AJ Wilcox, B2Linked
Unraveling the Mystery of LinkedIn Advertising
There are myriad ways to use paid advertising to raise money online once you have a phenomenal online presence in place. And of those that are tried and tested, social media platforms like Facebook, Google and LinkedIn are the first choices for many real estate developers.
AJ Wilcox at B2Linked is acknowledged as the foremost expert in LinkedIn advertising, so I was fascinated to talk with him because LinkedIn ads have a reputation for being one of the most difficult to crack because they are expensive compared to other platforms.
What's easy to miss, however, is that LinkedIn is also the channel that closes the largest deals and you're going to learn in today's podcast exactly how you can do that from the man who handles more top-ten LinkedIn advertisers than anyone else, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on LinkedIn ads, and who runs the only agency that’s a certified LinkedIn partner.
What You're Going to Learn
- Why Advertising on LinkedIn is So Expensive
- The Effectiveness of Advertising on LinkedIn
- The Ideal Profile of Buyers and Sellers on LinkedIn
- How AJ Has Spent One Hundred Thirty Million Dollars on LinkedIn Ads
- The Best Strategies for Real Estate Developers Who Advertise on LinkedIn
- How to Practice Effective Lead Generation on LinkedIn
- How to Split Test Ads with LinkedIn Vs. Facebook
- Why Some Ads Perform Better Than Others on LinkedIn
- How to Measure Click Through Rates and Conversions on LinkedIn
- How to Select a High-Quality Audience on LinkedIn
- How to Run LinkedIn Ads with or without an Active Profile
- And much more!
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Why Advertising on LinkedIn is So Expensive
ADAM GOWER: AJ. What a pleasure it is to see you and for anybody who is just listening to this podcast, I strongly recommend that you do check out the video because AJ is the first person I have ever met and ever talked to on a podcast who is actually walking. He's got some kind of weird contraption over there that he's walking on. You can tell us about that in a minute, but it's a fascinating thing. I should hook it up to my Peloton. But anyway, AJ, let me ask you a question. Now, I don't want to ask leading questions, but I'm going to. I know that your life is all about LinkedIn advertising, so I'm going to ask you a totally leading question, an unfair leading question and here's how it starts. Why is advertising on LinkedIn so expensive?
AJ WILCOX: Yeah, actually, as of this morning, the time of recording, I just released a podcast episode that I've been... it's actually - I've been holding it back for awhile because I was really afraid of the implications when LinkedIn listens to it. I don't know if anyone from LinkedIn will listen to it, but basically, I mean, if you ask LinkedIn, they'll tell you, hey, it's an auction. It's totally fair, totally based off of competition. And if it costs a lot, it just means that your audience is worth a lot to some other advertiser that you've got to beat out. I don't... I'm a little skeptical on that. I think, when you, especially compare with Facebook, people just don't spend as much time on LinkedIn as they do on Facebook. That creates less ad inventory and makes people - basically you have to bid higher to get in front of your target audience. But, I also think that there might be something like - It's kind of nagging in the back of my mind. There might be something wrong with the auction where it's artificially expensive, but I don't know, I haven't been able to get that out of a LinkedIn employee yet.
ADAM GOWER: I don't imagine you'll have a hard time with that.
AJ WILCOX: Yeah, yeah. I've tried.
The Ideal Profile of Buyers and Sellers on LinkedIn
ADAM GOWER: So this is a very important point that you make and actually dovetails into my next question, which was, who should advertise on LinkedIn. Now, you and I just went through a major campaign together for a sponsor who is raising capital for real estate. Right. So, trying to raise equity capital. So, one of the terms that you've used, in the last couple of minutes is for your sales team. Now, inside a real estate developers shop, there is... we're not selling. I mean there's investor relations, but we're not - there's no product necessarily to sell in that way. I mean, actually, they're securities technically. But you know exactly what's involved because we've just been through it together. Tell me something about what is the ideal profile of somebody who is wanting to advertise on LinkedIn.
AJ WILCOX: Yeah, and I use the terms like "sales team". I talk a lot in B2B because probably 90% of our clients are business to business but we also have quite a few smaller B2C segments like the crowdfunding. So anyway, I might use the wrong words here, but basically, the best type of person to target on LinkedIn or the best person to advertise, you know, like we mentioned a couple of minutes ago, you have to have enough value on your back end that you can afford to pay LinkedIn $8 - $11 a click, on the front end.
You have to be able to define who your target audience is by their job title and industry and company size. If your target audience is just females 25 - 45, man...you can get them a lot cheaper by buying a billboard or radio ads or Facebook. And then, I think third, you've got to have something attractive enough that people will be willing to opt into. Because if, in B2B terms, if we just put an ad out there that said click here to talk to our sales rep to buy something, most of the time people would look at that and go, yeah, I'm not here on LinkedIn to engage a vendor. I'm here to learn and grow and connect. So, we usually have to give them something meatier, something they're more excited about, that they're willing to actually opt into and click on.
One Hundred Thirty Million Dollars on LinkedIn Ads
ADAM GOWER: I think I really want to do you justice. Normally, these days, I don't actually introduce my guests. I do it in an intro that I record before. But, tell me, that I record afterwards. But actually, do please tell our listeners today a little bit about your experience and the one thing that stands out is, how much have you actually spent on behalf of clients on LinkedIn advertising. Let's just contextualize who you are a little bit.
AJ WILCOX: Cool. We've spent over one hundred and thirty million dollars on LinkedIn ads so far. We're the only ad agency - there might be others by now, but, when I started the company back in 2014, we were the only agency who exclusively focused on LinkedIn. Because of that hyperfocus, we've gotten to work with many of LinkedIn's largest accounts, largest spenders and what's so cool about getting to work with them is you get to experience a lot of scale and data and testing that is so much faster. And then, we've been able to take those same strategies from the Fortune 500, the largest accounts, and apply them to very small ones as well. And the strategy carries quite nicely.
ADAM GOWER: Yes, fascinating. So now adding to my list of about 400 questions. I'm just adding a few more but you reminded me of what I want to ask you. So these are going to be all out of any kind of logical order but I do want to ask you this. When you started, when 2015 was it?
AJ WILCOX: Yeah, 2014, end of 2014, early 2015.
ADAM GOWER: OK, so this also kind of dovetails into other questions coming up later but why did you choose LinkedIn, particularly, and not Facebook or Google or Twitter or YouTube, for example? Why LinkedIn?
AJ WILCOX: Yeah. Two answers for this, but I'll go with the main one. I started out my career as a search engine optimization guy, and so I was very well acquainted with Google, very well acquainted with even Google AdWords. And what I found very quickly is when I went into the last company I worked for, I was running all of my SEO strategies. I was running Google ads, I was running early Facebook and far and away LinkedIn just beat every other channel. And because I was managing everything, the one platform where the sales team is screaming, yes, please give us more of that. It got more of my attention. So I continued to give attention to the channel and invest until I grew it to become LinkedIn largest spending account and ended up with really good relationships with people at LinkedIn who would give me inside information and cool access. And I eventually just bought into it like, wow, I am so invested in this platform. I know the nuances. I don't hear anyone else out there talking about it. Maybe that could be me.
Effective Lead Generation on LinkedIn
ADAM GOWER: It's kind of getting into a little bit more detail....lead generation. There are two ways to generate a lead. One is to take people off site, off LinkedIn to a landing page that might have some sales, a sales letter of some sort and a lead-gen form.
AJ WILCOX: Yes.
ADAM GOWER: Or you can do it on LinkedIn. Have you found better conversions one way or another?
AJ WILCOX: Yes, this is quite the teeter-totter in my mind, because if you use the lead generation forms within LinkedIn itself, you end up with a much higher conversion rate. Sometimes it's twice as high as, say, on average, like 10 to 50 percent higher. But, we've seen it double or triple. And the reason for this is when someone interacts with the ad, a drawer will slide down with the form and LinkedIn is going to autofill everything that they can there. So their first name, their last name, their email address, it's all pre-filled out and all the person has to do is just hit the submit button. It all loads immediately. I mean, it's a beautiful experience. But the one downside to this, there are a few downsides. But the big downside here is that someone just converted with you without ever really seeing your logo and experiencing your brand. And a lot of times they may not even remember. I mean, if you email them immediately and they go back and check their box two days later, they might be like, wait, I didn't fill out a form. What are you talking about? And it's just you're asking so little of them that they may forget. It may not make as large of an impression. So, if you can send someone to a landing page you own on your website, it will be a higher quality lead, but you'll just get fewer of them. So that's really your trade off.
ADAM GOWER: Yes, that's right. We did test that, didn't we, as well.
Split Testing Ads with LinkedIn Vs. Facebook
ADAM GOWER: Now, what about split testing? Let's talk about that and I told you, I warned you before and we are jumping all over the place, but, split testing is very different as well isn't it on LinkedIn than it is on Facebook. So just to contextualize this as well, in Facebook, I think we had at least a dozen different ads running at any one time with multiple audiences, maybe 120 different combinations. On LinkedIn, tell me something about the ideal split test scenario.
AJ WILCOX: Yeah, the big difference here is, with Facebook, Facebook's algorithm is brilliant. It knows so much about so many people that what you want to do, most of the time, is define a really large audience and you tell Facebook go and find my right people here. On LinkedIn, though, the algorithm isn't nearly as good. So I don't trust it with a large audience to go and find people. And, at the same time, the targeting is so good that we get to really put people in these small test groups. They're called a campaign, but we can break an audience out by, you know, are we targeting you because you're a member of an RAI's group or are we targeting you because your job title is investor or because you have real estate investment skills? We can put all three of those targeting facets into separate campaigns and run the same two ads, the same AB test to all of them. And now we get to learn, it's kind of like a like a silent focus group. We get to learn more about this audience. What do they care about? What do they engage with and what type of targeting gives us the best quality or the lowest costs or the highest volume? There's just a lot more data.
Why Some Ads Perform Better Than Others on LinkedIn
ADAM GOWER: Have you ever played this game, Mastermind? I don't if I asked you this when we first spoke.
AJ WILCOX: That sounds really familiar.
ADAM GOWER: It's a game with colored pegs. And you put four pegs into a hidden, behind a hidden screen. It's a plastic game. And the person that's playing against you or you're playing with has to guess what your code is, what color pegs you've got. And the way they do that is they put down four pegs on a row and you score their pegs either, yes, you got the right color, but in the wrong place, although you've got the right color in the right place with black and white pegs. The points of that is it is a process of elimination. It's easy to play that game very, very fast.
AJ WILCOX: Yes.
ADAM GOWER: Because if you play it right, all you do is you put out one sets of colors. And, you know then, based on the answer, if you got the right color and if you do, you can progress.
AJ WILCOX: Yes.
ADAM GOWER: So that's a very long way of saying, I find Facebook staggeringly difficult because with hundreds of different combinations.. how the heck, even with their algorithm, how the heck do you know what moving part it was that really changed the dynamic? And one of the things that I enjoyed about LinkedIn was that, the ads, and please talk about this, the ads that we put out, we only did two ads. There were only two variants, yet we had multiple audiences. So tell me something about that dynamic.
AJ WILCOX: Yeah. What we find is, with any...just like Facebook. You could put 20 ads in the same campaign and let LinkedIn or let Facebook try to show those. But, they are.. both platforms are constantly on a mission to figure out which is the version that's performing higher, because if we show the version that performs high, we are giving members what they want and we're making more money. Especially on LinkedIn where you can say, I'm only going to pay when someone clicks. They care about what gets clicked on more. So long story short, if you launch, let's say, five ads into a campaign, one is going to get the majority of the impressions. One is going to do OK. And then the other three are going to get like ten or fewer impressions. And for me, as a, like the data scientist in me, I look at that and go, OK, if I took the time to create three ad variations that got less than ten impressions, there's no learnings there. I can't learn anything about that. So, we keep it to two ads at a time and at any given time, if one or both of those ad versions aren't performing, we'll pause them both and launch a new A/B test. That way, we're always giving LinkedIn exactly ads that we know that they're going to start pushing out.
ADAM GOWER: That's interesting. Sorry.
AJ WILCOX: Well and to your point about the multiple audiences, you know, we have two separate ads where maybe we kept the image the same, but we just changed the motivation or the pain point we hit on. We're going to put those same two ads in all of these different audiences. So, you know, when you look in, as a human, you're going to say, oh, this campaign, oh, it's the same two ads. To LinkedIn, these are different. And but you can track and find out...if we target them by skill, they like ad "A" better. If we target them by group, they like ad "B" better and now you can learn more.
Click Through Rates and Conversions on LinkedIn
ADAM GOWER: So, once you start running a campaign and let's talk about audience selection in a moment. Once you start running a campaign, you've got a couple of ads and you've got, let's say, half a dozen different audiences that you're testing against both of these ads. How long does it take, typically, actually, let's ask this: how long does it take, typically, for the algorithm, for LinkedIn to start to give you meaningful data? How much do you need to spend, as well, together? Let's get down to the down and dirty.
AJ WILCOX: Brilliant question. So, anytime you launch a new ad, LinkedIn has to give them enough impressions to get a feel for: does this get clicked on a lot or not very much? And that process usually takes about a day, to a day and a half where LinkedIn basically gives you a ton of impressions, not not for free. They'll still charge you for them, but they give you kind of, a preferred ranking where they can see how people interact with your ads very quickly. And after that day and a half where they say, oh, we gave this ad a relevancy score of nine, it performs extremely well, like nine out of ten. Then they're going to say, hey, this is our winning ad. We should give it 60 or 70 percent of all of the impressions. So that's why you will see, with two ads, where one gets 60 or 70 percent of the impressions and and the other one doesn't. But even still, with two ads that don't get exactly half and half of the impressions, it's not usually a time thing. It's more of just an accumulation of data thing where it's usually after spending about a $1,000, when you're ad variations, the difference in the click through-rate becomes 95 percent statistically significant. And, if you want to follow that down the funnel and get all the way down to conversions to where your conversion rates and your cost per conversion becomes significant, that's usually usually between about five and eight thousand dollars, depending on how much those clicks cost.
ADAM GOWER: And so, we have a day. Gosh, I lost my train of thought actually while you were talking. So we have a day. That's it. So after a couple of days, you have a couple of thousand or a thousand dollars you've got this statistically significant difference between A and B ad.
AJ WILCOX: Yes.
ADAM GOWER: Do you pull, let's say A is the winner, will you then pull B and bring in C for the next two days to see which wins and constantly iterate that way?
AJ WILCOX: It depends on what your goal is. What we find is, the ad that gets the higher click-through rate. It doesn't usually correlate to the ad that's going to have the highest conversion rate. So, I'm probably not going to pull that quick because even if one ad has a click through rate that's 20 percent higher than the other, if the one that's kind of getting ignored has a conversion rate that's double, which I've seen before, then I would be sad that I ended up pausing that. So, based on click-through rate, I'll end up letting it run a little bit longer until we see conversions. But, once we've spent, call it two to four thousand dollars on ads and we found that one has a significantly higher conversion rate, that's when I'd make the call to yank the one that isn't performing.
Selecting a High-Quality Audience on LinkedIn
ADAM GOWER: So, let's talk now about audience selection because this is also something that's very different. As I recall, having done this with you, just in the last couple of weeks, not an easy thing to do on LinkedIn. It's very manually intensive but there's some incredible details that we can get into. Tell me something about audience selection, why quality is so high on LinkedIn.
AJ WILCOX: Yeah, so we can break most audiences down into four different ways of targeting the same person. So, we can target them by a job title. Oftentimes, we can target them by the department they work in with their seniority. We can target by groups with seniority and we can target by skills and seniority. And you can imagine very quickly how you know, whoever you're going after, yeah, they could fit into four different targeting criteria here. So, we want to figure out, how do we reach this exact target audience several different ways, because if we are running, let's say, four different campaigns, all targeting the same person a little bit differently, over time, we're going to find one that reaches people for less money, one that has better scalability. You can scale it up and spend and get more volume. One where lead quality is better or one where lead quality is worse. So that's what we like to do. Like you kind of hinted towards... we don't really have amazing tools for doing things in bulk, on LinkedIn. So, when we go to define job titles, it's manually typing in up to 200 job titles or, you know, going and finding the groups you want to target. You're manually entering those in so it can be time intensive. But the nice thing is, once that audience is created, you can reuse that forever. I mean, it's it's evergreen.
ADAM GOWER: Not only that, but you can also tweak it as well, can't you?
AJ WILCOX: Oh yes. Yep. At any given time, you can look at it and say, oh that list of groups, let's take out the one that, you know...
ADAM GOWER: Does this, instead of that. And see how... and even split those two and see how they perform against each other.
AJ WILCOX: Exactly.
ADAM GOWER: Very interesting.
Running LinkedIn Ads with or without an Active Profile
ADAM GOWER: Can you advertise on LinkedIn without having a good LinkedIn presence or good LinkedIn profile, and does it help if you do?
AJ WILCOX: Oh, excellent question. So, all of LinkedIn ads are attached to a company's page, not a personal profile and I get this question a lot from people who go, I haven't logged in to LinkedIn in six years. Is that going to hurt my career or my campaign? No, it's not. No one will be able to look at your ad and see who the person is who is running it, but what they will see is your company's page and they will see your logo, they will see the company's name, and they will see the most important part, which is the number of followers to the company. So if you have a company page that you haven't ever given any sort of attention to, it has seven followers. Chances are your ads probably aren't going to perform all that great because people will look at it and go, oh, seven followers. That could be a fly-by-night. I don't know if I trust it. Or, if you've got 2 or 300, they might go, oh, that passes my legitimacy requirement. Yeah, I'll interact with this ad. So, the more social proof that you have, the better.
ADAM GOWER: Now that's crazy. So, I'm just going...that's an interesting point you make. First of all, I don't know how many followers I have. I think it's around 15,000.
AJ WILCOX: Yes.
ADAM GOWER: So, right? But that's a personal profile.
AJ WILCOX: Yeah.
ADAM GOWER: My company profile has.... I don't know.. not 15,000, not 300....very, very few because actually most of my communication is my personal profile. The company profile is an afterthought, frankly. I have it because you have to have it to advertise. LinkedIn would like you to have it. There's a little push towards having it. So, from my perspective, actually, and this is what I was getting at...alright. If you don't have even three hundred, you've got ten thousand followers on your personal profile and ten on your company profile. As long as your company profile has good content that is informative and high value, to me anyway, it doesn't actually matter how many followers you have, as long as once somebody lands on your company profile, you are communicating intelligently with them. Who really cares? It's not Facebook, you know, it doesn't matter. I shouldn't say it. My wife, she likes to see likes, you know, she wants to see likes. It doesn't work like that on LinkedIn. It's a different environment. Would you agree?
AJ WILCOX: Yeah, I do for the most part. The number of followers is kind of like a threshold of, do I trust this company or not and as long as you can get over that initial threshold, then it's a "what is this ad offering?" Does this seem valuable to me? And, you know, we've had campaigns with a company page of ten followers, but we're getting 20 percent conversion rates and that's because the offer was just that good. People are willing to look past the, you know, that threshold because what you're giving them is so obviously valuable.
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