How to lower LinkedIn cost per lead by using the right tools in the right way 


LinkedIn is still the natural environment for global business, but the payoffs for various ad strategies on the platform fluctuate. Cost per lead (CPL) has been climbing since Q1 2023, particularly for IT and tech companies. As a result, many of our clients are asking for help reallocating resources for the maximum effect.

LinkedIn recently used a conversation ad campaign piloted by Actualize as one of their internal company case studies. Over nine months, we helped a Fortune 50 media & entertainment technology client achieve:

As you can imagine, we learned a lot in the process.

Lucky for you, you won’t have to fill out an online form to get the details!

What’s been WORKING WELL? 

1. Conversation ads can drive down CPL.

LinkedIn conversation ads are not a new feature, but they’re still new to many companies and can be effective if done right. Although these ads might conjure icky feelings among some users, there is a huge difference between doing them tactfully and making them creepy and invasive. 

A conversation ad is just what it sounds like: The ad comes from an individual, usually with an informal tone, and offers a low-friction CTA — say, a content asset download. Immediately after download, the recipient gets a 1:1 personalized reply from the original sender.

We tracked the CPL in the aforementioned campaign for nine months, and it held steady in the neighborhood of $20–$30 rather than the $150 the client was experiencing before. We advised them to make sure the initial conversation ad comes from a project owner or SME rather than sales. That way, recipients feel like they’re getting a straight line to the folks who can really help them.

If your CRM has LinkedIn form integration, we also recommend adding an automated email on top of LinkedIn’s response flow. That way, you can offer a) a new, personalized touchpoint outside of LinkedIn and b) another way to deliver even more useful assets/thought leadership, with greater customization than you get with LinkedIn itself.

2. LinkedIn Live events can be flexible and effective.

Ads driving to LinkedIn Live events hosted by a client on their profile have also shown promise. These are direct, low-friction CTAs that don’t require recipients to leave the LinkedIn environment. Although LinkedIn doesn’t provide registration lists, presenters can still download them if they use a third-party platform for streaming.  

For example, StreamYard allows clients to set up prerecorded LinkedIn Live events and then download registrant lists after the fact. You get the comfort of meeting people where they are without sacrificing the registration data. 

Regardless of your CRM or other tools used, make sure that if you deploy a prerecorded event as “live,” a knowledgeable team member is there to answer chat questions during the event. That’s a significant draw to anything portrayed as live, and the audience might feel duped if there’s no real-time interactivity.

3. Account-based marketing (ABM) works if it’s focused.

Most of the enterprise-level clients we work with on LinkedIn ads use an ABM approach to demand gen, and we’ve found that it’s most effective when it focuses on company-specific list targeting rather than whitespace targeting (using LinkedIn’s filters to look for any companies in X field at X company size, for example). 

Also, make sure to include exclusion lists in your targeting to avoid leads from companies that are irrelevant (e.g., partners, competitors, etc.). Note that company lists, exclusion lists, and contact lists are all things clients need to identify internally and then manually upload into LinkedIn — LinkedIn doesn’t do it for you. There are good integrations that allow you to send over third-party lists in real time for targeting (for example, Sprinklr integration with LinkedIn audiences).

4. Effective targeting improves LinkedIn ads.

Retargeting is not a new concept, but doing it effectively within LinkedIn requires a good understanding of the platform. 

A great example is retargeting using repurposed video assets. We’ve had great success leveraging pithy snippets from webinars or previously published video content. These snippets are great for driving to the original asset or something new that is supported by the original asset. Clients have been thrilled to see their “old” video content giving them new value and longer shelf lives.

This video retargeting approach varies according to the video itself. For example, viewers of shorter video ads (<30 seconds) should typically be retargeted by choosing “Watched at least 50% of video in past 90 days,” while viewers of longer video ads (>30 seconds) should be retargeted by choosing “Watched 25% of video in past 90 days.” 

This is done by creating a specific “video views” objective ad campaign with key snippets or videos and then retargeting with lead gen gated asset ads in a secondary campaign.

Other worthwhile retargeting tactics include:

  • Event ad retargeting: Targets those who attended a LinkedIn Live event (see above).
  • Lead gen form retargeting: Targets people who have opened a lead gen form but not submitted it. The retarget can use different ad designs/images — or even different lead gen form copy altogether — to pull the person across the finish line. 
  • Contact list retargeting: Uses leads from a separate digital tactic, like content syndication or your CRM, who you’ve defined as hot. This might involve your own analysis and a manual list upload, but it can unlock more multi-touch engagements to extend your message.
  • LinkedIn Insight tag: With the LinkedIn Insight tag on the advertiser’s website, you can retarget page visitors and set up audiences based on content interest.
5. Thought leader ads are a promising new addition.

A thought leader ad is a new ad type that became available in 2023 and has shown a lot of promising results in our tests.

Instead of boosting a company page post, thought leader ads allow you to boost employee posts while still maintaining all the targeting/audience capabilities of normal LinkedIn ad campaigns. This type of ad can only be used with brand awareness or engagement objectives, and the employee post must have a single image or video associated with their post in order to be eligible for boosting.

We saw great results using thought leader ads from company SMEs/product owners promoting new blogs (especially ones they wrote!), assets, upcoming webinars (especially ones they appeared in!), and upcoming events. These ads created more authentic awareness compared to simply boosting a company post or running a traffic ad with the same content. 

We tested this with multiple enterprise-level clients and found that, compared to standard LinkedIn engagement campaigns (boosted posts, traffic ads, etc.), thought leader ads generated 2–3X higher average CTRs. 

We also noted a few key patterns and quirks pertaining to thought leader ads:

  • Thought leader ads tended to garner fewer impressions compared to standard ads, but click engagement was significantly higher.
  • Only employees who have their profile associated with the same company as the ad campaign manager’s company profile are eligible to have their posts sponsored. This is important for larger companies with multiple company pages (subsidiaries, etc.). 
  • Employees must first approve their post to be sponsored before a sponsored thought leader ad can go live.

What’s not working?

Throughout 2023, traffic-based campaigns started to show their limitations. The goal of these is often lead gen, but hoping that “somebody from the internet” fills out a form hasn’t worked well. It’s a weak tactic imported from strategies past. 

Why the change? Most people scrolling through LinkedIn won’t be ready to submit a form for a meeting request because of a) where they are in the funnel and b) the nature of the medium itself. People on LinkedIn are often there for a specific task already, or they want to consume content rather than setting up meetings on their mobile. 

Further friction comes from ads leading to a separate landing page with a form fill. This often imposes too much work on the user; people expect to be reached in the environment they’re already in — not asked to go somewhere else to become your lead.

We recently corroborated this with a campaign that used a native LinkedIn lead gen form instead of sending users away to a separate landing page. In-platform, the lead gen form auto-populates the user’s info (removing friction) and doesn’t require venturing off to a new website (removing further friction). 

The caveat here is that the email addresses received from these forms won’t necessarily be viable business emails — they will likely be the personal email addresses tied to people’s LinkedIn account, unless they’ve added their business email to their profile. And adding a business email field on the form can create a significant drop in lead volume, since it’s an added task. 

There are scary data scraping processes that can map personal email addresses to business email addresses on the back end, but those aren’t part of Actualize’s approach.

Bottom line: It’s about user friction.

You can see some patterns in our findings. One of them is that LinkedIn users (like internet users in general) are willing to do less and less work on your behalf. 

The approaches we’ve described above create those outcomes by leveraging specific capabilities native to LinkedIn and available with other tools. These are strange times on the internet, for sure, but not necessarily dire times. They just require us all to pivot according to the needs of our audience and use our best tools correctly.