Getting Around LinkedIn PPC Ads’ Poor UK Geographical Targeting Options

Update (15th April 2015) – I’ve just been alerted to the fact that Cardiff is now a target location (yay), making this entire post pretty much obsolete (boo)! Good news though.

Cardiff panoramic shot
I do a bit of work for Welsh ICE (as mentioned before) and recently looked into the possibility of launching a LinkedIn Ads campaign for them.

Fingers on map imageAssuming that it would have similar-ish geographical targeting options to Google AdWords (Google’s PPC platform), which allows you to target a city/town or a radius around any point (such as a postcode), I was surprised to learn that – as far as the UK is concerned – you can only target 30 towns/cities, ranging from Birmingham to Twickenham, and containing no Welsh or Northern Irish locations such as Cardiff or Belfast. Either side of where Cardiff would (should?) be, we have Cambridge and Chelmsford, the latter of which has half the population of Cardiff, and Hemel Hempstead (another one in the list) only has a quarter of the population of Cardiff. (Wikipedia population links for Cardiff, Chelmsford and Hemel Hempstead.)

LinkedIn Ads UK Location Targeting screenshot
Aside from the fact that it seems rather odd that they only offer a select few UK towns/cities, I honestly think that LinkedIn are shooting themselves in the foot by not offering more. While LinkedIn’s main focus is on B2B, and a lot of UK B2B businesses could probably cater to a UK-wide customer base, there are still businesses who are restricted by geography. For instance, for Welsh ICE, while they’d certainly like to attract more businesses to Wales as a whole, it makes sense to mainly concentrate on the South Wales region, given that they offer office space and co-working facilities. Similarly, I also have a Cardiff-based cleaning client and a storage facility provider client with two locations in South Wales – they’re only going to be interested in receiving leads from South Wales-based prospects as well, as they are also pretty much limited by geography. In other words, there could be a lot more businesses out there that’d happily use LinkedIn Ads if they sorted this out and improved their location targeting options…

However I dug a little deeper, looking at the LinkedIn Ads system’s other targeting settings, and while it’s not foolproof, I found a way that Welsh ICE can still target on a (sort of) geographical basis. Here’s how:

1) Target local/regional university graduates

A lot of people stay and live in their university town after graduating, so one way could be to target the alumni of particular universities. For the Welsh ICE campaign, we could focus on Cardiff Uni, Swansea Uni, Cardiff Met Uni, Uni of South Wales, etc. By doing so, they’re effectively saying: “you’ve graduated in South Wales… now why not start a business here?”

LinkedIn Ads School Targeting screenshot
This isn’t a foolproof approach, given that you could have someone who graduated from Cardiff Uni but now lives in the Scottish Highlands for example, but it’s better than nothing and a good starting point.

2) Target local/regional LinkedIn groups

Additionally or separately, you could also consider targeting group members of local/regional LinkedIn groups. For Welsh ICE, a quick LinkedIn group search reveals the Cardiff Entrepreneur Network (56 members), Social Enterprise Networks Wales (334 members) and Young Enterprise Wales (20 members), to name a few.

LinkedIn Ads Group Targeting screenshot
If the title of the group actually contains your location (as it does with “Cardiff” and “Wales” in this case), then you can assume that the members are very likely to be based in the area, too. Again, it’s not foolproof (e.g. someone could move halfway across the country and forget to remove themselves from their old LinkedIn groups), but it’s a strong indication that they might be local to the area.

LinkedIn Ads Low Audience Error Message screenshot
A quick note about this particular targeting tactic: it makes sense to target as many relevant groups as you can humanly find, otherwise your targeting numbers are going to be very, very low – this is bearing in mind that LinkedIn Ads won’t let you continue with the process unless you’re targeting enough people (I think that it’s at least 1,000, otherwise you get an error message saying: “Your campaign is not targeted to enough members. Please select a larger target audience”)…

3) Cross-reference by skill type

In addition to doing one of the two targeting techniques described above (or both!), I recommend cross-referencing them by skill type. So in Welsh ICE’s case, only targeting people who have “Entrepreneurship,” etc. as a skill on their profile.

The great thing about LinkedIn Ads’ skill search is that it opens up suggestions, so it’s really easy to find lots of different types really quickly. Typing in “Entrepreneurship” opens up closely-related skills including “Small Business,” “Internet Entrepreneur,” “Start-up Ventures” and “Angel Investing” – all good potential skills to include in your ad campaign.

LinkedIn Ads Skill Targeting screenshot

Additional (optional) tactics

A few other things to take into consideration…

It’s important to keep the geographical targeting to your country (in this case, “United Kingdom”). Otherwise, to reiterate (but alter) my earlier uni graduate example, you could end up with someone who graduated from Cardiff University who now lives in China. At least limiting it to UK-only folk will eliminate those who live internationally, and have even less of a chance of becoming a Welsh ICE member.

Another option you have at your disposal is to target particular companies. It would probably take a while to set up, but if you have, say, 10-20 companies that you’d love as clients, you could enter them all in and try and target them that way – especially if they’re larger companies (which would get past the 1,000 people minimum, if you’re happy to target anyone/everyone within them).

To recap (using Welsh ICE as a case study)

So if I do the following for Welsh ICE…

Location: United Kingdom

School: Cardiff University, Swansea University, University of Wales, University of South Wales, etc…

Skill: Entrepreneurship, Social Entrepreneurship, Start-ups, Small Business, Angel Investing, Creative Entrepreneurship, Young Entrepreneurship, Early Stage Startups, etc…

Group: Cardiff Entrepreneur Network, Young Enterprise – Wales – Cardiff and the Vale, Cardiff Business Group, Business Scene South Wales, etc…

…Then we’re still targeting less than 1,000 people, which isn’t enough according to LinkedIn. That’s no problem though, as we could consider removing the group targeting, which opens it up to 6,155, or removing the uni (school) targeting, which opens it up to 3,150. If excessive AdWords use has taught me anything, it’s that we can even consider trialling (or split-testing) both routes: we could run the former (schools only) for two weeks, then the latter (groups only) for two weeks, and compare the results to see which one performs better. Something to think about.

We haven’t launched the LinkedIn Ads campaign for Welsh ICE just yet (it’s still under consideration, based on all of the above), but it’s good to know that there’s a way around their system’s currently poor geographical targeting in the UK. Knowing my luck, they’ll update and improve it the day after I publish this post(!), but hopefully this will be helpful to people in the meantime…

[Image credits – Cardiff panoramic shot: Nicholas Kaye; fingers on map: Amit Patel]


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