22 min read

LinkedIn | Boost Your Ad Performance with AJ Wilcox

LinkedIn provides a powerful-but-pricy platform for reaching technical buyers, so it pays to take time to plan your ad and measure performance early to maximize ROI. 

AJ Wilcox, Founder of B2Linked and Host of the LinkedIn Ads Show podcast, has managed some of the world's largest LinkedIn Ads accounts. He's seen the triumphs and the terrible, and shares advice on how to improve ad performance.

During the episode, we contrast budget spend and how it relates to measurement. You'll hear us discuss which types of ads perform the best, and how ad copy and calls-to-action targeted to your persona are key. You'll also learn where the LinkedIn Ads platform is headed and how best to keep abreast of changes.  

Did you enjoy this episode? Watch more episodes from our LinkedIn Miniseries!

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Transcript

The following transcript was created by an AI Bot which has yet to learn slang words and decipher Wendy's Texas accent. While it is no substitute for watching/listening to the episode, transcripts are handy for a quick scan. Enjoy!

LinkedIn provides a powerful advertising platform for technical marketers. You can be highly prescriptive about who you're targeting and create ads that are in all sorts of form factors. But with it comes a higher price tag than other social peers and search advertising. So with all of that in mind, it's really important to troubleshoot your ad measured success and follow best practices. Well, that's what we're here to do today, to get in the head of a LinkedIn advertising expert on how to improve your LinkedIn ad performance.

 

Let's do this.

 

Welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. Your source for building trust and generating demand with technical content. Here is your host, Wendy Covey.

 

Hi, and welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. On each episode, I'll break down an industry trend, challenge, or best practice in reaching technical audiences.

 

You'll meet colleagues, friends, and clients of mine who will stop by to share their stories. And I hope that you leave each episode feeling inspired and ready to take action. Before we jump in, I'd like to give a brief shout out to my agency, TREW Marketing. TREW is a full service agency located in beautiful Austin, Texas, serving highly technical companies. For more information, visit trewmarketing.com.

 

And now on with our podcast. Oh, hey, everyone.

 

Our March LinkedIn Madness mini series is in full swing. And I'm so excited to have on this show today AJ Wilcox, he's the founder of B2Linked, an official LinkedIn partner, host of LinkedIn Ad Show, which is a podcast that you can go check out. And he's managed some of the world's largest LinkedIn ads account. So thank you so much for being on the show today, A.J.

 

I'm so stoked to be here. Wendy, thanks so much for having me.

 

We love your podcast, my whole team, our big listeners of it. And, you know, I heard something on one of your episodes I wanted to ask you about.

 

Bring it on.

 

You had a knee injury, Utah, your meniscus. Right. I want to know the story.

 

Do you have some cool back story of how it happened? Because I know you're big into hiking your triathlete, so lay it on me. What happened, man?

 

I wish it was a cool story. I this is back a little while ago, but I didn't tell anyone, but I was taking a parkour class and like this isn't the knee injury. This is an ankle. But I was like, oh, this is cool. I'm definitely like the oldest and the fattest guy in the class. But I had a blast doing it and then I ended up hurting my ankle in class. And but I was so embarrassed because the injury happened like during the up when we were literally just running around in circles, like the arm wasn't because I did some, like, crazy jump or anything.

 

Anyway, was this this is even less cool. At the beginning of covid, I work on a treadmill desk and so I got my mileage up. I was training to do like a lot of mileage and I got to the point where I was doing like a full marathon every day. Twenty six miles. Wow. And yeah. And so I was like in really good shape. And even at the beginning of covid when I was panic eating like I'm sure everyone else was, you don't know what's going on.

 

I was still losing weight walking a full marathon. I was like, oh, this is great. And I went on a hike with a friend and while I was hiking, I didn't feel anything. I just came back and felt pain the next morning and the pain didn't go away until I had surgery like nine months later.

 

So that C I knew was a hike. That was my theory. Well, I wanted to share. So I also have torn my meniscus. I'm kind of like putting up with it right now.

 

But I did it fishing.

 

No was so random. But I was I was fishing reweight fish in the water at the coast off of Corpus Christi, Texas, and my boots were kind of stuck in the mud and I just turned they just enough. But kind of like you, I didn't really feel much at the time. But then later that evening, I'm walking and all of a sudden my knee just kind of gives out on me. So. Oh, I know it stings.

 

Getting all your stories still cooler than mine.

 

Well, gave you a chance. All right. All right. Great one for Wendy. Well, I have a battery of questions for you.

 

I'm super excited. But before we get there and, you know, I always find it interesting, you know, when I run across other agencies like true marketing, then have a really specific niche. So for true, it's marketing to highly technical audiences like engineers. And I know for BE2 linked, it's linked in mastery. So what led you to narrow your agency's focus into this area?

 

High, big like number? A large number of factors. But essentially early on in my career, I used to. Call myself a search engine optimization guy, and I would I would look at people like Rand Fishkin on stage when I go to conferences and I'm like, I want to be him when I grow up. And when I would pitch to conferences, they're like, oh, well, you're the three hundredth like over overweight, middle aged white guy with facial hair like that who wants to speak on Tasco.

 

Sorry, like we have enough.

 

And so I was always looking like, OK, so what's the niche that I can really control? And then long story short, I stumbled onto LinkedIn ads at a while working for a previous employer. They ended up becoming the most profitable ad channel we had, even though it was I was doing a lot of SEO and a lot of Google ads. And I just eventually it consumed all my attention because it was performing so well and I grew it to become Langton's largest spending account in the world.

 

And, you know, after you've run the biggest account, it's kind of time to say, all right, well, maybe, maybe I should focus on here.

 

Maybe there's some skilled in this area. Yeah, well, you certainly are now, obviously, given all the history since then. So very interesting. And and that's why we turn to you. In fact, one of my staff, Julia, saw you speak at inbound and was just very impressed with your knowledge in this area.

 

So that's awesome. Yeah. Yeah.

 

Well, let's start with an easy one. Who should and who should not advertise on LinkedIn.

 

Yeah, and it's a really important question because Facebook and Google, both of them started with really low pricing and they let everyone who wanted to come and try it out have a lot of success. And then they went and told their friends they all grew in a really grassroots kind of way. And LinkedIn has always been expensive. They set a minimum cost per click of two dollars back in 2008. And so while you could pay less than 30 cents a click on Google and less than a cent on Facebook, LinkedIn was like no, two bucks a click.

 

And so they they eventually or they essentially started by saying we're, you know, we're going to be premium priced here. And what that means is and as competition has increased over the years, prices have as well, of course. So because of that, LinkedIn ads are expensive and they're kind of unapologetically expensive and investing. That means that if you're going to make money off of them, it means you've got to have a pretty significant, like either deal size or lifetime value on the back end.

 

So what we've found exactly what we found is if you have like a if you're doing business to business and as long as you've got a lifetime value, that's, let's say, ten, fifteen thousand dollars or more than LinkedIn ads are a total no brainer. But if you're selling software that's like ten bucks a month, like good luck, your cost per click is going to be ten bucks a month and it won't be profitable.

 

OK, that's a good litmus test. So for companies that are on the smaller size, let's say they're there, you know, deal meets that minimum threshold. What about budgeting? Is there a minimum effective budget where if you don't have at least X per month, forget it, it's never going to work for you?

 

It depends on how patient you are. What we found over time is that if we talk to a company and we go, hey, your budget's really low. So it's probably going to take two, three, four months to really see the results here. Usually they go, oh, yeah, for sure, we're patient. And then three days later, how are things looking?

 

Well, what we've decided is, is basically don't spend anything less than about five thousand dollars a month. If you want to make sure that you can see like, yes, results are happening and here's what we can do to improve them. If you're spending too much less, it's pretty easy to fall into the trap of like, oh, I want to get in and optimize. But none of the data samples are large enough. I don't actually know what's working and what isn't.

 

I got to just leave it longer. Interesting.

 

So we're seeing traction lower than that, say more like five hundred to a thousand per month. However, it's really Nichi so that the target audiences is very constrained. And so I think that maybe plays a factor as well.

 

Yeah. And especially with account based marketing, like the ABM campaigns, where you essentially can go to your sales team and say, hey, give me a list of the top 50 accounts you want to work with. And if you go back with a list of 50 company names and upload them into LinkedIn and you're targeting just like a certain kind of person on each one, you won't be able to spend very much. But of course, every lead that comes in is going to be absolutely golden.

 

You were going after them for a reason. So I love that. I love the hyper targeting. It just, I think comes down to something that is like like evergreen and repeatable and and something you can build off of. We've just we've had too many clients churn who are spending less. And I'm like, no, but it yeah.

 

Yeah. You just need to just see it. True things are going really, really, really, really well, you just need to keep that through. But yeah, anyone who spends less, you can totally make it work. Chances are it's just a little harder.

 

Sure.

 

So when you have someone that has a larger budget versus smaller, are the benchmarks for success any different? It sounds like time is one of them. So the more you spend, you can see results more quickly. You can iterate on things. What what else?

 

What we find is the larger the budget, the more campaigns you can run, which is kind of like, duh. But what it means for us is instead of just like if we had a campaign that was targeting people with, let's say like a like a senior developer or title, if we're targeting them by job title because we only have enough budget for one campaign, we're going to be testing messaging against a certain offer for this one audience. And if we had a larger budget, we could test going after that same person with skills, with seniority, plus groups with seniority plus maybe job function and seniority.

 

And we could test the same messages like the same AB test, the same offers across those. And now not only are we generating the right leads that we wanted to, but we're also finding efficiencies because we might find that, wow, if we target by skill rather than job title, LinkedIn finds more of the right people and they charge us less so for marketing qualified leads 20 percent lower. Yeah, yeah.

 

Great point. So think about how many different aspects you can test on to get those efficiencies live that. Well, let's say you have a compelling, meaty piece of content that you want to promote. Would you suggest starting with organic on LinkedIn or with paid or maybe both?

 

Oh, I would say both, if you can. The real beauty of sharing organically on LinkedIn, as you well know, is it's really easy to go viral. So just for background, for anyone listening who doesn't already know, anytime someone hits like comment or share on one of your posts, whether it's an ad or organic, it then gets shown to a portion of their audience. And so when you get a lot of interactions, all of a sudden a ton more people are seeing it.

 

This is great for just general exposure, people getting to know you and your brand. But from an advertising perspective, you have this platform that is just amazing at micro hyper targeting the specific people who can make the biggest difference for your company and you probably can't reach them organically. The chances of them being within a degree or two of your company or you are not very high. So I love the combination of like show this content to exactly the right people that we know would be our best customers, plus shared organically and and take advantage of our our friends and network.

 

Great, great answer. OK, good. Yeah. It is amazing that multiplier effect. If you can get someone to engage with organic posts that, you know, it does always work out to reach everyone. So I like that combination.

 

And let's talk a little bit about the mechanics of creating an ad. So there's a lot of format options, right? There's text ads and static images and there's videos. So, you know, give me a rundown on how those perform or how you'd use them in combination with one in another.

 

Yeah. So because there are so many options, I've basically boiled it down to two that I really care. Oh, OK. So the first is I will say four ninety five percent of advertisers. You should be investing in the single image sponsored content. It's, it's not the most expensive and it's not the least expensive. Click on the platform, but it shows up in people's news feeds, which is it's the default experience for everyone, whether you're on a desktop or mobile.

 

And so you can all we're all trying to ignore the right hand side. Right. Thanks, Google. Exactly. Thank you. So I love using them. It's just a really good like middle of the road happy medium kind of ad format. And if something's wrong with it, like if you see your your click through rates too low, there's very little to troubleshoot.

 

It's either the big image, a little bit of text above or a little bit of text below. And so you can switch things out. Whereas if you were running a video ad, it could be really hard to figure out like what's my video not engaging in the first couple of seconds or was the message not good? Or my ad copy not hit so many more questions. It's a lot easier to to test that way.

 

So single image sponsored content number one. No. Two, surprisingly, is the right rail text ads. No.

 

Like text ones. Yeah. And the reason why is because they're so insanely cheap that and they have a really low click through rate. So to give you an idea, about half a percent of the time your ads are. Half a percentage of the time that your sponsored content ads show they'll get clicked on, but it takes a point zero to five percent click through rate on text ads.

 

So it's like two and a half clicks out of every 10000 times these things are served.

 

But what that means is and because you can bid all the way down to two dollars a click on them when they do get clicked, it doesn't cost you much. But when they don't get clicks, they're essentially still free branding impressions that when you when you run both at the same time, we found that just by virtue of these text ads running, they increase. They cause our click through rates to increase on our sponsored content by like 13 percent.

 

But that's a big increase and free, you know, almost free paid your performance. Wow.

 

So awareness means something there.

 

Yeah. OK, well, on the organic side, I feel like video is is the way to go just because of that hover rate. Right. And so you see people interacting with it longer and that seems to make that algorithm happier on LinkedIn. So yeah, interesting comparison ads versus organic and video ads.

 

Like I would I would recommend video ads all day long on YouTube and on Facebook ads. But on LinkedIn we pay an average of like ten to twenty five cents per person who watches at least two seconds. So they're pretty spending. But if you have proven creative, that really works. Absolutely bring it over.

 

But it's it's expensive to test into an OK, so so let's talk about some mistakes. So what are some typical mistakes that you see advertisers making that cost money?

 

Yeah, unfortunately, the biggest mistakes that we see are the ones that LinkedIn recommends you make.

 

So, yeah, when you go to build a campaign, there are three things that happen that are usually bad for you. So the first is they will auto check a box that says enable audience expansion. And this box is basically the covid-19 of linked and total poison.

 

But they think that it's it's worthwhile. I wholly disagree. This is like if you're paying LinkedIn the premium or for the traffic that you are, then you might as well be ultra specific about who you're going after. You don't want to leave it up to LinkedIn to decide who they say they're going after doctors. I think a dentist is close enough to a doctor. Let me throw them in.

 

Yeah, I completely agree. Yeah.

 

So that's number one. Number two is about 90 percent of the time. The most expensive way to pay for traffic on LinkedIn is by bidding, by cost per impression. And the default option they drop you at is basically cost per impression bidding where they can bid as high as they want. They call it auto bidding or maximum delivery. And like I said, 90 percent of the time, that's the most expensive way to bid.

 

So what I would recommend is change that to max cost per click bidding where you're saying, hey, look, then I'm only going to pay when someone is actually taking action and clicking pay for performance.

 

Yes, exactly. And rather than doing what LinkedIn says, which is like bid really high to to, like, puff up your ego against your competition, instead start by bidding really low and only bid higher when you need more traffic than what you're currently getting.

 

I can't imagine another mistake that some marketers make that maybe aren't too content savvy is they lack a strong call to action. So it's something really generic or really forget to have a call to action altogether. So what about what about that? Any any good CTA tips you have for us?

 

Yeah, I think this one really depends on where you came to link to the ads from. If you have the folks who came to link to the ads from running organic social, a lot of times they have this this idea that's like, hey, we just want to be the nice guy or gal. And so we're just going to share good content for free and we're going to tread really softly and they'll end up with a really weak CTA. And then on the opposite side, you have people like me who came from the Google ad side of things where everything is is organized and regimented and all that.

 

And we give really strong calls to action that are like up on the phone with our high pressure sales rep right now.

 

And what we find is like both approaches aren't really a good fit for LinkedIn ads. If you don't have a strong enough call to action, no one's going to click and do it and you'll end up paying too much. And if you come in pushing people right to it, like a really high friction kind of ask and people won't click, or if they do, they're looky loos and they won't convert. So having a call to action, that is something where you're providing value.

 

And in exchange, you're also asking for them to fill out a form that's generally the best approach.

 

Great. So I was just about to ask that because we want that form. It does that to be a long form. But, you know, we do want some information. So that's acceptable. That will work. If it's a meaty piece that looks like it's high value is what I'm hearing.

 

Exactly. And that's that's the thing is us as marketers, we need signals to show us what's working. And so if you say, hey, we're not going after conversions, we're going to be nice guys and gals and we're just going to drop them on a blog post and see what happens. Attribution is such that it's going to be really hard to see anyone when you're paying eight to twelve dollars per click to have people read your blog post. It's going to be really hard to see that return.

 

But if it's marketers, if we can get someone to fill out a form, even if we're not going to contact them, what we're seeing is different audiences that are willing to engage and respond. And it tells us what we're doing right. And we should do more of and what we're doing wrong, what we should bid down or shut off completely. Sure.

 

And then you can justify your ROIC of the thing to begin with and of course, begin to nurture that lead later for sales.

 

Totally, yeah. What some marketers say builds this perfect ad. They have this awesome call to action.

 

It's all great. What's how how long should this ad run? Is there a time where you have just, you know, less eFax results? Peter out. A potentially, yes, although a few different directions on this one, when we launch an ad for the first day or two, we're watching really closely to see what the click through rate is. Now, most marketers will say, oh, click through rate doesn't mean anything. And I agree, except for the first couple of days, first couple of days.

 

This tells us how interesting our ads are to our target audience. So we're watching that closely or we get enough clicks. Then we kind of shift from caring about click through rate to caring about the conversion rate. And so after three, four or five days a week, we're looking at our cost per conversion and and conversion rates. That being said, after about the average is twenty seven to thirty three days. Your your ads that you're showing to the same people, they'll start to see them again and go, oh I've already seen that.

 

And they'll yeah. I didn't care about the first time.

 

I don't care about it the second or third time either. Exactly. And so if you're watching over time you'll notice your click through rates starting to dove after about a month. And so that's what we recommend, is to create good ads, watch them for a few days, make sure they're getting good, click through rates, make sure they are converting, but then look to replace them and refresh them after about a month. Yeah.

 

So we've been following that same principle, too. And so then when that month is over. Yeah. So let's talk about refresh. So is that a completely new call to action or is that a creative refresh or. It could be all sorts of things I guess.

 

Yeah, I would, I would prefer a new offer, like testing something completely different, because we know that with social and the offer is only going to live for so long. So if you find something that works, you want to milk it for all it's worth. And so what that means is if you have a new offer, you want to find out very quickly, like, hey, is this the new one we should go all in on?

 

Or if you don't have new offers, if you're just like, hey, our offer hasn't changed, it's still the same ebook or the same guide or whatever, then just a visual refresh is enough.

 

If people aren't going to remember ad copy that they read three weeks ago or a week ago. So if you just change the image to something radically different, then they'll think they're seeing it again for the first time. And you can get away with that for two or three months without your click through rates and your your conversion rates totally tanking.

 

Yeah, and I know this dates back to even say this, but how nice is it that we get all of this immediate feedback and can test things and change things on the fly versus print where we just do anything? It's just fabulous. So I love digital advertising. Yeah.

 

And I studied marketing in school like I got my degree in marketing without a single digital marketing class. Yeah. And I went into the workforce thinking I was going to be a brand manager on Madison Avenue somewhere. Now imagine my surprise when I was like, you can pay for metrics and see immediately.

 

Right, right, right. Well, I started out planning trade shows, so I guess they're still around. But, you know, talk about expensive cost per lead.

 

Yeah, especially in twenty twenty. Wow.

 

Well, as we look forward into the rest of this year and into next year, what do you see on the horizon for LinkedIn ads.

 

I, I'd betray myself a little bit here because we are a LinkedIn partner and so I do get a look at the roadmap.

 

And so I don't want to divulge anything I shouldn't have because in general, what I see is LinkedIn is about four years behind Facebook with features.

 

And so I think we can continue to see what's working really well on Facebook, expect to be to have it rolled up at an accelerated pace in LinkedIn or something like a two to four year horizon makes a lot of sense. I also look at it and say LinkedIn has been playing a lot of catch up to the other platforms, but they also sit on a lot of data that is proprietary. That could be incredible. So, for instance, they know when when someone keeps logging in from different places all around the world, when they're doing business during business hours, they're like, oh, that person's a business traveler.

 

And then one of their advertisers can say, hey, we only want to show ads to people that we know travel because we have this travel service or discounted flights or something. And that's the kind of thing that LinkedIn has that no one else.

 

So moving towards behavioral demographics instead of just the normal stuff that you. Yeah. That you find interesting. Well, for those non LinkedIn partners out there that are privy to the secret information, where would you suggest they go to just keep current with everything that's happening with the LinkedIn platform?

 

LinkedIn has a blog, the Marketing Solutions blog, but I haven't found it to be very complete, like some features that they'll announce and then some. They just won't do it right up on, so I try to do a pretty good recap about twice a year on the LinkedIn Acho show podcast, we'll do like a like a deep dove into the the latest road map that LinkedIn has publicly made available.

 

So I would say follow the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog, get as much out of it as you can, and then maybe check out the LinkedIn ads show podcast for maybe a more distant look at it. Perfect.

 

And it's like you knew we were about to segway into how do people find more information about you and your agency? We've talked about your podcasts, but how can they find you?

 

Yeah, I'm obviously on LinkedIn. So you are. Yeah, I imagine dated profile, I bet. No. Oh, I'm sure. Yeah, yeah. No more than weekly. If you if you want to connect with me, I'd love to connect with all of you who are listening.

 

Just make sure to customize the connection request and be like, like, hey, I heard you on Wendy's show. That would be great. Otherwise I just I don't accept invitations where someone doesn't tell me why they want to connect. So that would work great. And the other thing is the LinkedIn ads show podcast. If getting down and geeky with LinkedIn ads like we have for the last little bit is your cup of tea, then yeah. You will not be disappointed by this podcast.

 

Good, good.

 

Well, I guess last question for those marketers out there that are looking to improve their LinkedIn and performance, what's one just awesome piece of advice you have for them?

 

Your success is going to depend wholly on your offer. So if you're trying to to pitch an old ebook that's three years old, that doesn't isn't valuable to anyone. And you're wondering why your performance sucks, like there's a good reason for that. And so before anything, consider if I were my prospect, what would I just be, like, blown away if I saw? Is there some research report I could develop? Is there a webinar that taught them how to do something super valuable that they need right now?

 

Think about that build build your campaign around the offer and you can't go wrong. Perfect.

 

Thank you so much for your time. Today was really interesting getting in your head about links, advertising and very much appreciate it.

 

Hey, have me back any time for around two. All right. Thanks for joining me today on content marketing, engineered for show neutze, including links to resources, visit true marketing dotcom slash podcast. While there you can subscribe to our blog, Inari newsletter and order a copy of my book, Content Marketing Engineer. Also, I would love your reviews on this podcast, so please, when you get a chance, subscribe and let me review on your favorite podcast subscription platform.

 

Thanks and have a great day.