Sophisticated Sessions: Selecting Your Target Audience on LinkedIn

May 22, 2017

In traditional marketing, reaching your target audience is like photographing a landscape. You take as wide a shot as you can, then look for points of interest in the print.

Digital marketing upgrades your camera to a night-vision model with a zoom lens. You don’t have to go as wide as possible and hope for the best. You can zero in on your most valuable audience, delivering more relevant leads and impressions.

On LinkedIn, you can zoom in still further. LinkedIn uses demographic data that our members report first-hand to create custom audiences. The wide variety of targeting options on the platform means you can generate higher-quality leads at a lower cost.

Here’s how to target your ads on LinkedIn for maximum effectiveness.

Start with Measurable Goals

As with any good marketing campaign, start with the goal of your campaign and work backward. If you’re looking to raise brand awareness, you might go for a broader targeted audience, including some decision makers and user-level members who influence buying decisions.  

If you’re driving event or webinar registrations, you might exclude the C-suite (who may not attend an hour-long webinar). But you would include job titles further down the org chart.

Simply put, the goal of the campaign shapes who your best target audience will be. So it’s best to have measurable goals in mind before you start building a custom audience.

Collect Data to Guide Targeting

For the first round of the campaign, it’s best to have a somewhat wider audience so you can gather intelligence. Choose just two or three key criteria (industry and seniority, perhaps) and use the “audience expansion” option in Campaign Manager.

After you run the campaign for a few days, look at your click demographics.

You will be able to see how different subsets of your audience are reacting to your content, and then narrow down to the most relevant for your next round.

Don’t Target Too Narrowly

As you home in on your most valuable audience, beware of going too narrow. It’s tempting to pile on the criteria with so many at your fingertips. But when you go too narrow, you may miss out on promising prospects. Worse, your campaign may not have wide enough audience to gather data that will inform your next round of optimization.

We have seen the most success with an audience of around 500,000 people. That number will be smaller if you have a highly specific offering, of course. But it’s still a good idea to limit your targeting to three or fewer criteria, particularly in the early stages of a campaign.

Choose Criteria Wisely

There are a few criteria that, while useful for some marketers, tend to be less effective for the majority. For example, “job title” is available as a targeting option for those who have a very particular product offering. Titles vary from company to company, and covering all the variations is challenging. Most marketers will see better results specifying industry and skills instead of job title.

Similarly, the “age” criteria can be useful if your solution is targeted at a specific age demographic. In most cases, it makes more sense to use “seniority” instead. We found targeting by age cut our audience by 94%--that’s a lot of potential customers you might leave behind.

A/B Test and Optimize

LinkedIn Campaign Manager makes it simple to see how your ads are performing, and to make adjustments. Take full advantage of the platform: Run continuous A/B tests with your targeting criteria, continually evaluating performance and optimizing.

Improving your performance on LinkedIn starts a virtuous cycle. Ads with higher click-through and interaction rates get preference in the bidding process, so you can continually build on your success.

The right targeting helps stretch your ad budget and maximize your return on investment. Start with the goals that will guide the entire campaign, including who might be in your target audience. Then start with a few targeting criteria to gather intelligence. Let the data guide you to your most valuable audience, then test and optimize every round.

To learn more about taking your LinkedIn marketing to the next level, check out LinkedIn’s Sophisticated Sessions.