LinkedIn Ads for B2B LeadGen: Best Practices & Case Studies.

LinkedIn is the most powerful platform for online B2B lead generation. It has a huge audience of 850M+ business professionals, focuses on business-related connections and has a lot of different tools for quality lead generation and nurturing.

B2B LinkedIn lead generation formats

There are three main types of ads that can be used for B2B lead generation on LinkedIn: sponsored InMails, text ads and sponsored content. Each ad type has its own set of properties and goals, aside from the primary goal of generating leads.

Sponsored InMail – the most powerful LinkedIn B2B ads format

Sponsored InMail is a promotion method that sends personalized messages to the LinkedIn message center of your target audience (this is somewhat close to how regular email inbox works, but on LinkedIn messages page). There can be different variations of Sponsored InMails’ content, but most of InMails include a personalized greeting via first or last name substitution, a call-to-action button with a customized text depending on your campaign goals, a link to your landing page, and a banner image (optional).

The main goal of this ad format is to generate leads by pushing visitors to download a whitepaper, sign up for a demo, register for webinar or something else depending on campaign objectives and available assets. Sponsored InMails can be rather effective in this regard since they have high open rates due to them being sent and received within LinkedIn as regular messages from other users.

These InMails also have detailed specifications for each part of the ad – the sender name should not be over 50 characters, and the banner image size is recommended to be 300×250 pixels at most. At the same time, the subject line of the advertisement should also be about 60 characters, with a CTA button having a similar limitation in the form of 20 characters per ad. Last but not least, the size of the “body” part (message itself) should be 1500 characters or less.

There is also a more modern variation of Sponsored ads called Conversation ads – following the same idea as with the regular Sponsored InMail advertisements but adding a twist to it. The twist itself is that each one of these advertisements has a multitude of CTA buttons attached, offering a so-called “choose your own adventure” experience for every client it gets sent to. By asking relevant questions and adding LinkedIn Lead Ads Forms you can capture leads easily, especially when inviting visitors to webinars or to whitepaper downloads.

This particular approach offers higher CTR, better engagement and thus higher-than-average conversion rate. Conversation ads also have their own specifications – the image size recommendations are the same as with regular Sponsored ads, but text size recommendations are completely different.

As such, the Ad Name of a Conversation ad should be 255 characters or less, with each CTA button only being as long as 25 characters or shorter. At the same time, the size of a custom footer has a limitation of 2500 characters, and the regular message text is limited to 500 characters per ad.

Text advertisement – the simplest LinkedIn B2B ads format

Text ads, despite being one of the oldest online advertisement methods, are also quite effective when it comes to LinkedIn lead generation for B2B markets. Their work in the context of LinkedIn is similar to how text ads work in search engine results (Google Search Ads or Bing Search Ads).

Since it is one of the most simple ad formats in the first place, text ads are great for quickly starting a marketing campaign for a product or service. In the context of LinkedIn advertisements, text ads are used to drive traffic of specific B2B buyer personas to landing pages that are already created, and thus generate leads.

However, even something as simple as text ads has its own specifications. For your text ads to be successful in LinkedIn B2B lead generation, the combination of your headline and description should be at most 100 characters (25 for the former and 75 for the latter). Even though it is called a text ad, it is possible to attach an image to some text ads, with a maximum size of 100×100 pixels.

There are also two more ad types that are usually attributed to text advertisement as a whole – Follower ads and Spotlight ads. Both of these ad types are used to increase brand awareness, improve engagement and boost lead generation. The biggest difference between the two is that Spotlight ads are used to promote your landing pages while Follower ads are more geared towards making people follow your LinkedIn page. The Spotlight ad also utilizes CTAs in its design, unlike Follower ads.

Each of these ad types has its own set of specifications in terms of text messages. For example, ad description recommendations are identical for these two – 70 characters or less. The same goes for the company name (<25 characters) and the ad headline (<50 characters), as well as the preferred image size of 100×100 pixels. The difference here is that the Spotlight ad would also have a CTA that is 18 characters wide or smaller.

Sponsored content – the LinkedIn B2B ads format with the best potential

Sponsored content is a type of B2B LinkedIn lead generation ad that is included directly into news feeds with regular LinkedIn content, working as a variation of a promoted post. Some users draw a direct comparison between an organic post on a company’s personal page and a sponsored content post, claiming that the latter is an improved version of the former.

One of the biggest advantages of this ad format (often referred to as a “single-image ad format”) is the level of engagement since the content itself is integrated as a part of the newsfeed. This kind of approach to B2B LinkedIn lead generation helps a lot with transferring affinitive audiences towards landing pages, raising brand awareness level with bright and appealing images, and there is also a regular lead generation process with LinkedIn lead generation forms that are built on LinkedIn by the advertiser and are populated right in the newsfeed after the click on the ad.

The image itself has to be rather large for this ad type, with three possible versions – landscape, square and vertical. Landscape ad would work for both mobile and desktop devices, and it has a recommended size of 1200×628 pixels (1.91:1 aspect ratio). Square ads are also working for both desktop and mobile users, with the recommended dimensions of 1200×1200 pixels. Last, but not least, vertical ads are mostly geared towards mobile device users and would not be delivered to desktop users whatsoever. There are three different aspect ratios that can be used here – 1:1.91 (628×1200 pixels), 2:3 (600×900 pixels), and 4:5 (720×900 pixels).

It is also recommended for the title to be less than 70 characters long, and for the intro text piece to fit into the 150 characters limit.

It is also worth noting that single-image ads, like the one described above, are not the only possible option when it comes to sponsored content as a whole. There are also carousel ads, video ads, event ads, and document ads.

Video ads are extremely versatile, offering the ability to highlight positive customer experience, showcase new products or services, and promote your business as a whole if you can get creative enough with the video ad. Sometimes video ads are used to invite selected audiences (current clients, prospects, etc) to an offline event.

Since this particular ad type deals with videos instead of text or images, it also has its own recommendations when it comes to general design – such as 30 frames per second for accepted framerate, MP4 as a video file format, and a choice between four different aspect ratios (16:9, 9:16, 4:5 and 1:1). There are also recommendations about text messages accompanying the video in question – up to 70 characters for video’s headline, twice as much for the introductory text (150 characters or less), as well as an optional ad name with up to 255 characters limitation.

Carousel ads, on the other hand, are closer to a traditional take on a LinkedIn advertisement, providing a number of images in a swipeable row of “cards” that can be used to share useful insights or just promote a product or a service using storytelling. It can be somewhat difficult to figure out since you have to make sure that your clients would keep swiping from the first image to the last for the ad itself to be effective enough. However, sometimes in my experience carousel ads had better CTR than the regular single-image ones.

Carousel ads can have between two and ten cards per ad, with each “card” being an image of 6012×6012 pixels or less. There are also several parts of this ad type that use text – ad name with 255 characters limitation, introductory text with the same limit (however it is recommended to use 150 characters or less to prevent text being cut out on some devices), and a character limit depending on where the ad leads – 30 characters for ads that have a Lead Gen Form CTA at the end of them, and 45 characters for a regular URL as the last part of the carousel.

Event ads have a rather telling name – offering the ability to promote specific events that you have set up on your own LinkedIn page. The main objective of this kind of ad is to boost the number of event visitors. A regular event ad usually consists of an image, a text message and a URL – with an image having a recommended aspect ratio of 4:1, and a text message being less than 600 characters for the overall introductory text.

If the event name is also included in the ad, it should be 255 characters or less. Additionally, the image in question is pulled directly from the Event’s own page so there is no need for a separate promotional image here.

Document ads are one of the most recent additions to LinkedIn’s B2B marketing toolset, offering the ability to share actual documents with target audiences in a variety of formats – PDF, PPT, DOCX, DOC, PPTX, etc. It is a great way to promote some sort of “evergreen” content (whitepapers, case studies, RFP templates, etc) to your audience and it also works great when it comes to gathering leads.

Document ads also have specifications on what they can and cannot provide with this advertisement method. For example, the file in question should not be more than 100 Megabytes, and it is recommended to have less than 10 pages per document for the best ad performance (even though the upper limit is 1M words or 300 pages). This ad also supports all of the standard PDF layouts for its pages, such as Letter, Tabloid, A3, A4, Legal, Executive, etc.

This ad includes a text message consisting of a headline and an introductory text. The former should not be more than 70 characters long, while the latter is limited to 150 characters.

General use cases for LinkedIn ads

Despite the fact that LinkedIn ads can be useful in a wide variety of use cases, they are not universal, meaning that there would be quite a lot of situations when using LinkedIn advertisements would be useless. Here are some examples of when LinkedIn ads should not be used:

  • If your budget is limited and tight (in my opinion, a budget of at least one thousand US dollars is usually where the advertisement on LinkedIn becomes somewhat effective);
  • If you are targeting a broad audience with no specific customer profile in mind for branding reasons on a consumer market;
  • If your product or service has a relatively low cost, or if your lifetime value per customer (LTV) is low because of the high cost per acquisition for some LinkedIn ad formats.

Alternatively, there are also multiple statements that can be used as a signal for you to use LinkedIn ads, such as:

  • Your LTV is rather high (according to my experience, not less than 1000 US dollars per year);
  • Your goal is to generate quality conversions by using an upper-funnel lead generation strategy;
  • You have a very specific niche audience for your product or service and your sales cycle is longer than 3 months;
  • Your goal is to remarket the traffic that you’ve directed from LinkedIn to your own website;
  • Your goal is to remarket the organic SEO traffic visitors that bounce from your website and make them convert;
  • It is your intent to run targeted account-based marketing campaigns.

Best practices in B2B LinkedIn lead generation

B2B LinkedIn lead generation can be a sophisticated process with a lot of unique challenges and difficulties, so there is no perfect advice for every possible B2B LinkedIn ad campaign out there. However, there are several best practices that can work in many situations – I have compiled a list of those below, it is recommended to try those out for your specific ad campaign to see what works for you and what does not.

  1. Set up conversion tracking for every call-to-action (in the B2B campaign you might have both microconversions like whitepaper downloads and macroconversions like contact form submissions) and integrate LinkedIn Ads Manager with your Google Analytics so that it knows what campaigns and creative variations bring the most conversions. Do it even for campaigns where you don’t direct visitors to your site but use LinkedIn Lead Forms, sometimes visitors tend to skip the built-in forms and visit your website later, for example after checking your business profile on review sites.

    “No signal yet” means that you have to check your conversion tracking settings as LinkedIn Ads Manager doesn’t get any information about conversions on your website. Usually this happens when you track only macroconversions which happen rarely.
  2. Try to make every part of your ad capable of selling your product or service – be it image text, description, intro text, or headline, each and every one of those should be capable of giving context to the ad since not all of the potential visitors are going to read through everything you have in an ad. Also there are some formats in LinkedIn Audience Network where part of your ad’s attributes aren’t shown and you need to check that the rest of the visible part provides context to the ad.
  3. Even though LinkedIn has the capability to operate a wide variety of campaigns, from small to large – the advertisement algorithm seems to be working in favor of bigger advertisements more often than not, if those campaigns have at least 3-4 different ad variations, more than $200 of budget per day and over 50,000 people as the audience.When creating your campaign, in the “Forecasted results” section you’ll be notified about the optimal audience size for consistent campaign delivery. Don’t minimize the targeting (even though it’s a common tactic for B2B campaigns) – instead target broader audiences, get more leads of lower quality but filter them later on. The end result will be better than having low number of leads from the tight targeting.
  4. Use niche brand awareness advertisements – a combination of website visits, impressions, and video views – as a relatively cheap way of increasing the frequency of your brand interactions with your specific niche audience. Long-term memory of a customer about your brand is built upon moderate repetition combined with emotions. This kind of approach works not only for regular consumer ads but also for more specialized B2B advertisements.
  5. Audiences based on uploaded lists seem to not work as good in terms of conversion numbers and cost per conversion when compared with regular audience reach. However, when you need to target specific accounts it’s quite normal that your cost per lead goes up as the audience is lower. It is also possible to add such lists to your primary targeting campaign mainly for excluding your current customers from the target audience which is often used in B2B campaigns.
  6. Here are some tips to increase the CTR of your ads, both for B2B and consumer markets:
    1. it is better to use bold colors to stand out in contrast with the original blue and white colors of the LinkedIn website or app;
    2. using square ads with 1200 pixels of width for each side of the ad will cover as much ground as possible for mobile viewers and will also get you CTR higher;
    3. images that include real people’s faces (even in B2B campaigns where it might not seem to be a relevant creative), tend to stand out quite a lot more than regular generic ads and the CTR for such ads is usually higher according to my experience.
  7. LinkedIn as a platform has precise targeting algorithms which is why it is not that useful to send users to a landing page just to download your asset for lead generation. This can generate bounces from your landing page because people tend to fill in the lead generation forms rarely nowadays for just downloading a whitepaper. Instead, running campaigns with LinkedIn built-in Lead Forms for your B2B campaigns is a good idea, mainly because the user doesn’t need to fill in the form as it’s already pre-filled with the LinkedIn profile data.

The checklist for a daily or weekly B2B campaign assessment

Constant measurement and monitoring are essential at any stage of a LinkedIn campaign as this helps to monitor performance and dynamically improve results. This checklist below should help with figuring out if your LinkedIn B2B marketing campaign is working if you compare current results with the ones from the previous period of your choice. Here are the questions you should be answering to:

  • How high or low is the average cost per qualified lead? What are the changes to the last period in this metric?
  • How high or low is the number of leads for a selected period? Are there any spikes or drops in the number of leads?
  • Are your campaigns providing enough impressions and clicks? Is the audience broad enough?
  • Can you still fit into your budget with such an audience size?
  • Is the quality of leads sufficient enough to be able to qualify them as MQLs? Are there any changes in the quality after targeting changes?

My personal experience with LinkedIn B2B ads

My LinkedIn B2B lead generation experience started in 2013 when it had much less ways to advertise. At those times advertisers were able to use only simple text ads based on pay-per-click model.

LinkedIn text ads for B2B online marketing

I have to admit that I was unable to deliver significant results this way because the cost-per-click on LinkedIn for the industries of my clients was always higher than average (especially higher than in Google Ads). That is why lead cost was ruining the unit economy and was not affordable to my clients.

During the last 9 years LinkedIn ad platform made a huge progress with targeting capabilities, ad formats and bid strategies. I started testing it once again for some of the clients and surprisingly the results became much better. The cost-per-lead dropped down, the number of leads increased and the quality of these leads became much better.

I think there’s also an additional factor of why B2B lead generation on LinkedIn got better – it’s marketing automation technology which is evolving. The rise of enterprise nurturing tools like Marketo, Pardot or smaller products like Mailchimp and Autopilot allows businesses to get leads on different stages of the consumer journey, not only during the phase of final purchase. This lead generation tactic allows to get more leads because of smaller lead cost and also leaves the space for additional marketing if the sales cycle is more than 2-3 months.

Let’s take a look at the ways to use LinkedIn for B2B lead generation where I had success below. My competence was confirmed by LinkedIn team itself publishing case study with one of my clients where we had such notable results:

  • The lead generation forms completion rate of 35% surpassed all LinkedIn benchmarks
  • The customer halved its cost per lead (CPL) target for the LinkedIn  campaigns

Generating lower-funnel leads on LinkedIn

Usually when I am talking about lower-funnel leads in the enterprise software industry or the other B2B industries I mean trial downloads, requests for proposals or price quotations. These are the prospects that have already chosen the list of products and are in the evaluation process.

Trying to target these people not only on LinkedIn but in all the other social networks or is not efficient according to my experience. It doesn’t depend on the ad copy or targeting criteria, the main reason of why these campaigns fail is because it’s unlikely to catch lower-funnel leads in social network exactly during the moment when they’re evaluating products. Search advertising is much more suitable for this goal – and this is why Google Ads is so expensive nowadays.

Generating upper-funnel leads on LinkedIn

Instead of trying to get the leads in the most competitive stage of the consumer journey it’s more useful to focus on the upper part of the conversion funnel. During this stage customers are looking for more information about the products by downloading whitepapers or ebooks, registering for webinars or just looking at the other implementations in case studies. Let’s take a look at all these ways to generate leads.

Whitepaper downloads for B2B ads on LinkedIn

By downloading whitepaper the prospect shows the interest in either general topic which is connected with your company industry (e.g. “How to use artificial intelligence in backup and recovery?”) or in specific technology which is close to your product (e.g. “How to backup and recover VMware virtual machines?”). I rarely use generic whitepapers for lead generation as they have poor lead quality in the end. Here some of the technology whitepaper campaigns on LinkedIn and their results:

LinkedIn B2B marketing lead costs
You’ll see here some of the most prominent technology whitepaper campaigns: MS SQL database backup strategies, Docker volumes backup and restore, MySQL database backup, SAP HANA backup and Microsoft Active Directory protection strategies. Technology whitepapers require you to look for the relevant audience with the usage of:

  • LinkedIn Groups targeting
  • Job title-based targeting
  • Skills-based targeting

So for example for MS SQL database backup strategies you’ll need to look for MSSQL database administrators. That’s quite simple, you make a selection and adjust the other targeting criteria like profile language, age, company size, job seniority etc:

LinkedIn B2B marketing targeting example

You also need to exclude your company followers, current clients and employees. However, when you don’t have the direct position name (e.g. SAP HANA database administrator) in LinkedIn’s catalog – it could be useful to use LinkedIn Groups targeting:

LinkedIn B2B marketing group targeting

Even with geographical exclusions and all the other limitations listed above in the example the audience size of SAP HANA-related groups is 160K people which is a decent audience according to LinkedIn’s guidelines.

Keep in mind that position names need to be researched deeply with the product marketing department before starting the campaign. I used to target system administrators, database admins and IT managers in the beginning but then after GDPR was introduced in Europe I also started to target data protection managers and officers.

If you can’t find the relevant groups and job titles, you can target skills. For example, one of my customers is Cipherpoint – a SharePoint security & encryption software vendor. I target “SharePoint” skills, because there are not so many security professionals tied specifically to SharePoint. So it’s better to select the people with the generic SharePoint knowledge.

Now let’s talk about the ad formats and campaign objectives. While marketing to B2B companies on LinkedIn you can not only generate traffic to your website, but you can also create a form just inside the platform and collect leads directly from your ads (this is called LinkedIn Lead Ads, and to use it you need to choose lead objective while setting up the campaign from the beginning).

Inmail ads for LinkedIn B2B marketing
Format-wise there are different options for Lead Ads:

  1. Single image ads
  2. Video Ads
  3. Carousel Ads
  4. Spotlight Ads
  5. Follower Ads
  6. Message Ads
  7. Text Ads

I have used all these different approaches but let me share the examples with Inmail messages in combination with Lead Ads. Their big advantage is that they’re delivered on mobile devices where users tend to download whitepapers (which will never happen in case of trial download of the enterprise software product).

Keep the messaging short and sweet as in this example. I was testing messaging formats for more than 2 years when I finally came to the best conversion rate. The key to success is simple:

  • Keep the subject line straight-to-the-point, write exactly what the prospect might be looking for;
  • Personalize the messages with %FIRST NAME% and other merge tags;
  • Introduce yourself very quickly, without the long sentences of what you and your company is doing (the prospect can check this later on);
  • Send the main messaging – what do you want to do with this Inmail in regards to this particular prospect?
  • Provide additional information and highlights.

Here is the example which I used for the other client of mine:

In this case the campaign is actually the remarketing one. We’re attracting visitors to our blog using SEO and then promote InMail ads with whitepaper downloads to this specific audience cluster on LinkedIn. This way we’re transferring the unknown organic traffic visitors to the specific leads. By using this approach I was able to generate hundreds of leads on a monthly basis.

Marketing B2B case studies on LinkedIn

According to my experience B2B case studies are harder to promote on LinkedIn than whitepapers. Traditionally they present less interest than whitepaper to the potential audience and because of this the number of leads is lower while cost per lead is higher. I found case studies to be effective while promoting them in relevance to a specific industry:

In this example one of my clients that develops software for architects is presenting a case study about the usage of the software during hospital construction. As you can see, the campaign produces leads in both North America and Europe, but the cost per lead differs a lot, mainly because of the level of competition in the US and Canada.

The target audience consists of relevant job titles narrowed by years of experience, member age and company industry (hospitals in this particular case). Only when using such a narrow targeting with an asset that is compelling I was able to generate leads with a decent cost per lead with case studies.

Webinar visitors lead generation for B2B markets

LinkedIn is perfect for generating webinar participants which are frequently used in B2B marketing. The InMail format allows you to send the webinar invitation which you get immediately in your prospect’s mailbox. Then they just have to read it, click on the link and they’ll see all data pre-filled from their LinkedIn profiles.

The messaging is a little bit different compared to the technology whitepapers. It gives an immediate insight on what the visitor will get during and after the webinar. All the other principles that I listed above stay the same. The targeting is based on the job title and is splitted in different groups. The cost-per-registration is quite small – below 30USD/registration.

LinkedIn B2B lead generation checklist

Here is a small LinkedIn B2B lead generation checklist that I created based on my experience:

  1. Choose the strategy: upper-funnel or lower-funnel lead generation;
  2. Define call-to-actions that will generate leads:
    1. Whitepaper downloads;
    2. Case study downloads;
    3. Webinar registrations;
    4. Other downloads or registrations.
  3. Define the campaign objective:
    1. Traffic;
    2. Lead generation;
  4. Define the ad format:
    1. Single image ads
    2. Video Ads
    3. Carousel Ads
    4. Spotlight Ads
    5. Follower Ads
    6. Message Ads
    7. Text Ads
  5. Develop and test your targeting models:
    1. Technology-based targeting;
    2. Account-based targeting;
    3. Occupation-based targeting;
    4. LinkedIn Groups targeting.
  6. Create InMail messages with this in mind:
    1. Keep the subject straight-to-the-point;
    2. Personalize the messages;
    3. Introduce yourself quickly;
    4. Send the main messaging;
    5. Provide additional information and highlights.
  7. If you use image ads – apply the above principles to them correspondingly;
  8. Create Lead Ads form or landing page on your website with LinkedIn conversion tracking code;
  9. Start the campaign, track results and optimize the below parameters for better cost-per-lead.

You can also get the checklist in a PDF file and a free 30-minute consultation with me if you’ll fill in this form.

Andrei Iunisov

Andrei Iunisov is a lead generation and SEO expert with 15 years of worldwide experience. Since 2006, Andrei has been involved with digital marketing and SEO in the rapidly growing software development company Parallels in Seattle, Washington. In 2009, Andrei founded the first web analysis agency in Russia. The list of Andrei customers includes TOP-100 Russian and international companies from all industries. In 2014, the business was sold to the largest independent online advertising holding company in Russia - iConText Group. Andrei has been offering lead generation, digital marketing and SEO services for various companies from all economic sectors worldwide since 2016. Andrei regularly shares his expertise and case studies in his personal blog.

Clutch recognizes Andrei Iunisov as a digital marketing expert and industry leader.

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LinkedIn Ads for B2B LeadGen: Best Practices & Case Studies. Contents1 B2B LinkedIn lead generation formats2 General use cases for LinkedIn ads3 Best practices in B2B LinkedIn lead generation4 The checklist for a daily or weekly B2B campaign assessment5 My personal experience with LinkedIn B2B ads6 Generating lower-funnel leads on LinkedIn7 Generating upper-funnel leads on LinkedIn8 Whitepaper downloads for B2B ads on LinkedIn9 Marketing B2B...
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