LinkedIn Ads Review: 8 Things I Hate About LinkedIn Ads


Do Linkedin Ads even work?

LinkedIn made a measly $153 million dollars from ads in the last quarter, with their marketing solutions making up just 20% of their 2014 revenue. That’s insanely low, considering they have over 347 million members now, 93 million of whom are active each month. By contrast, Google did around $18 billion, and Facebook did nearly $4 billion in ad sales during the same time period.

Linkedin Ad Revenues

Why is LinkedIn falling down so badly in ad revenue? Simple: their ads kind of stink.

I've tried to make them work for dozens of clients, but finally had to give up. Learn why in this LinkedIn Ads review.

8. There's No Remarketing! 

8 Reasons I Hate LinkedIn Ads cat with a Rubik's cubeThis is pretty nuts. Remarketing was introduced in AdWords over five years ago, but even then, it wasn't a brand new thing. You can buy remarketing ads on Twitter, Facebook, on the Google Display Network, at YouTube, and even for Google Search – but you can't get it on LinkedIn.

There are a dozen different flavors of remarketing, too: dynamic remarketing, similar audiences, RLSA, etc.

Advertising on LinkedIn is like traveling back in time, to the good old days. You know, before consumer tracking and electricity.

Remarketing is pretty important; people who have already visited your site are most likely to engage with your ads. You can also tailor your ad creative to appeal to different segments, based on their interactions with your brand.

But you can't do that on LinkedIn! They have no commercial intent whatsoever. How are you supposed to figure out what these audience segments are in market for? You're not.

7. No Custom Lists… Seriously.

You can target specific lists of people in Facebook using Custom audiences, or on Twitter using Tailored Audiences. This allows you to take your customer emails right out of your CRM, for example, and dump it into Twitter to target people who already know your brand with specific content.

8 reasons I hate LinkedIn ads no custom lists 

Not so in LinkedIn. This is where LinkedIn could actually be competing against itself – maybe they’re worried that this would dramatically reduce the value of their Sponsored InMail service? I'm not sure, but it makes for a pretty disappointing PPC ad experience.

6. What Lead Gen Ad Formats?

This is one area where LinkedIn is actually going backwards. They had a Lead Collection feature, but retired it in 2014. The best option, they say, is to capture leads on your own landing page.

Yet with Twitter Cards, you can capture information like email, first name, and last name with one click:

8 reasons I hate LinkedIn ads no lead gen formats 

LinkedIn ads come in two flavors: vanilla and plain vanilla (also known as URL ads linking to your site and sponsored updates).

8 reasons I hate LinkedIn ads only two ad formats

That is, unless you want to use the Premium Display Advertising managed service. But why would you risk it, when this is what the self-serve ads are like?

5. CPM Pricing vs. Goal-Based Pricing

One thing I love about Twitter Ads is the Goal-Based Pricing, which all of their self-serve ad formats have. You get charged for goal completion, depending on the type of campaign you are running.

It tells me they believe in their product and are going to try their best to deliver value, or else they don’t get paid.

8 reasons I hate LinkedIn ads CPM pricing 

If LinkedIn doesn’t believe in their ad products, why should an advertiser?

4. Quality, Schmality.

My name is Larry Kim, and I’m addicted to Quality Score.

In Twitter, Google, Google Display Ads – and even Facebook now – there's a Quality Score concept that guides your placement, display frequency and pricing.  Generally, the higher your CTRs or Engagement Rates, the higher your impression share and the lower your CPC. I love this because it gives advertisers an incentive to create great ads.

8 reasons I hate LinkedIn ads no Quality Score 

Apparently LinkedIn Ads does use a Quality Score metric, but the rewards for great ads are so small, it’s very difficult to detect. It also considers only two things: all-time CTR and your bid.

One thing this does is makes a low-CTR strategy viable on LinkedIn, where it usually isn't on other ad platforms. Where Quality Score is a major factor (like on Google AdWords), you want to avoid a low CTR because of the negative effect it has on your ad placement and cost per click.

LinkedIn doesn't seem to give a crap about ad quality and certainly doesn't reward advertisers for making an effort.

3. Account Promotion Is Ancient and Sucks

LinkedIn Ads will let you promote your Company Page or even your personal account, but it doesn't give the viewer an option to Follow! On Twitter and Facebook, you can promote your Page or Account and when people see the ad, one click makes them a fan or follower.

No so with LinkedIn.

It's ridiculously hard to grow your follower base on LinkedIn. You can't invite people to the Page and you can't advertise to them in any way that makes sense, either. Company Pages are really limited, too – you can't respond to the status updates of others, or engage unless your followers initiate the conversation. You can't post LinkedIn Blog Posts as a company (a feature on personal profiles).  You're really limited, compared to the function of personal LinkedIn profiles.

If you use these ads to promote your Company Page, you have to just cross your fingers and hope that once they click through to your Page, they choose to follow it.

LinkedIn even recommends using the other ad format, Sponsored Updates, to "promote your company page," but you'll run into the same issue:

8 reasons I hate LinkedIn ads sponsored updates

There's no option for them to Like your Page. You're paying to get in front of them once and then… praying? If they do what you want and click on the content, they're gone.

Since the whole point of LinkedIn company pages was to connect companies with people, wouldn't you think they would make this a little easier? It's like trying to do social media with both arms tied behind your back. It shouldn’t be this hard.

2. Improvements? We'll Get Around To It. Or Not.

It’s a full-time job keeping up with all the updates to ad targeting, ad formats, and reporting tools in Twitter, Google AdWords, and Facebook. Yet the Linkedin Ad platform hasn’t changed much since I first started using it, around three years ago.

8 reasons I hate LinkedIn ads no noticeable improvements 

If the ad targeting options (all still based on targeting user-entered data from personal profile pages) have evolved over the years, it's imperceptible – and it's nothing you can't get on Facebook. It's pretty crazy, actually… LinkedIn has this smaller but super professional audience, which could be very lucrative for advertisers. They should be offering even more than Facebook to win our ad spend away from them.

Which brings us to…

1. Ridiculously High CPMs

So just how much will these plain vanilla ads with no remarketing, lacking in commercial intent and offering 2005's targeting options run you?

The minimum bid here is $2.50 a click, or $12.00 per 1000 impressions. The minimum daily budget is $10.00, which will get you exactly 4 clicks or 800 impressions – IF you totally luck out and get the minimum cost possible.

Like I said, it's not goal-based, so it doesn't matter to LinkedIn if it actually works for you. You don't get a click discount for having super effective ads.8 reasons I hate LinkedIn ads high CPM

I've even experimented with drastically changing the targeting parameters, yet price was barely affected. On pretty much every other ad auction I've used, there's this crazy little thing called "supply and demand" that helps guide the price of your ads.

0. Bonus, Most Annoying LinkedIn Missing Feature: No Conversion Tracking!

That’s right. Twitter, Facebook, Google – they all have conversion tracking and rich reporting and analytics dashboards to help you track ROI of your PPC spend. Whereas LinkedIn doesn’t have a conversion pixel.

The suggested work-around is to manually tag your destination URLs and use Google Analytics. The down-side to this approach is that your conversion data doesn’t appear alongside your campaign data.

Is There Anything Good About LinkedIn Ads?

Sure, it has some redeeming qualities. Like… you can target 6,549 people living in Antarctica!

8 reasons I hate LinkedIn ads Antarctica audience targeting

Pretty much everything else is rather unremarkable, in the sense that you can do this elsewhere, better and cheaper.

LinkedIn even fails to make recommendations for using its ads to increase engagement. At the end of every month, I receive an email update telling me how my profile performed for the month. At the bottom of these reports, there's a section that says "Up your numbers." This links to a "Best Practices" page that offers tips on how to write compelling headlines and updates, and make the most of Company Page features. But there isn't a single mention of how to leverage LinkedIn's advertising options. You'd think that since the purpose of ads is typically to "up your numbers" that there would be a mention of how to do this with LinkedIn ads, but it seems LinkedIn isn't even confident enough in its advertising offerings to make them a part of these recommendations.

What About LinkedIn's New Lead Accelerator?

Last week, LinkedIn announced the launch of its "Lead Accelerator" product. Although I haven't used the service personally yet, at first glance, it looks pretty disappointing. Yes, LinkedIn's Lead Accelerator could help solve some of these issues, particularly remarketing and conversion tracking. However, as it stands, it appears to offer little more than a way to put LinkedIn ads on other sites, with an analytics layer thrown in.

LinkedIn Lead Accelerator

Personally, I'd be very hesitant about spending even more money on the LinkedIn Lead Accelerator product. If they can't (or won't) fix the major problems with their ads on their own site, what makes the idea of placing them elsewhere appealing? Broadening your reach sounds fine in principle, but expanding the range of sites that LinkedIn ads appear on doesn't do anything to address the serious shortcomings I listed above. If you're not happy with LinkedIn ads, offering an opportunity to spend even more money to show them on other sites doesn't sound like a great idea. Like I said, I haven't tried it yet, but it doesn't seem particularly compelling. Maybe Lead Accelerator will help LinkedIn ads get with the times, but for now, I'm not convinced.

LinkedIn Ads people, we need to talk. It's time for you to call a friend here and get some help with the answer. Self-serve ads could be a hugely valuable part of your business – look what it's done for your friends at Twitter, Facebook and Google. Call me or something… you're missing out on a huge opportunity, but your users and advertisers just deserve better!



Find out how you're REALLY doing in AdWords!

Watch the video below on our Free AdWords Grader:

Visit the AdWords Grader.


Melissa Mackey
Mar 17, 2015

Couldn't agree more with this post! LinkedIn Ads have not kept up with the times and at this point, don't really perform better than Facebook or Twitter, even for B2B. I was excited for Lead Accelerator until I found out that they charge $1.75 PER VISITOR to use it. So if you have 20,000 site visitors per month, you pay $40,000 per year. What?!? And there are no self-serve levers to pull. So yeah, my excitement went away pretty quick on that one. Great post!

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 17, 2015

Whoa, that's crazy!

Jason James
Mar 17, 2015

Although I do feel the targeting options within LinkedIn ads are a positive, I completely agree with the rest. LinkedIn needs to get it's act together!

Kyle Petzinger
Mar 17, 2015

Wish I could disagree with any of the above, but working with LinkedIn has just been painful. We have seen some decent quality come through, but the exorbitant price really kills any value that may be added.

This is just a theory, but I just don't think advertising is high on the priority list for LinkedIn right now. I see much more concerted efforts around their subscriptions, recruiting, and publishing platform. Their acquisition of Bizo is a big deal and as they integrate their technologies more I'm hopeful that the treasure trove of data they sit on will be more accessible.

Larry Kim
Mar 17, 2015

yeah that's kind of my thoughts too - if LI won't make advertising a priority for them, why should advertisers make it a priority for them.

Tim Cohn
Mar 17, 2015

Thanks for the warning!!!

Gabriella Sannino
Mar 17, 2015

LOL I know this is NOT supposed to be a funny post, but I did giggle a few times, including a real LOL moment when I read Quality Shmality. Like I had no idea their "Quality Score metric, considers only two things: all-time CTR and your bid" Wow that's going in depth.
Okay I know it's only Tuesday but this article made me feel like Friday... basically the only article that matters when it comes to advertising on Linkedin. Great article Larry, thanks for writing this.

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 18, 2015

Your comment made me smile. Happy early Friday!

Laura Sima-Sirban
Mar 18, 2015

Great post, but there's one more thing you could add to the list: conversion pixels - nonexistent. Every decent ad platform provides some sort of conversion tracking or conversion pixels and it's best practice for measuring campaign performance. There's a workaround by tagging URLs and using Google Analytics goals, but it's extra work compared to simply placing a pixel. That and the fact that the whole UI refreshes whenever you click on anything.

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 18, 2015

See #0, the "bonus" reason above -- #1 most annoying missing feature!

Apr 24, 2015

I just lost two hours of work loading companies in to target on linkedin because their UI is terrible.

AJ Wilcox
Mar 18, 2015

Larry, it's a great post. As a huge fan of LinkedIn Ads, though, I had to post a rebuttal:

Larry Kim
Mar 19, 2015

great write up AJ. thanks so much for sharing.

AJ Wilcox
Mar 19, 2015

You bet, Larry!

Mar 20, 2015

This is the only reason I use LinkedIn Ads: "...... the audience and direct access to highly targeted business professionals is absolutely remarkable." (from AJ's rebuttal) That's all.

Everything else that Larry mentions is totally in line with my experiences, and the ensuing frustrations of using a platform that looks, feels & works like it came out of the 1990s (okay early 2000s).

Good write-ups guys.

Mar 20, 2015

While I agree that Facebook has much more powerful features, I have to ask: How much are a bunch of fake likes really worth? Is it smarter to pay $2.50 a pop to engage a real human being in a semi relevant industry, or $0.50 a pop for robot to click your ads for you? Personally I'd rather pay to go barebones and have a hope in hell of getting somebody's business.

Joe Putnam
Mar 31, 2015

It kills me that LinkedIn expects you to pay such high amounts for CPC or CPM and clearly doesn't care at all whether or not you get a return on your advertising. If they expect people to pay those amounts, they need to make their ad placements and design more effective.

Donald Soolar
Apr 05, 2015

Agree! Now I see the reason why I don't like my ads to work with LinkedIn.

May 06, 2015

I have been so frustrated working with LinkedIn that I was about to write a similar post - but you beat me to it!

Their database is unique, they have a great potential to tap into the B2B market an advantage over Facebook and Twitter. I had high hopes for their acquisition of Bizo, being able to use the self-serve targeting off the LinkedIn Network. Or creating custom audiences to see trends. As far as I can tell, the acquisition of Bizo, did not add ANYTHING to their self-service platform but essentially developed a very clunky agency within LinkedIn - with a lot of back and forth which makes their offering difficult to use and impossible to optimize.

They do offer remarketing, but it is not differentiated at all to the audience they pull in, it's site wide - which can be accomplished with any other platform at a fraction of the cost with better - more granular targeting and behavioral options (i.e. AdWords).

It is extremely expensive too. As you mentioned the high CPMs are unreasonable but any of their Marketing Solutions, have high contract minimums with absolutely no flexibility in bids and budget segmentation.

I was shocked that when I was about to cancel my subscription to the Network Audience Display, that they started downplaying their own Campaign Manager (self-service) aspect, saying that those ads only show up when their inventory is not bought through Account Execs and Account Managers. Meaning, the campaign manager with all of this valuable targeting criteria is just left over inventory.

If they were able to offer anything like Facebook/Twitter, or combine the self-service targeting with Display advertising off the LinkedIn Network, they would be extremely profitable. But until then, I am not surprised that they are dead last.

Maneesh Choudhary
Jun 04, 2015

This is a bit harsh post. I do agree on some points but some are not 100% correct.

8) No Remarketing - LinkedIn has come up with LinkedIn Lead Accelerator, a new tool (after acquiring Bizo) to nurture your target audience. I won't comment on the tool & yes it needs to improvements but there's no other tool which can combine the powers of LinkedIn targeting and remarketing.

7) No Custom List - You can create custom list (nurture stream as they call it) in LinkedIn Lead Accelerator dashboard.

6) Lead Gen Cards - i agree, this is an area of improvement. In addition, they should have CPL bidding.

5) CPM Pricing vs. Goal-Based Pricing - Like i said in point 6, this is a way ahead.

4) Quality, Schmality - Depends on the algo of the channel. Also, it would be inappropriate to compare keywords quality score (adwords) with LinkedIn ad units. As far as rewarding goes, if your content is good, it will definitely get good CTRs.

3) Account Promotion Is Ancient and Sucks - LinkedIn does allow company follower ads. You can follow a company. Not sure what do you mean by "Like" a company.

2) Improvements? We'll Get Around To It. Or Not. - i agree, the dashboard needs a serious revision & upgrades.

1) Ridiculously High CPMs - It is inappropriate to compare CPMs from other channels with LinkedIn (where you have the option to reach your target audience).

0) Ha ha, i like the way you wrote & i fully agree with you on this point. Advanced Conversion tracking is a must have feature.

-1) i am actually surprised to see no mention of several good features: InMails, spotlight ads, audience roadblocks, content ads, LinkedIn network display etc.

-2) Watch out for more features from LinkedIn's acquisition of Elevate & Lynda.

Rick Noel
Jul 01, 2015

Excellent write-up Larry. I agree with all points. I am surprise LinkedIn, who was around before Facebook, hasn't got their ad platform down. Now we digital marketers expect to use remarketing and track conversions. How else can we hope to do even directional optimization or attribution. Maybe it's because LinkedIn doesn't really want to be an Ad Network after all. I am a huge LinkedIn fan and am proud to be among the first million users ( 745,506 in fact) and joined in June 2004. For professional networking and doing research for candidates, clients and potential partners is invaluable, but agree that they need some serious attention on their ads if they want me to shift budget away from Twitter, Facebook, Google and Bing. Did you ever end up testing their Lead Accelerator product? Would value your feedback if you had. Thanks!

Daniel Silver
Jul 23, 2015

It looks like you haven't had experience with their pushy account teams, but that could be an additional bonus reason to dislike them. :-)

I recently had the chance to reacquaint myself with LinkedIn Ads and was amazed to learn that there have been essentially no improvements in their self-service ad technology since early 2013, when I first reviewed them here:

Whether you look at targeting, tracking, or reporting, LinkedIn Ads is practically unchanged! I'm looking forward to trying out InMail, but it is yet another crapshoot. Well, test and learn...

Chris Speas
Jan 14, 2016

***Begin Rant***
Wow, I was just about to blog about this, but you just about nailed it. It's too bad LinkedIn has the "head not removed from butt" syndrome, I love the ability to target my audience by job title. Problem is, they keep telling me "audience too narrow". This is after plugging in 40 job titles across 32 countries! Finally after getting to a sufficient number to qualify for the audience (by adding a ton of irrelevant targeting), my ads start showing... and my $35/day budget is gone before I even show up for work. Can they get rid of the audience limitations and allow us to target small and relevant audiences? Quality not Quantity, right?
***End Rant***

Mar 31, 2016

Today I created an ad, and it's telling me my audience to too narrow so I can't even save the draft.
The kicker is, my audience is marked as the entire USA.
*bangs head on desk*

Haidee LeClair
Feb 10, 2016

I agree with all of this (and it's MONTHS later). The pricing models are ridiculous - you can't do anything beyond the self service unless you'll spend 25k/quarter? Sorry, no way are we committing to that without getting some guaranteed benefit. Also, why can't I edit my sponsored posts? Once they're in there, they seem to be permanent. And why, in the audience selection, can't I include "or" and "and" - so maybe i didn't get the right skills but instead I could use the job title. Seems to me this would improve the process greatly. Being able to save your audiences would be insanely helpful. I have to think they just don't care... in which case they shouldn't have advertising at all, rather than the frustrating space it's been for many years now...

Mar 30, 2016

As a former LinkedIn employee I enjoyed reading this and I agree with Larry. As an industry veteran I've started working at LinkedIn for the Marketing Solutions department and quickly realized these people have absolutely no clue about digital marketing. Would love to share some inside details with you all that will blow your mind and probably put you of advertising with them forever.

Jeremy Taylor
Apr 25, 2016

I've got one to add to the list! How is there no way to save an audience??

Every time I want to create a new campaign, I have to go through adding job titles over and over again. It wastes hours of my life, when it should be so simple to "save custom audience".

Jun 13, 2016

One More Thing:
Worst Support Ever! They are not helping advertisers. When we submit a ticket they just reply and close ticket without providing proper solution. They do not answer clearly regarding queries submitted. Even they respond lately like after 2-4 days. Worst support ever I experience in online advertising. I've posted about this on Twitter but still poor LinkedIn support.

Link to that Twitter conversation (with screenshots posted):

Jul 15, 2016

I am very disappointed because after i have added the necessary audience, it is still the same message of ''your audience is too narrow''. i think linkedin needs to do something about it. Why are you forcing me to increase my audience? let me run my campaign the way i can only guide me and not make it compulsory. so disappointing!!!!

Julie Jansen
Aug 22, 2016

thank you! I wasted a modest three figure sum and targeted 60K people around the world (specific sector). I think maybe 10 folks clicked on the ad which directed straight to my website. I consider myself a PR who knows how to spin a jazzy line and create an image that gets attention. I was extremely unimpressed and when they wrote back asking for more, I deleted the email. total waste of money.

Anjali M
Dec 07, 2016

Agree. Agree. Agree.

Apr 12, 2017

Im also starting to get annoyed and unimpressed with Linkedin....
Im trying to run a sponsored Inmail campaign and it's being a terrible first experience, appears to be a technical glitch in not being able to upload a banner image and whilst it says it's optional, it isnt as I can run the campaign /go any further!
On top of that their help centre is non responsive and there is no content online to resolve the issue so you cant even self serve to try and fix the problem!

Russell Droullard
May 03, 2017

New advertisers on LinkedIn beware: you may find false data on your ROI analysis.

Let me share my experience. I recently received my credit care statement with thousands of dollars in LinkedIn advertising charges. This must be an error, I thought, because I had not adjusted any of by budget settings for months. And my monthly spend was always a few hundred dollars.

I asked my rep about this billing error, and she confirmed that it was, in fact, accurate. How? Because of a hidden feature called "throttling". She explained to me how it works: when a new advertiser sets up an account, LinkedIn automatically underspends on whatever your daily budget you set. I had set my daily budget to $100. LinkedIn decided, without ever telling me, to only spend about $10 per day. After months of this activity, I interpreted the results to mean that I needed to modify my targeting to reach more users. So I logged into my account, reviewed my settings, but exited without changing anything.

That's when LinkedIn's insidious "throttling" mechanism kicked in. Once you log into your account after a certain number of visits, the throttling is terminated, and your advertising kicks into high gear against your daily budget. Without any warning or confirmation, LinkedIn jumped my $10/day spend to the $100/day that I set. I didn't discover this until I received my credit care statement.

Yes, I had set my budget to $100/day. But I should have been charged this amount from the FIRST DAY that I set up my campaign. Not months after the fact. LinkedIn completely falsified my spend my months, and therefore my ROI during this time was bogus. If LinkedIn had spent my daily budget every day from the first day I set up my campaign, I would've been able to adjust my spend and measure my ROI accordingly. Instead, I was given false data for months. Can you imagine Google doing something like this?

I have in writing from 2 LinkedIn employees that this "throttling" exists for new advertisers, it is undocumented, and does distort ROI metrics. So if you're setting up your first campaign, buyer beware. Log into your LinkedIn account EVERY day to monitor performance. And watch your daily spend so you are not trapped by this "throttling" feature.

Mark Churchill
Jun 01, 2017

Ha! Found this on second page by searching "intent to follow linkedin company page" in vain. Shocked how much of this I still totally agree with, 2+ years after you wrote it. On one hand I'm glad I found this “support group” – I'm not alone… But mostly I despair that we all feel the same and yet so little changes.

Is anybody at all hopeful that LinkedIn acqusition by Microsoft will change things for the better?

No, me neither…

Leave a comment