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LinkedIn’s Targeting Capabilities: The Complete Guide For 2020

by | Jun 6, 2020 | Blog, Digital Advertising | 0 comments

IIWhat makes LinkedIn advertising powerful is their unique ad targeting

LinkedIn’s targeting lets you reach influencers, decision-makers and executives at scale. You’ll be able to target them based on their job experiences, company, skills and more.

Targeting is the foundation of building a successful ad campaign.

In the guide, we will cover all the available targeting options, what they mean and targeting best practices.

Let’s dive in.

  1. What makes LinkedIn’s targeting effective
  2. How to use LinkedIn’s forecasting tool
  3. Location & Language
  4. Job Functions
  5. Job Title
  6. Seniority
  7. Years of Experience
  8. Member Skills
  9. Company Name
  10. Company Industry
  11. Company Size
  12. Education
  13. Degrees
  14. Fields of Study
  15. Interest Targeting
  16. LinkedIn Groups
  17. Demographics
  18. LinkedIn’s audience expansion and lookalike audience
  19. Saved audiences and save as template
  20. Matched audiences
  21. How to maximize LinkedIn’s AND/OR Functions
  22. Best practices for targeting

What makes LinkedIn’s targeting effective?

LinkedIn currently has a user base of 675 million professionals.

Out of all the social platforms, LinkedIn probably has the most accurate data for professionals.

Members keep their profiles updated for networking, personal branding, and job opportunities. An outdated profile would hinder their career and personal progress.

Unlike other platforms, members seldom “fake” their profile details. It’ll be embarrassing to be exposed by their colleagues and peers.

If you’re like me, we use each platform for different purposes. For Facebook, many of us do not put what they do professionally. In fact, 75% of people lie on Facebook about themselves.

People paint a perfect picture of their life on Facebook or Instagram although it’s far from the truth. That’s an incomplete picture of the person.

I’m not saying LinkedIn is perfect either. But it definitely paints a more accurate version of an individual’s professional life.

Ignoring LinkedIn in 2020 is a big mistake – especially if you’re a B2B marketer.

Check out this example of a typical profile.

Linkedin Profile Data

All these are ad targeting options for you, as the advertiser.

How to use LinkedIn’s Forecasting Tool

Once you’ve selected your objective and key in your audiences, a forecasted result will be shown.

Linkedin_s Forecasting Tool

“Total audience size” shows the estimated number of members that fit your criteria. These are members whom your ad will be shown to.

To launch a campaign, you’ll need at least a minimum audience size of 300 members if you are using Matched Audiences.

If your audience size is too narrow, you’ll be shown an error message. You won’t be able to save your targeting or launch campaigns.

Audience size too small

To have the optimum scale for your ads, you’ll need at least 50,000 audience size.

Some advertisers have seen successes in the ranges of 120,000 audience size and above. So keep testing to find a good size that permits both scale and accuracy

If you’re unsure, start broad first. Then narrow down after seeing the results. Use LinkedIn’s demographic report to identify who is converting. Observe which job titles, functions, industries and more are converting

The forecasting tool also lets you see the demographic mix of your audience. Click the new feature called “Segment Breakdown”.

segment breakdown

After choosing the segment you’d like to understand, it will show the % breakdown.

segment breakdown %

In this example, you can see that your audiences are mostly from the marketing function

Pro tip: Members could be mapped to more than one job function. For example, if someone was a Sales & Marketing professional, they would fall under both Marketing and Business Development functions. Some members do not update their profile with their latest job immediately, which might cause them to appear in multiple functions/titles.

To see whether your campaigns will face with delivery issues, you can use the “Show Maximum Potential Spend” row.

You’ll need to enable this view first by clicking on the Gear icon on the forecasting tool.

show maximum potential spend

In this example, if you had a budget of $5,000/month, you will not face any delivery difficulty. Why?

Because your maximum potential spend for this audience size is $89,000/month. Not unless you have more than $89,000/month to burn, your delivery will be fine.

Location & Language

The location field is mandatory. It is defined by either the IP Address or the location included in their profile.

linkedin ads location options recent or permanent

Many marketers miss this, but it’s important to check whether your location settings are set to “Recent or Permanent” or “Permanent” Location.

For most cases, choose “permanent” location. This refers to members who permanently live or work in your selected locations.

The “Recent or Permanent” location is useful when you’re looking to expand your audience. I don’t recommend this until you have a matured campaign that’s been giving good results

You may select the location by the cities/states. For example, if you have an event in Sydney, you could run ads just towards Sydney audiences.

linkedin ads location targeting city states

Take note that narrowing too much will cut your audience size. If the size becomes too low, it might make more sense to cold call your prospects instead of advertising.

LinkedIn currently does not support ads in Thai, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

 

Linkedin support languagesJob Functions

These are based on standardized groupings of job titles. For example, a Digital Marketer will fall under the “Marketing” function. Along with Growth hackers, marketing analytics and Copywriting.

How to use job function? My go-to targeting is job functions layered with job seniority. This targets high-value decision-makers from the relevant functions.

Note that members can potentially be mapped to 2 functions depending on their job title.

I’ve compiled the definitions of each job function based on older documentation by LinkedIn. These are not endorsed by LinkedIn but I feel it makes sense and has helped with my client’s campaigns.

Accounting: 

Roles are involved in maintaining and auditing records, financial reports, tax reports, and any other internal accounting responsibility. Some job titles in this function include: Accountant, Tax Specialist, Payroll Specialist, Auditor and more.

Administrative: 

Roles like clerks, secretaries, executive assistants fall under this category. Some job titles that might fall under this function: Admin officer, Data entry, Clerk, Administrator.

Arts and Design: 

Creative and artist roles that do not involve much writing. For example artists, designer, host, actor, architect.

Business Development: 

This is not sales. There is a sales function separately. Business development includes the development of business opportunities and relationships. This includes mergers, partnerships, and business initiatives. Some examples: Managing Director, Business development manager, Merger and Acquisitions specialist, Chief Executive officer, Chief Marketing Officer.

Community and social services: 

These are mostly social workers, counsellors, psychologists, and other volunteers.

Consulting: 

Their roles are mainly to provide advice in a particular area of expertise. Some examples: Consultant, Sales Consultant, CRM Consultant.

Education: 

Includes teaching roles like professors, primary and secondary school teachers, teaching assistants, instructors, and coaches. This likely does not include corporate trainers as that could fall under the Human Resources function.

Engineering: 

Includes positions involving the development and implementation of products and solutions of their company. Software developers are included. Some example job titles would be – Aeronautical engineer, software developer, petroleum drilling engineer, Software engineer, Coding engineer.

Entrepreneurship: 

This refers to roles that are involved in the creation of new businesses and ventures. Example job titles: Founder, Board member, Partner, Owner.

Finance: 

Roles that manage the funds and capital of a company. This could be corporate finance, investment management, risk management, insurance, banking positions that involve fund management. A commercial banker, investor, loan offer and compliance officer fits in this function.

Healthcare services: 

These are providers of health care services. Includes Doctors, Nurses, Dentists, health care technicians, orthopedics, Health care assistants and health care administrators.

Human Resources: 

Includes recruiting, staffing, comp and ben administration, personnel & employee wellness management, organizational development, internal corporate trainers.

Information Technology:

Includes the deployment, administration, and support of Information and computing infrastructure within the firm. Includes contractors and consultants. Example job titles: Chief Information Officer, Database developer, IT Auditor, SAP Consultant, Telecommunications Manager.

Legal: 

Roles involved in the practice of law. From attorneys, paralegals, the judiciary and roles that provide legal advice or counsel.

Marketing: 

The promotion and distribution of products and services, and/or the selling of products and services to categories of customers. Advertising, branding, customer insights, marketing analytics fall under the marketing function. This function does not include direct selling (Sales function), Communication with the press (Media and Comms Function) and Product Management (Product function).

Media and Communication: 

These are mostly PR positions. Includes technical writers, journalists, mass media, website management and more. PR is pretty loosely termed and ever-changing. So always give this function a test.

Military and Protective Services: 

Includes the armed forces, law enforcement, and private security positions. Example job titles are Firefighters, Police officer, Airport security, Investigator

Operations: 

Roles are involved in the internal operations of a firm. This includes activities that directly produce the firm’s products. They are also responsible for the deployment, operation, maintenance, management of infrastructures, site operations, and manufacturing activities. An important note here is that this might include marketing operations, IT operations and IT infrastructure too. Job functions might overlap depending on the nature of the job role. So always keep testing.

Product Management: 

Roles tend to be responsible for defining, developing and delivering specific products or groups of products according to the company’s business goals.

Program and Project management: 

Positions involved in the operational management of projects, processes, schedules and coordination of activities across teams. Example of job titles: Project manager, program manager, project administrator, business process management, agile consultant.

Purchasing: 

Include positions primarily responsible for acquiring goods and services. Roles are responsible for selection, qualification, and negotiation with vendors. Likely, these functions are related to the procurement teams.

Quality Assurance: 

Testing and quality control roles. This could involve software or hardware QAs. Example titles would be Business analyst, Healthcare QA, Tester, software tester, penetration testing engineer.

Real Estate: 

The development, sales, and leasing of land and buildings. These are mostly your real estate brokers, real estate asset managers, property managers.

Research: 

Includes scientific research, business or market research and data analytics. Job title examples: Chemist, Healthcare research, Research analyst, product manager, data scientist.

Sales: 

Selling of products and services to individual customers or businesses. Positions often have responsibility for account management and revenue generation.

Support: 

Includes positions that provide service to a firm’s customers. These are more external-facing as compare to the operations roles which are internal. Some job title examples: Customer service specialist, call center manager, support representative.

As you can see, a LinkedIn member could fall into more than one job function. In the real world, most jobs have multiple functions.

Keep testing across functions that make the most sense. Observe your key results and adjust accordingly.

Job Title

This is a specific description of the member’s job. The field is unstructured – Meaning members can fill in whatever they want. This is the most specific way to target and is not recommended for smaller regions.

For example, if you only include “Digital Marketing Manager” as a job title targeting, you will miss out on Job titles with “Growth hacker” who are technically digital marketers too.

A single persona can have many forms of job titles and it’s almost impossible to cover all of them. Instead, you can use Job functions that bucket these similar job titles into one standardized targeting. For the case above, both will be grouped under the “Marketing” function. This is a much better way to target.

Note that a member can be mapped to multiple current job titles and fall under multiple functions, seniorities, company sizes, etc. Members may have more than 1 active job on their profiles.

Seniority

This refers to the rank and influence of the member in their organization. Seniority is a good way to target members based on whether they have decision-making power.

Here are the definitions of job seniority targeting:

linkedin ads seniority definitions

Pro Tip: Most marketers do not include “Senior individual contributor” in their targeting. That is a big mistake. After reviewing these definitions, these seniors also have decision making power! Don’t exclude based on your gut-feeling. Base it on these official definitions from LinkedIn. Again, some definitions are loose. So keep testing.

Years of experience

The number of professional years of experience a member has accumulated over their career. This is calculated by adding together the duration of each individual job experience (excluding any overlaps & gaps to avoid double-counting).

Years of experience targeting alone is ineffective. You’ll need to pair it up with other facets. Consider pairing it with functions or skills (or degrees if you’re selling an MBA program).

You should rarely be using years of experience. For most companies, seniority targeting is more relevant if you’re aiming for decision-makers.

Member skills

These are keywords found within a member’s profiles and skills section. They indicate what the member is skilled at.  Skills targeting include those that are added by the members in their skills section and also the keywords that they use throughout their profile/summary. Skills are also inferred from the member’s job title and description.

linkedin marketing skills selection

Use the suggested member skills to further enhance your skills targeting.

Think about the skills that your buyers possess. If you’re selling a Sales Workshop, your buyers will probably have the skills of sales, presentation, and negotiation. Think about what the skill means and how it relates to your buyers.

Skills targeting is one of our favorite targeting facets. Layering this over with seniority and function will create an accurate yet scalable set of audience.

Company Name

This targeting allows you to focus on high-value accounts. Company Name is the organization a member lists as his or her employer. These are based on LinkedIn Pages. You can target up to 100 different companies if you manually key them in. If you have a bigger list, you’ll need to use matched audiences. Matched audiences allow you to upload a list of up to 300,000 companies.

If you’re using this targeting, you’ll likely face with hyper-targeting issues. Your delivery of the ads will struggle. If you’re targeting a small number of companies, simply target the entire company without adding more filters. Influence the entire organization.

Company Industry

This refers to the company’s industry. It’s defined on their LinkedIn Page where they have to list their industry.

Industry targeting lets you target members who work in a particular sector. This is useful if your product addresses industry-specific pain points. For example, if you sell software for financial service institutes, then targeting the “Finance” industry would make sense.

If your offer cuts across multiple industries, then other targeting options would be better.

Pro Tip: Look at the LinkedIn pages of a few companies that match your buyer persona. Observe which industry they fall under. This will guide your industry selection.

Company Size

This option lets you reach members based on the size of their organization. Company size is listed on their LinkedIn Company Page. This is an inferred number based on employees who work for the organization, not just the number of LinkedIn members who identified as working for a given company.

Company size allows advertisers to target small and medium-sized businesses (1-200 employees) as well as enterprise organizations (500+ employees).

linkedin ads company size targeting

You could use exclusions in this case to include a member who is on LinkedIn and work for an organization that does not have a LinkedIn page captured.

Education

You can target based on the school, college, university where the member completed their course. This targeting would be useful for alumni associations, school enrollment ads, and course promotions.

The listing of school isn’t a required field when creating a LinkedIn profile. So this might decrease your audience size. Remember to add all subsidiary schools when trying to reach an entire college or university.

Degrees

Degrees are recognized statuses granted by a college, university and other learning institutions. LinkedIn has grouped these degrees into standardized degrees for your targeting.

As the education field, this field is not mandatory. This means that your audience might be smaller.

linkedin ads degree example

Fields of Study

“Field of study” is the major or area of study within a member’s degree. “Field of study” can be used as a proxy for skills or expertise in a given field, especially for recent graduates. Here’s an example if I want to target fresh graduates with a design background.

linkedin ads design example

Interest Targeting

These are defined based on the content members engage with on LinkedIn and what they search for on Bing. Granted that Bing is not as big as google, tracking content that’s engaged on LinkedIn is powerful.

Interest targeting is effective in reaching your members based on topics or categories they’re interested in. Mostly, it is effective for campaigns with awareness and consideration goals.

You can use interest targeting to reach a unique group of audience if your targeting options are narrow.

linkedin ads interest targeting

LinkedIn Groups

These are places on LinkedIn where members who share similar interests or professions get together. They typically use the groups to discover new information, stay up to date with their peers and ask industry-related questions.

For example, if you’re looking to reach Marketers, you could also target the Marketing Communication LinkedIn or Marketing Pros group.

linkedin ads top marketing groups

Demographics

LinkedIn also provides age and gender targeting. However, I seldom use these as they might be inaccurate.

Age is an estimation of how old a member is based on their first graduation date. As you can imagine, not everyone on LinkedIn has their graduation year right. Some members do not include their graduation year too as it’s not a compulsory field. This reduces accuracy and audience size.

Gender targeting is also not accurate. It is based on a member’s name in American English. If you’re targeting outside the United States, gender targeting might not be accurate. You won’t be able to “Exclude” gender as well due to discrimination policies.

Both age and gender are pretty limited and I’d say to avoid them whenever possible.

LinkedIn’s Audience Expansion and Lookalike audience

Selecting these functions will enable LinkedIn’s algorithm to find similar members to your target audience. They will be matched based on their characteristics and attributes

linkedin ads audience expansion button

Lookalike audience does the same thing as audience expansion, except the audiences is built off an existing matched audience segment; Website visitors, account list upload, contact list upload

When using audience expansion and lookalike audience, you’ll need to use exclusions. This will give you more control over who LinkedIn expands to. For example, if you do not want “Unpaid” in your expansion, you have to exclude it.

Saved audiences and save as template

To avoid recreating your audience in every campaign, you can save your audience. Then apply the same audience across duplicated campaigns. This will save you hours of work. Ad creation will become more productive.

linkedin ads save as templatelinkedin ads saved audience

Matched Audiences

Matched audiences help advertisers to reach key accounts, prospects, and customers through 3 ways:

  1. Website retargeting
  2. Contact list targeting
  3. Account list targeting

In addition to the rich demographic targeting, you’ll now be able to retarget website visitors, customer contacts and key named accounts. This is perfect if you’re running an account-based marketing program too.

For website retargeting, you’ll need to install the LinkedIn insight tag. It is the same tag that is used for LinkedIn conversion tracking. So installing it once enables multiple capabilities and features.

With website retargeting, you’ll be able to reach audiences that landed on your home page, contact page, blogs and more. This will help you recapture audiences who have already shown interest in your brand. A warmer audience is definitely easier to convert.

For contact targeting, you may either upload through a CSV list or integration with your data management platform. New data integration partners are added constantly. Stay updated about new integrations here

How to maximize LinkedIn’s AND/OR Functions

LinkedIn has released the AND/OR function publicly in 2019, although they’re slow to the game compared to other social media platforms.

linkedin ads and function

When you use the “AND” function, you are narrowing and refining your audience. The audience size will likely decrease.

For example: If you target seniority (Director) AND function (Marketing), it means that members have to be a Director in a Marketing function to see your ad.

While AND function zeros in on your target audience, overusing it will limit your reach. Remember, you need at least 50k – 120k audience size for your ads to be effective.

A better way of targeting would be to include all the senior positions and not just “Director”. That way, you will target more decision-makers within the marketing function.

linkedin or function

The OR function will expand your audience. Likely, you’ll see an increase in your audience size.

For example, if you targeted seniority (Director) OR function (Marketing), you will target members who are either Directors or LinkedIn members in Marketing functions. The directors don’t have to be in marketing functions and members in marketing functions don’t need to be a Director.

This is not a good way to target. While the audience size will be huge, it’s not accurate targeting. A better way to use this is by targeting Job Function (Marketing) OR Member Skills (Digital marketing, Marketing strategy, etc).

This will ensure that you cover any member that is or has been involved in marketing roles.

The best way is to layer OR & AND functions together. That gives you more scale and accuracy.

Best Practices for Targeting

  1. Don’t put all your buyer personas into one campaign. Results will likely be poor if you use one campaign to target different countries, unrelated industries, functions, and skills together. You won’t be able to personalize the ads properly and reporting will be challenging. Remember, when you market to everyone, you market to no one. Ensure each campaign speaks to one persona only.
  2. Don’t hyper-target your campaigns. With all these capabilities, it’ll be tempting to hyper-target. But that will cause your ads to have limited reach and impact. If you choose to hyper-target, you might as well get sales to cold call. That’ll be more efficient and cost-effective. Ads are meant to influence and generate demand at scale. The sweet audience size is from 50k – 150+k. Anything above 300k audience size is also too large.
  3. Ensure your target audience is clear. To deliver the right messaging, you’ll need to be clear who you’re speaking to. Which job function, seniority, industry, company size are they in? Or perhaps what kind of skills do they have?
  4. Layer on a maximum of 2 additional filters on top of the mandatory location option. This will ensure you do not hyper-target. My go-to targeting is usually Job function, seniority, and location. I might add company size filter if the target is enterprise level.  That’s it.
  5. Keep a/b testing your targeting to find the best fit. For example, you can test Job titles vs Job functions or Industry vs Function. Change only a few options to isolate which are the variables that made a difference.
  6. Once your campaign is live, use the campaign demographics to see which targeting segments are performing the best. Double down on those performing ones and exclude underperforming segments.

Like all digital marketing strategies, finding your sweet spot in targeting takes experimentation. Over time, you’ll need to test and optimize to find success.

LinkedIn offers unprecedented targeting for B2B marketers. The rich demographic data and matched audiences help you connect with a business that matters.

We’d love to hear how your thoughts on these. Or if you’re already running some campaigns, leave your comments about your experience. Always happy to help!

If you are still unsure about LinkedIn ads, you can sign up for our LinkedIn Sales and Marketing course for a comprehensive 2-day workshop on LinkedIn marketing. However, Digital Marketing encompasses many other important components apart from LinkedIn Ads. At Equinet Academy, we offer an array of digital marketing courses taught in-person in Singapore or online, and among those, we offer core modules such as :

to be a Certified Digital Marketing Strategist (CDMS). This will arm you with the appropriate knowledge with actionable strategies for your next Digital Marketing campaign.

Shaun Lee
Written By: Shaun Lee

Shaun comes from a rich background of B2B sales, social media marketing, demand generation, marketing operations and marketing strategy. Playing a key role in previous marketing agencies, Shaun had the opportunity to consult top brands like Grab, Oracle, Microsoft, Salesforce, NUS (and more) with their online marketing & go-to market strategy.