Expert Q&A: LinkedIn Ads Explained

The Problem: I’m pretty clueless when it comes to how to utilize LinkedIn’s Paid Advertising platform.

The Solution: I found somebody who isn’t (AJ Wilcox) and forced him to spill all his secrets!

Below is the Podcast interview AND written transcript of my 30 minute interview with AJ.

AJ has been running successful LinkedIn Advertising campaigns for scores of clients (large and small) since early 2011.

In this transcript, AJ will help you discover:

  • What he’s learned managing hundreds of high-converting LinkedIn Ad Campaigns since 2011.
  • What type of LinkedIn Ads work best – and WHY.
  • Who should be using LinkedIn Ads (and who should NOT!).
  • What you can expect to pay for LinkedIn Ads right now.
  • A hidden opportunity for low-cost, high-value results he’s seeing on LinkedIn’s Advertising platform right now.

Podcast Interview

Interview Transcript

Hey, it’s John Nemo. Welcome back to the LinkedIn Riches podcast. I’m so excited you’re here because today we have something really, really valuable and special in store. And I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I do want to give you one quick link. Go to linkedinriches.com/5. That’s going to be where all the links are that we’re talking about today in regards to LinkedIn advertising, oops, I just spoiled it! Okay, listen up anyway! Linkedinriches.com/5, that’s where all the links, resources are going to be for today’s episode, which is an incredible interview with a guy named AJ Wilcox.

Okay, listen up, you’re not going to want to miss this. Take notes, it’s going to be awesome, and I will talk to you more soon!

I have a really special show today because I have never done this before but I am bringing on a guest. And not just any guest, but I am bringing on a LinkedIn advertising guru, a wizard, a genius, a legend in his own mind, just ask him, right, AJ?

AJ: You’re too kind, too kind.

John: I want to welcome to the show the first ever guest of the LinkedIn Riches podcast, AJ Wilcox. I’m going to give you a quick intro, everybody. His website, first of all, he’s got a great site, I’m jealous already, but it’s B, like letter B, number two, B2linked.com. He’s been an online marketer since 2007. AJ has done hundreds of Google AdWords campaigns. So he’s been doing this, gosh, almost a decade already. He’s big on the lead generation, understanding online advertising. And he’s been playing with the LinkedIn ad interface since 2011, which to me is like an eternity, right, because it’s still pretty new for most of us. And I know for me, I am just totally mystified by LinkedIn ads.

I get asked that question every day. I was telling AJ before we came on air, I get asked that question at least once or twice or three times a day, “Hey, what do you think of LinkedIn ads? How do we use them?” So finally, I’m like, “Forget it. I’m just bringing AJ on. We’re going to solve this thing once and for all. He’s the guru. He’s the guy.” The other thing you should know about AJ, he’s worked with a ton of clients, a ton of big names. He’s been doing it. He’s had success. He’s got a track record. One of the things I love is bringing in people. Anyone can claim authority, can claim expertise. This is a guy that’s actually demonstrated it and proven it. That’s why I’m excited to have him on. AJ, welcome to the show, man!

AJ: Thanks so much, John! What an intro, I’m just blown away, that’s awesome.

John: You’re the first guest ever. So someday you’re going to go down in history. And whatever we can do, I’ll get you a trophy or something.

AJ: I feel like the king.

John: You are. You’re the man! Tell me a little bit, let’s get to meet you a little bit before we get into all the good stuff, all the questions about advertising that I know people have. Tell me a little bit more about your background, where you live, what you do, why you’re so interested in LinkedIn ads.

AJ: Yeah, sure. So a little bit of background. I live in Utah. I’m originally from Arizona. I came up to Utah to go to school. With every intention to leave after I graduated and then just never left. I ended up loving it here. I got really into online marketing because back in 2007, I was studying marketing in school but I was working a technology job, doing servers and troubleshooting connections, all that. I was making more money doing the tech jobs than anyone who was studying marketing. But I was like, “How in the world am I going to get a job in my own field after I graduate?” And I had someone come into my class who owned an agency that did SEO and PPC. They came in to talk about SEO and I was like, “Bingo! This is it. This is the connection I have between marketing and technology. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

I went up after class, begged him for an internship. Everything’s been downhill from there, or I guess uphill depending on if you like rolling or climbing. Things have been great. I’ve worked several different agencies. I’ve been heavy on the SEO side, heavy on the pay per click advertising side. About three years ago, I went to work for a larger technology company here locally. I went in with every expectation of doing SEO, doing PPC like I’m used to. I talked to the CMO and she said, “Hey, just so you know, we just started to pilot with LinkedIn Advertising. Check and see if you can do anything with it.”

I was like, “Absolutely, yes ma’am.” And I turn around and to myself I was like, “I’d never even heard that LinkedIn had an advertising platform. I’ve been doing this for six plus years at this point. LinkedIn Advertising must suck!

So I jumped in, tried to do myself a little bit of a service. Jumped in and learn the platform a little bit, started working around in it. And I started getting feedback from the sales team. They kept coming to me and saying, “Hey, whatever you’re doing, it’s working. Keep that up.” And I was like, “Okay, that’s interesting.” So I’d go and spend a little bit more money, expand the account a little bit, run more ads, and the sales team just kept coming back. “Dude, whatever you’re doing, we love LinkedIn leads. Keep them coming, keep them coming!” And so I expanded and expanded. I took the account from 2 campaigns to 610 over the course of two and a half years. I was looking around and fascinated because I was having massive success on this platform and I was looking around and no one is even talking about it! It’s like it doesn’t even exist!

Here about five months ago, I jumped off on my own. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial-itch. I decided to scratch it so I jumped off on my own, hung out my own shingle, and started b2linked.com. That’s been last five months and I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of success and really excited to keep going.

John: Wow. What a great story. You know, it’s funny because I don’t want to bite the hand off that feeds me with my LinkedIn Riches but LinkedIn has done an awful job of marketing this! I want to do the Charles Barkley on TNT, “Knucklehead!” Come on, make it simple. Help me understand how to use this. I’m so excited to find somebody like you because it sounds like you’ve had this success, you’ve understood it. I think the biggest pain point for a lot of people, myself included frankly, because I’ve looked at trying to get in and go on LinkedIn.

The way it was going to be set up for me was it was going to be $6 a click. You know, I was crazy. I was like, “Forget it.” What I really want to know is, how demystify this for us? Walk us through just at the Charles Barkley kind of “Knucklehead” level. What works on this? Start me at the beginning, the different types of advertising that we can do, and then let’s go from there.

AJ: Okay. So this is a robust question but I’ll tackle it. If I leave anything out, just remind me. Here’s the history. Back in 2007, LinkedIn came out with their ads platform. My hunch is that it was built mostly by people that had helped on adwords at Google and then had moved to LinkedIn to help build it because it is very similar to AdWords Circa 2004. If you knew adwords back then, it’s a very similar platform and it hasn’t been updated since. It is what I would consider being behind the times. Don’t let that scare you because it scares everyone but there’s still success to be had and I’ll explain that.

That’s when the platform came out. They had these terrible little right rail ads. You get a 50×50 pixel image and then two lines of text. Pretty much patterned after Google AdWords but you get an image instead but a 50×50 image, you can’t do much with that. That was 2007. Competition was such back when I started in 2011 with LinkedIn, competition was such that you paid between $4 and $5 bucks a click, depending on your audience. That’s getting pretty steep for those text ads. But again, I’ll talk more about that in the future.

John: I’ve got to pause there.

AJ: Go ahead.

John: There’s a great John McEnroe quote, “You cannot be serious!” When he’s melting down on the tennis court and the ref calls him out. Like, “You cannot be serious!” Like, “How can they get..!” Like, “That’s what I mean…” Like, “Who pays $5 for a click?!” Carry on, sorry. I had to explode and now I can calm down again.

AJ: Explode away. These were still valuable ads. The ads themselves, the ad unit, is not very valuable. but the traffic is extremely valuable. I’ll talk about why people actually care about LinkedIn Advertising and why it’s an undiscovered gem in my opinion. The targeting is incredible. You can target almost anyone. I’ve only had one circumstance where someone said, “Hey, this is the person I’m trying to reach.” And I thought through the targeting and thought, “I probably don’t know how to reach that person super precisely.” Everyone is reachable on LinkedIn pretty much. You can go by job title, by job function, their seniority level, the groups that they’re members of, the skills that they have on their profile, the school they came from. Anything like that is totally targetable.

And so the ad units are not what I would consider valuable unless they update them and make them better. But what is valuable is the audience. You know exactly who that person is when they click. You don’t know their personally identifiable information, but you know who they are at a professional level. And that information’s extremely powerful and I’ll talk more about that. The exciting part is back in 2013, they announced and new ad unit. This was LinkedIn realizing, back in the day they used to be a resume site. This was where you’d go every six months, update your resume or when you were looking for a job.

LinkedIn realized none of their four core offerings that they make money off of are very valuable if people will only come back every six months. What they did is they acquired Pulse, the news generation service, the news service, and they said, “Okay, we’re going to release a new ad unit. It’s going to operate on the same auction principle as the other ads, but this is going to be an in-feed, native ad. It’s going to be very content focused because everything in your news feed is content. And we want to make this a service where people come back often because they want to read. They want to read news that’s relevant to their seniority, their industry, that sort of thing. And then you can now get ads in that unit and they are, what I would call, extremely valuable.”

They go for around the same cost, sometimes higher sometimes lower. Quite a few of my clients are getting them for much lower cost than the text ads. They are very powerful. They get clicked on quite a bit more often, and I’m having a lot of success with them.

John: Let me interrupt you there. Is that the sponsored updates?

AJ: It is. Yes, sponsored update unit.

John: So right now, you’re talking about the side bar ads that we see as one option and then the sponsored updates where it’s native in your stream. I’ve seen those popping up, those seem to work better. They’re more native, they make sense with what I’m interested in. Okay, yeah. Keep going, this is good stuff.

AJ: Cool. That’s really what we’re too right now is these sponsored updates ad units, they are not nearly as competitive yet because they haven’t been around as long. They’ve only been around for about a year and a half, maybe almost two years, about year and a half. So not as many people are using them. So even though they’re more valuable of an ad unit, they’re going for about the same price. I hate to give away my secret sauce but I say jump on.

John: Absolutely. Now, here’s a question that I’ve had that I’m sure a lot of people have. Can I, as an individual, just as John Nemo with an individual profile, can I buy ads and do sponsored updates from my own profile or is that still only if you have a company page?

AJ: Good, very good question. You as John Nemo, you can publish ads like the right rail ads, but you need a company page in order to send a sponsored update.

John: Okay. See, that’s something that tripped me up. I don’t necessarily want to start a whole company page and maybe I’m a solo consultant or a speaker, or entrepreneur. I’m waiting for the day, and I’m sure they’ll get to this because Facebook has probably gotten there already, where individuals, so we can pay to get our updates individually put into places. Okay, interesting. What else is there? So those are the two main options. With the right rail ads, aren’t you able to do video and stuff like that too? Or does that just link you off to another site or how does that work?

AJ: You used to be able to do a few things like that. You used to be able to have a video ad and they actually sunsetted that in late 2013. My guess is it wasn’t being used fully or maybe it wasn’t super successful. I never got a chance to use it while it was in use, I never had a good use for video. That particular feature has been sunsetted. it’s pretty much a static ad there.

John: So what if, say right now, today, Let’s say I went on and I said, “Okay, I want to do a side rail ad to drive people to sign up for a webinar or whatever it might be, landing page on my site.” Is there a way for you to ballpark for us what that costs right now or are there too many factors to even say?

AJ: It is totally dependent on audience. If any of your listeners are comfortable with Google AdWords, the difference is with Google AdWords, the competition is spread out by words in the English language and we have lots and lots or words. With LinkedIn, competition is based around an audience. There are only so many executives in the world, there are only so many managers, so many VPs, directors, all of that. So competition can jump pretty significantly between who is you’re talking about. But when you’re doing those right rail ads, depending on who your audience is, you can expect to pay somewhere between, I would say between $3.50 and $5.00 per click. If you’re really desperate for traffic, you can cranked that up and pay closer to $6. If you’re okay with a pretty limited budget, you can cap it near that $3.50 mark and usually still get some traffic.

John: Wow. Now, compared with Facebook ads or Google AdWords, you’ve obviously had experience in some of these areas. Is the traffic on LinkedIn so much better quality that it’s worth in the experience of you and your clients, do you think?

AJ: It is. For the vast majority of my clients, it absolutely is. Facebook ads is a very, very good contender. They’re targeting for B to B has not been great in the past but it’s fantastic for B to C. They are getting better on B to B, but as they’re getting better, they’re also getting more expensive per click. It used to be that you could get traffic all day long from Facebook very, very targeted for sixty cents a click. And now I’m seeing $1.50 and $2.00 quite regularly. So Facebook is not the deal that it used to be and it’s going to get saturated here pretty quickly.

With AdWords, I have clients who LinkedIn clicks are a premium for them and I have clients who they’re a massive discount.

John: Good point.

AJ: Yeah, if you’re in law you’re paying $125 a click on AdWords, that’s insane, whereas you can really crank it up and pay $8 or $9 on LinkedIn and get traffic all day long and you know exactly who that person is. It totally depends on vertical but for my clients, it’s a great deal.

John: It’s like you know what you’re doing or something with this stuff, AJ. It’s like you’re actually, legitimately good at this. This is great.

What I’m fascinated by is where this is headed. Because one of the things people complain about with LinkedIn, myself included, is they’ll introduce a feature and get us all jacked up and excited and then they’ll just kind of sunset it or take it away. And Google does this too. But as far as the future of LinkedIn ads, do you see it being pretty stable, do you see any big developments on the horizon, any rumors? Tell us where it’s headed.   AJ: Good question. Already sponsored updates and pretty much all their self-service advertising products are moving towards being content focused. LinkedIn Marketing Solutions has become very focused on thought leadership on sharing content, that sort of area. They want to educate people and they feel that’s the best marketing. For a smaller company, sometimes that’s not super feasible. Maybe you don’t have a content writer on staff so releasing content isn’t the best way for you to market. You want more of a, “Let me put out an ad that says, Hey, let’s chat.”

I see their ad products moving more in that direction and catering more towards larger companies. I hope they prove me wrong, I hope they keep building up the self-service platform that I use and making it really strong for us advertisers. I see the sponsored updates. They are under-utilized currently. I see them getting more and more expensive. Right now, I see them being very cheap, and I wouldn’t be surprised if as the cost goes up on sponsored updates, advertisers move back to text ads, the right rail, and I hope LinkedIn at that point does something more with that right rail ad unit. But we’ll see! I’m not super privy everything goes on internally, although I try.

John: Jeff Weiner and Reid Hoffman, don’t they have you on speed dial going, “I wonder what AJ’s thinking?! Get Utah on the line!” Well, you’re a guy who’s obviously mastered this and had a lot of success. I’m interested too to see what they do with the content. Obviously, as people know who listen to the podcast, I’m very much to organic marketing side of optimizing your profile, publishing content, and bringing value and networking. What I’d be interested to see is with the different channels they have now with the news feed, I can’t believe they’re not selling ads there yet, at the top, to say “Hey, you want to feature yourself at the top of our LinkedIn Tips section? Pay to have your post featured for a day.”

They do that now organically where they’ll pick random posts and feature them based on whatever algorithm they’re using. Sometimes mine will get in there and it’ll shoot my traffic through the roof, which is great. But I’m looking at it as a marketer going, “Dang! If I could pay to have that, that would be huge.” I’m sure that it will hopefully be coming. Any advice? It sounds like the big companies are going to do well with this. Help me with the smaller business owner, the solo entrepreneur, the consultant, the speaker, the individual. Should they be using LinkedIn ads? And if so, what would you recommend?

AJ: Okay. There are a few questions that I would ask myself here. Is there any other way to reach my target audience? And if you look at it and you say, “Okay, Google AdWords is the way to reach people because when someone knows what they’re searching for, they type in the word, that’s great.” But do you have any other way that you’re trying to reach this person? If you’re trying to sell software to, let’s say, an HR executive or a sales manager, do you have any other great ways of reaching that person? Well, you know on LinkedIn, you do. If you can make the cost per click work for reaching that audience, it’s extremely powerful. People who are doing that right now are usually SaaS companies. When you have a large lifetime value on a customer, it obviously makes sense. You can stomach $6, $7, $8 a click. And when you’re sale price is several thousand dollars a month, you make that back pretty quickly.

But for the individuals, I’d say making use of the traffic in a very sophisticated way, even though when you’re small, you’re scrappy, can be extremely powerful. Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about here. The traffic from LinkedIn, if I know I’m targeting sales managers at companies between 50 and 200 employees, the traffic that I get even if I’m paying $5 a click for that traffic and I have a 95% bounce rate on a landing page, that’s a lot of money that you’re paying for bounces. The concept of retargeting, I’m not sure how much everyone knows about retargeting here in your audience, but retargeting is traditionally thought of when someone does paid search, someone comes to your website, you just keep nagging them until they come back and convert.

With LinkedIn, all of a sudden, this is the same foe all social advertising, all of the sudden you’re retargeting traffic becomes extremely powerful. Because you don’t just know that someone typed a keyword, you know the persona of this person. Even if you’re paying $5 a click for sales managers to come and you’re seeing some bounce, if you can build a retargeting funnel underneath them to keep feeding ads back to them and keep serving them content until they’re ready to do business with you, with retargeting, you’re talking about maybe $1 a click. You can really make use of that traffic. Then you take on top of that the fact that because you have such a targeted audience, if you know that sale managers are the people you’re trying to target, then you can test content against that exact audience. You can run three pieces of content or maybe three separate headlines just to see what types of wording engages this group. And that can help inform your content creation efforts in the future. I would say the audience is way more powerful than the traffic itself. I hope that doesn’t sound like an excuse but I love using LinkedIn traffic for a lot of experimentation.

John: Oh yeah, the traffic on there is incredible. The prospects, the value, I have no doubt, just with my own experience organically getting it the leads are so much better. Explain retargeting to me a little bit more because I really am kind of a knucklehead with this stuff. I fully admit I’m not an ad guru, a paid traffic guru, that’s why you’re on, man.

AJ: I’m happy to explain.

John: So explain to me how retargeting works. So basically, I run an ad on LinkedIn, it says, “Hey, come sign up for John’s webinar.” You’re a sales manager, to use your example, you come over but you don’t sign up. You come, you visit the page, and you leave. How does retargeting then come into play?

AJ: You have what’s called a retargeting pixel set up on your site. You paid for LinkedIn to send traffic to your site, when someone comes to that site, they get what’s called a cookie that gets dropped in their browser from your retargeting service. Oftentimes this is Google Adwords or a service like AdRoll. It drops a cookie on that person’s browser. Then as that person goes around the web, anyone who has advertising space that’s attached to a network that you’re retargeting service has access to, it can serve up ads to try and coax someone back.

John: Oh, so related ads to your site, directly?

AJ: Yes, exactly. You may say that you’ve probably even recognized this. You’ll go to visit a site and then all of a sudden, you’ll start seeing ads from that site follow you around the web?

John: Yeah, creepy. It’s Big Brother.

AJ: It’s less creepy because when you realize it’s not personally identifiable, but it is legitimately creepy to some people to all of a sudden fell like they’re being followed. That’s retargeting and it’s extremely powerful. it’s very, very cheap ad inventory especially when you couple it with something like LinkedIn traffic where you have such a robust profile of who someone is. It is extremely powerful and I’m just not seeing the online marketing world catch onto this, how powerful it is.

John: Ah, okay. So you basically set up a separate ad with the retargeting company that ties into a landing page on your site and then you’ve got your pixel ready to go, is that right?

AJ: Exactly. And you can set logic around that pixel, too. You can say, “If someone lands on my sales manager page, put them in my sales manager audience and only show sales content to them. But if I have CEOs coming to this other page, put them in a CEO audience.” And you can really get very particular about what messages you’re showing people.

John: This is incredible. This is like getting a PhD in 20 minutes. In LinkedIn advertising, retargeting. So before we finish up here, I want people to know that they can find AJ at b2linked.com. So the letter B, number 2, linked dot com. Tell us a little bit about the services you offer, what you’ve got going on over there so if people want to get more from you, how they find you, what kind of business you do, all that kind of stuff?

AJ: Awesome, thanks John, I appreciate the advertisement space.

John: Retargeting! I’m going to retarget everybody after this!

AJ: Yes! I love it! I do a lot of account management but I also love to train teams. Basically any agency, any company who wants to use LinkedIn Advertising better, I’d love to come in and help consult there. I’m going to start offering training courses on my website, so feel free to check out b2linked and sign up for a notification on when courses are available. I’ll start releasing those and hopefully enable everyone to become power advertisers because I had to learn through the school of hard knocks.

John: That’s the thing. You spend a decade learning this stuff and I’m a big believer and that’s why I built my business is the knowledge in your head’s worth a lot of money. And people are willing to pay for that and they should pay for that. It’s fascinating to me as we look at the landscape with education and higher ed and colleges trying to figure this out. There’s a way for everyone listening to this, you’ve got unique knowledge. And if you’re able to put that out as a product, as a service, as a consulting option, that’s a great way to make a living in 2015 and beyond.

I like what you’re doing. I like you’re business model where you can consult, you can help, you can actually run the ads, you’ve got audits on there so you can actually, for a fee, you can look at somebody’s business, look at what they have going on and that way they can dip a toe in the water and go, “Yeah, you know what?” You can be honest and say, “This kind of campaign would work or wouldn’t work for you or whatever.” I think you’re going to be huge, man. And I’m just going to say, “I had him when. He was my first guest. I was way ahead of the curve, ahead of CNN or Quackbox or whatever else, “We had him on the podcast!”

AJ: John you’re awesome! I thought I’d give a quick reminder to everyone. If you want to try out LinkedIn Advertising for yourself, go to linkedin.com/ads. Anyone can set up a profile. I would recommend setting up a business advertising account if you ever expect to add anyone else to it. The default is it creates a personal account. But build a business account that you can add someone else to if you ever have a consultant come in or further employees you want to run it. And give it a shot and then give me a shout if you ever have questions.

John: Awesome, AJ. What a great interview. I just want to thank the host of this show for being so smart to bring in talented guests. I’m going to dislocate my shoulder, patting myself on the back right now. Seriously, dude, you brought it. You brought some great knowledge, I’m already thinking of three or four corporate clients of mine. I’m going to try to send over to you because I think they need the help. I appreciate your time, I appreciate you demystify this for us, putting it into English. So everybody, you need to check out b2linked.com and obviously I forgot to mention, AJ, you’re on LinkedIn as well, right? It’s just AJ Wilcox, just look him up there. He’s got the red head, the goatee going on. Utah’s finest. If you’ve got any questions too, I will put links on the show page here as well, on LinkedIn Riches show page so it links to AJ’s stuff. AJ Wilcox, thank you, you were amazing, so glad to have you on and we will do it again soon, my man.

AJ: Thanks, John, appreciate it.

Want More?

Make sure you connect with AJ here on LinkedIn and visit his B2Linked site for more tips, insights and expertise on all things LinkedIn Advertising.

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