Complete guide to LinkedIn advertising for service businesses

Posted on: 2014-01-16 in How To   |   Tagged: linkedin

Your LinkedIn campaign doesn’t need to be a waste of time. By Heather Baker @TopLineFounder.

Search for help setting up and managing LinkedIn ad campaigns and you will find some of the internet’s shittest content. In fact, I was barely able to plagiarise a thing when producing this post, which is why it took me longer than usual. 

Why are LinkedIn ads so disappointing?

While most people have dabbled in LinkedIn advertising, for many the results are disappointing. That’s because many people compare LinkedIn ads to Google Adwords campaigns, which is not a fair comparison to make.

When you advertise on the Google search network, you are targeting people at the time when they are actively searching for your services – so when you present your services to them in the form of a PPC ad, they are inclined to click on the ad. And when you advertise on the Google Display network, even though you are targeting people when they are not necessarily looking, you are able to reach a huge number of people through multiple web properties at any time. This means you can get great conversion rates.

LinkedIn, however, is a single web property on which you are advertising at people when they are not looking for your services. For you to get a response they have to see your ad (they will never be looking for it) and be interested while they are on LinkedIn, which requires a happy coincidence that doesn’t happen that frequently (your ad will also reach people on LinkedIn's partner network if you so wish, but the reach tends to be quite limited).   

Does this mean LinkedIn advertising is not worth the effort? Not at all, it simply means you need to set your expectations: unlike Google search and display advertising there’s a good chance you won’t even hit your daily budget. However, you only pay per click or impression, so when people don’t see your ad, you don’t pay. In fact, the major benefit of LinkedIn advertising is the ability to filter out the ‘noise’ – you can target your ads at people who fall into specific professional demographics only.

Steps to successful LinkedIn advertising:

When I first tried LinkedIn advertising, I just made it up as I went along. That seems to be what most people do, but I’ve since discovered there are some great techniques for optimising LinkedIn campaigns. They require planning, testing, measuring and refining.

Step 1: Ask yourself the following question:

Am I in the business of selling stolen goods, occult pursuits, fake documents, endangered species, drugs, weapons, scams or any of the other products and services that LinkedIn lists as restricted on its Advertising Guidelines? These include dating sites and alcoholic beverages. If the answer is yes, then you’re not allowed to advertise them, so no need to read the rest of this article. Why not move on to The 26 Mightiest Examples of People Falling Over – you’re obviously the kind of person who delights in the misfortune of others.

If the answer is no, please read on.


Step 2: Define your customer

Thanks to the demographic targeting function on LinkedIn you can choose who to target based on a range of factors. So think about this before you start and create target customer personas in a format that will help you with LinkedIn:

Example LinkedIn Customer Persona Table for a company selling marketing services to small businesses

Ideal Customer Data

Target Persona 1

Target persona 2          




Company (specific company name OR industry and company size)

1-50 employees

Computer Software


Job title (specific job title OR by function and seniority)

CEO; Founder; Managing Director



Step 3: Decide your messaging

For each persona, decide what messages you want them to hear loud and clear about the service you are trying to sell to them. Try to keep it to one headline message and two sub-messages per persona. For example, messages could be around:

  • Cost (our service is cheaper)
  • Quality (our service is higher quality)
  • Time saving (our service saves you time)
  • Money saving (our service saves you money)
  • Compliance (our service helps you comply)

Remember, whatever claims you make about your service need to be valid, and you need to be able to back them up with evidence (e.g. our service is x% cheaper than our nearest competitor; or we have saved our clients £8,000 in the last month). Otherwise you’ll just lose all brand credibility.

Step 4: Create your landing page

Don’t just send people to your home page. Send them to a page on your website that makes it easy for them to understand what you’re offering and encourages them to take the next step. There’s a whole science to building great landing pages, and I usually go for the following features:

  • A headline that immediately reinforces your main message and grabs attention.
  • An image (here’s a great post on images that work).
  • A testimonial – just a short one from a current client about how much they love your service and how it has revolutionised their business.
  • A clear way to get in touch, such as a phone number, and or a contact form. Your contact form should have no more than four fields, and I usually go for name, email, number and one question.
  • A brief mention as to how your service works and who else has used it.
  • A great design that would appeal to your target audience. 

Step 5: Develop your ad

There are four elements to a LinkedIn ad: image, headline, description and destination URL. When developing your ads make sure the headline, description and image are all consistent with your core messages defined above. 


These are the things you need to know about images:

  • Choose three images for your ad campaign. You can test every variation of ad copy with each image and over time you will learn which types of images perform best, and you will be able to optimise for them.
  • Your image needs to fit in the 50x50 slot so make sure it works well as a square.
  • The actual image is quite small (like a thumbnail) when presented to LinkedIn users so it shouldn’t be too detailed – crop and zoom as much as possible.
  • Pictures of people work well – women especially. Graphics too – if they are eye catching.
  • Be careful of stock images – they can be BORING (great post on silly stock photography).
  • Your logo is not a good choice of ad image – it’s boring. Unless your objective is to build brand awareness. In which case it’s still boring, but I’ll allow it.
  • Surprise people with an image they wouldn’t expect to see on LinkedIn. No, not a photo from inside your pants – but something that’s relevant to your service but not the first thing that shows up on Shutterstock when you search ‘your type of service’.
  • Make sure your image is relevant to the service you are selling.
  • Make it something your target audience will relate to easily.


Your headline can be 25 characters. You need to make it really eye catching. Here are some tips on eye-catching headlines:

  • Use the job title of your prospect: Software Entrepreneur?
  • Use the problem your service solves: Poor software sales?
  • Introduce your core message: Cheaper Education technology
  • Go Australian and end with a question mark?

Create three headlines for your campaign.


Your description can be up to 75 characters. A great description:

  • Is benefit-driven: Highlight the benefit to your prospects.
  • Includes evidence: possibly calling on the principle of social proof.
  • Has a clear call to action like: sign up now. Or call us now.

Create three descriptions for your campaign.

Destination URL

This is the URL to which people will be directed when they click their ads. It’s useful if it’s on your company’s domain.

Step 6: Create your ads

Go to the LinkedIn advertising page and log in to your account. You’ll need to add billing information so that LinkedIn can charge you for your ads (click on billing in the top panel). Click create a campaign in the top right hand corner. Then click on create an ad (the alternative is sponsor an update, which is pretty self-explanatory).

In each campaign, you can have up to 15 ad variations, so try the same headline and description with at least three different images. Use the targeting tool to target your audience. You have the option to reach LinkedIn members through the LinkedIn Audience Network – which is totally worth doing.

Set your payment options. You can use CPC (you pay around £1.50-£1.86 every time someone clicks on your ad) or CPM (you pay £1.64 every time your ad is served to 1,000 people). CPC is best for conversions, CPM is better for branding. Then set your daily budget and time period for the campaign.

Turn on lead collection. This gives prospects the option of requesting that you follow up with them – which is kind of the whole point of LinkedIn advertising.

Step 7: Let your ads run

Give your ads a couple of days to run, then check back in with LinkedIn’s analytics to see how they’re doing. You will need to rotate your ads every couple of weeks anyway because people get ‘ad fatigue’ and stop taking notice when your ad starts looking like part of the LinkedIn furniture.


Step 8: Choose your winner and re-test

You’ll know from your three ads with identical copy and different images which image performed best. Record this in a spreadsheet because you’ll quickly get overwhelmed with data.

Then run ads with the winning image with three different headlines to establish which one performs best. Once you have your winner, test the winning headline and image with your three different descriptions. You now have your first chunk of data on what works (keep it all in a spreadsheet).

Start testing new headlines, images and descriptions against your base case, and in every instance, keep the winner and test a new contender against it. That way you are refreshing your campaign regularly and refining it to become more effective over time.

Step 9: check your Google Analytics

You should know from your website’s analytics how much actual business your ads are creating. This will be the true test of success – making the business case for (or against) LinkedIn advertising. 

I'd love to hear from readers any tips on LinkedIn advertising. Please post in the comment section below.  

UK Agency Awards Winner 2016

About this blog

The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog was founded by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, who runs video production and corporate animation agency TopLine Film and digital PR and SEO agency  TopLine Comms. The B2B PR Blog takes contributions from sensible industry folk with something interesting to say.


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