LinkedIn Ads: Social PPC & Sponsored Updates

As the world’s largest professional network, LinkedIn’s membership has grown substantially since I wrote last year about their advertising options. Now, there are 259 million members, a 39 percent increase over last year.


LinkedIn remains a great place to reach business professionals. The online advertising platform has been relatively constant over the past year, with the exception of the release of a new ad format in summer of 2013. The new ad format, called “Sponsored Updates,” follows the trend of promoted content or content marketing, even though the ad placements are considered ads and priced on a cost-per-click basis.

When starting a new campaign, as an advertiser, you can choose to create an ad or sponsor an update. Let’s look at the formats and what makes them different.

Ad 1: Creating Basic Ads

The original ad unit is one that appears to the side of content and sometimes at the top or bottom of the page. It contains an image and ad copy text.


  1. You will choose to create a “basic” ad or “video” ad.
  2. The destination page or landing page can be a page on your website or a LinkedIn page. A LinkedIn page would be appropriate for companies with a strong strategic social media presence on LinkedIn. Otherwise, a page on your website might make more sense.
  3. In this destination URL, a tracking code can be added so it is easier to see conversion from LinkedIn in your web analytics program.
  4. Write ad copy following the character requirements. Video ads include a text ad component and use a YouTube URL link to serve the video. Videos should be under 120 seconds in length.

Step-by-Step Targeting


  1. Selecting your geographic area is the first step because this will help you to reach the most relevant audience and also control costs. It’s obvious to focus on where you do business. However, if this is nationwide or even worldwide, consider reviewing sales or lead reports to see where most customers come from and focus on those states or countries, eliminating those in areas that just don’t seem to purchase from you.
  2. The geo-targeting will set a base from which to build the rest of the targeting. If the geo-targeting is very narrow, you will want to be more liberal in targeting other criteria. Remember that adding more targeting criteria reduces the available audience. On the other hand, a broader geo-target can support more targeting criteria.
  3. Depending on the geo-targeting approach, you will want to add one or more the following criteria: company, job title, school, skills, group, gender, age.
  4. As the sections are made, the audience number of LinkedIn members decreases and is shown real-time in the ad platform.
  5. Notice in the example below, I have targeted “Marketers” at the state level which narrows my audience from millions to only 319k. Ultimately, you will want to aim for targeting a campaign to one or two criteria or resulting in an audience of 150k to 400k.
  6. Create separate campaigns for each targeting focus, for example, “state targeting by job function” or “national by groups.”


Setting Costs

You have the option to pay-per-click by entering the cost per click (amount you are willing to pay). Paying per click is appropriate for most performance marketing goals where ROI is important.

Paying CPM is the cost per thousand times the ad is shown, regardless of the number of times the ad is clicked. CPM has traditionally been a great cost model for branding efforts, where you are trying to get as much exposure for the dollar as possible.

When setting a bid, the minimum CPC is $2 per click. LinkedIn also provides a “Suggested Range.” Keeping your bid at the higher of the range or above will help to keep the ad serving. The actual cost will be determined by the ad auction. Basically, advertisers only pay 1 cent more than the next highest bidder. This means you will probably not pay the maximum bid, but it’s a good practice to assume you might.


With a $2 minimum CPC, LinkedIn comes in as one of the higher priced self-serve ad platforms. LinkedIn believes you are getting a higher quality click because you are targeting individuals rather than search queries.

Ad 2: Sponsored Updates


The newer ad format called Sponsored Updates allows company updates (on company pages) to be served in LinkedIn members’ feeds. This format is good for generating awareness, building relationships, and driving leads.

Step-by-Step Targeting

  1. First, post a company update. You can then select this update at the time of campaign creation (you can also wait to create one later).
  2. Next start a new sponsored update campaign.
  3. The advantage to creating an update first is to see a preview how the sponsored update will look as the campaign is being created. The preview has the bonus of showing how it will appear across devices – desktops, smartphones, and tablets.
  4. After previewing the ad, you can move on to the targeting portion, which is the same as the basic ad targeting. Like the basic ads, target audience combinations like geography, company, job title, school, skills, group, gender, age.
  5. One significant difference is the ability to exclude audiences or negative targeting. For example, I chose to target marketers, but I can exclude those in information technology because I’m not trying to target technology folks.


Setting Costs

Using the same targeting in the previous example of marketers in Illinois, the suggested bid range was almost double the suggested bid range for the basic ads.

With a higher CPC, however, social actions are included. A like, share, comment, or follow is free. Both CPC and CPM pricing are available options.


LinkedIn PPC ads give the option to create a basic PPC ad that can be targeted to individuals based on very specific professional criteria. If your company has a social media presence on LinkedIn, a newer ad option appears in members’ news feeds and has the potential to have social interactions associated with it.

For advertisers with professional audiences, LinkedIn offers a strong opportunity to capture sales and leads as part of an overall strategy and integrated with other online media.

Related reading