LinkedIn Targeting - How to Create Targeted Audiences That Scale

By Steve Burnett | @1trackjack | Senior Account Manager, Paid Social at Hanapin Marketing |

LinkedIn has more than 430 million members… and there are about as many ways to target them on the platform (not really, but there are a lot of targeting options!). It’s easy to fall into the trap of heaping as many targeting layers as you can in order to sculpt that perfect audience of qualified people. But this ends up being an exercise in how to exclude as many people as possible instead of including those who are relevant to your business objectives.

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For this post, we’ll focus on Sponsored Content ads and the tools and tips you can use to target a more precise audience, while still achieving scalable reach.

Sponsored Content lets you go beyond the reach of your Company Page followers to target relevant audiences interested in your company. Basic audience targeting includes demographic options such as age, gender, etc. However, the platform has much more detailed information on its users that you can use for precise, professional micro-targeting; such as company industry & size, job title, job seniority, job function, years of experience and relevant skill sets. You can go even further and more surgically target individuals based on specific companies & groups, company connections, followers, and that’s just for starters.

There’s always a precarious balancing act between relevant targeting and audience size. A fine line between raising awareness and shaping perception versus driving quality leads or generating sales. If your targeting is too specific, you may only reach a small audience. Too broad and you’re wasting time and money.

Here are some ways to help you create a relevant, albeit robust audience.

Do your research, specifically on the platform

Once you know the audience group or type that you are trying to reach, begin with a LinkedIn profile search and see what profile characteristics that audience has in common. What combination of skills and job titles do they have in common? Are they at similar levels of seniority? Do they work in similar industries? How about geography? Is there an opportunity to restrict targeting to be more precise by limiting where your ads might appear? Profile searches can be very revealing and often uncover different options for relevant targeting.

Combine targeting features, but avoid hyper targeting

While having a tightly controlled and well-sculpted audience is often ideal, make sure that your potential audience size is large enough to meet your objectives. If you’re running Sponsored Content we typically target an audience of at least 250,000 – obviously this varies.

In many cases, hyper-targeting can make your conversion rates look great, but you might be missing out on opportunities to increase overall revenue. Try testing Titles versus Skills targeting. Job titles are good for hyper-specific targeting and there are more than 28,000 titles to choose from! But Skills can find larger audiences that are still relevant and allow for scale.

Also, try targeting by job function, which has fewer options but still produces relevant results. It’s all about striking a balance. Target specific industries (or industry segments) in specific regions. Testing these combos allows you to bid more aggressively for specific groups, which can improve conversion rates, cost per acquisition metrics and the creation of more relevant retargeting segments.

Speaking of retargeting…

Retargeting is one of the most effective means of shortening or closing the business cycle. Use LinkedIn’s retargeting capabilities to follow-up with prospects or customers that have viewed specific pages of your site or performed specific actions.

Release the robots (or in this case the algorithms)

One of the best audience models on Facebook is the Lookalike – LinkedIn has a similar capability. To create the Lookalike audience, LinkedIn analyses the characteristics and patterns of your target audience to find other people who are most likely relevant to your objectives. Click the “Audience Expansion” box and LinkedIn’s algorithms will build larger, relevant audiences for you.

The secret to staying young is to lie about your age

Be careful when using age as a targeting layer because it is often calculated using the user’s year of graduation – close enough, but maybe not. Because users of the platform share their information directly, targeting information on LinkedIn is typically more reliable than other platforms.

But age is still a societal sticky point. (Despite asking, I never knew my grandmother’s real age until one day the year of her birth was accidentally slipped into a casual conversation – even then I had to do the math myself to find out her exact age!) Targeting by seniority or years of experience often leads to better results.

Break out the book of matches

You’re probably leveraging your existing data on other platforms like Google and Facebook and LinkedIn now has the same capabilities. With Matched Audiences, you can upload a list of email addresses from your existing contact list to either include or exclude them from your campaigns.

Dive into the demographics and identify winning segments

Once you have enough data from broader audience testing, you can develop specific audience segments using the Demographics tab found in the Campaign Manager. This information is great for seeing how your content performs with different segments of your target audience(s). Use these findings to more strategically plot your content and audience segmentation strategies.

For instance, if larger audience segments are getting clicks from irrelevant segments you can include them (or tweak your content). Likewise, if you are getting really good results from other audience segments you can increase spend and capture more reach with the right people.

Keep your eye on the prize

Running successful campaigns on LinkedIn takes time, testing and continuous improvement. As you experiment more and start to gain more precise insights that you can use to fine-tune your campaigns your ads will perform better. Test restricting individual campaigns to a couple of relevant targeting parameters and then switch budgets to the approach that most closely hits your goals.

And as always, try some of these targeting options and let us know how you’re doing!

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