” That means the winner is the highest bidder, but only pays enough to beat the second-place bid, not the entirety of their winning bid. So setting a higher maximum bid can increase your chance of winning without overtaxing your budget.

Bidding: Managing Budget

You can set daily budget caps in the Campaign Manager. Avoid setting these caps too low—this can result in too few clicks to provide optimization data for the next phase of the campaign. Keep the caps higher to collect more audience insight you can use to improve performance and boost your Content Relevancy Score.

For awareness campaigns, it may make sense to remove the daily cap entirely. Set a total budget limit instead of a daily one for maximum reach straight out of the gate.

We also recommend setting your daily budget higher earlier in the month or quarter. That way you can generate more data early on, then optimise and do more with less towards the end of the campaign.

Precision Targeting + Strategic Bidding + Relevant Content = Best Results

Every interested party on LinkedIn—marketers, members, and LinkedIn itself—shares the same goal. We all want people to read content that informs, inspires, and motivates action. The products LinkedIn Marketing Solutions offers are designed to make it easy for marketers to get great content into our members’ feeds.

Make sure you choose the right criteria to reach a broad but relevant audience. Then bid strategically to promote your best content to that audience. Continue to optimise over time to boost your Content Relevancy Score, and you can maximise your return on investment.

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