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Show Transcript

Do you ever feel excluded? Well, with LinkedIn Ads, that’s a benefit. We’re talking audience exclusions on this week’s episode of the LinkedIn Ads Show.

Welcome to the LinkedIn Ads Show. Here’s your host, AJ Wilcox.

Hey, they’re LinkedIn Ads fanatics. As he said, I’m AJ Wilcox and I’m the host of the weekly podcast, the LinkedIn Ads show. And I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome you to the show for advanced B2B marketers who are looking to evolve towards LinkedIn Ads, true pro status.Today we’re talking about audience exclusions and all the awesome stuff that you can do with them. Plus some pitfalls to watch out for. Because not all exclusions are created equal.

All right. Do you have a question, a review or feedback for the show? Just message me on LinkedIn, or you can email us at And send me an audio file or a link to one, and I’ll play them right here on the show. And just let me know if you want me to keep you anonymous, or share your details, and I’m happy to shout you out.So record yourself asking a question, or commenting on something from a past episode, and I’ll aim to include you right here in the show. Alright, with that being said, let’s hit it.

There are some amazing things that you can do on LinkedIn Ads with exclusions, that you just can’t do reliably on any other digital marketing platform out there. First off, I love excluding competitors from our ads. I mentioned a couple episodes ago that I kind of grew up in the world of digital marketing with Google ads. And with Google ads, there’s a big challenge that we’re all bidding on the same words, the same key terms. And of course, everyone wants to click on each other’s ads to charge them money. And I haven’t yet come across a reliable way with Google ads. To keep your competitors from clicking on your ads and charging you a lot of money. But with LinkedIn, this is very easy.And the way we do it is we add company names as an exclusion to our campaigns. And it’s this simple. You take the names of your competitors, their company names, and enter them in as an exclusion. Now, there are two ways of excluding company names on LinkedIn. The first is you go into company names and type them all in individually, which can be tedious if there’s a lot, but if it’s just a few, it’s no big deal, or if you have a lot of competitors, you can upload them as a company list, as a matched audience, and then exclude that list from all of your campaigns. And then you can say bye bye to spending money on your competitors.

Now, next up is current customers. I absolutely love excluding current customers because if you’ve already acquired someone, it doesn’t make sense to keep spending money on them for the most part. So what you do is you go into your CRM, get a list of all of your current customers, and then add those into your campaigns as an exclusion. The same thing goes with your past customers as well. If you already have a connection there, if you’ve already acquired them, you probably don’t want to keep paying for their clicks.

The next exclusion is your employees. Now, with this list that you have of your, let’s say, current and past customers, and your competitors, you can add your own company in there as well, to keep your own employees from seeing your ads. Because I’m sure you don’t want your own employees clicking on the ads and charging you money. So those were definitely some favorite exclusions. But we also use them functionally for things like graduating people down the retargeting stages, and I get asked about this a lot. Technically, how does this work? How do you graduate someone from one stage to another? Well, your very first stage is your cold stage. This is where you’re leveraging LinkedIn’s native targeting to find exactly the right people who maybe haven’t heard of you or aren’t yet in your ecosystem. Then what you do is you create a retargeting audience of anyone who’s interacted with or converted from that stage. If this is video ads, it might be anyone who’s watched at least 50 percent of one of these video ads. If it’s single image ads, it might be anyone who’s clicked on the link, or maybe even anyone who has interacted with the ad by liking or commenting, or clicking.

Whatever that first stage interaction is, what you do is you create a retargeting audience of that, and then you exclude that retargeting audience from your cold stage campaign. So what happens is you’re targeting someone who may not be familiar with your brand. And as soon as they click, they enter that engagement, retargeting audience, and then they’re immediately excluded from that stage of ads. Then you create another campaign. This will be your second stage. And you can think of it like maybe a middle of funnel, . And your middle stage is simply targeting the retargeting audience from your initial stage, from your cold stage or your top of funnel. And then you do the same approach here, where you create a retargeting audience of anyone who’s interacted with that second stage, and then you exclude that retargeting audience so that they graduate from the second stage as soon as they’ve interacted with the ads. And then your third stage, this is where you’re targeting only the retargeting audience from your second stage. And that’s it. Now you’ve created a three step funnel that walks people all the way from never heard of you, to now they’ve interacted several times, that you could probably consider them more bottom of funnel. And of course, it’s up to you to decide how long you want someone to dwell at each stage. Maybe you don’t want to graduate someone down as soon as they’ve interacted with an ad. Maybe you want multiple interactions. And you can totally do that by creating additional retargeting audiences and additional steps that someone has to go through.

Another kind of exclusion that I love doing is excluding those who’ve already converted on my ads. And this works by creating a conversion for every kind of conversion event that you have, and then excluding that conversion event from any of your campaign audiences. This is really nice to do, because after someone converts, you really don’t want them seeing the same ads over and over, because they’re going to keep saying to themselves, I already converted on that, leave me alone.

Another kind of exclusion that’s great to do, excluding people in order to refine your targeting. In episode 54, we talked about going into your ad demographics, and looking for elements of people that aren’t really a good fit for what you do, and then adding those as exclusions. This is a little bit more trial and error. It happens as you launch things, and keep collecting data, and then refining along the way. After you’ve been advertising, you check your demographics, and then slowly add exclusions to keep making your audience tighter and better. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t use these from the get go. A lot of times we understand certain elements of who someone is professionally, that we know they’re not going to be a good fit for our product. For instance, if you sell a marketing technology, but it’s only useful in house, it’s not useful for agencies, one thing you can do is go into your industries and exclude the marketing and advertising industry. Because that’s what advertising agencies fall under. And you don’t have to waste your time by getting leads from ad agencies and saying, Ooh, how do we get rid of these folks?

All right, here’s a quick sponsor break, and then we’ll dive into some of the pitfalls that you can fall into by trying to use exclusions incorrectly.

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Okay, so backtracking a little bit. There are three types of exclusions that you can add in LinkedIn. The first is what I would call a native exclusion. And this is where you go to exclude some type of targeting that LinkedIn is already providing you, like excluding an industry or excluding a job title, something along those lines.

The next is excluding lists. Lists are found underneath your audiences in a section called matched audiences. And this is where you can upload lists of individuals or company names.

And the third is a retargeting audience of some kind. And I would even throw into this bucket conversions as well. Because retargeting and conversion tracking under the hood are actually exactly the same thing. We just use them in different places. It is important to note when you’re building your targeting within a LinkedIn ads campaign, your geographical exclusions are actually in a totally different place than all of your other exclusions. You can’t miss it. Geography comes first, and that’s where you can add your inclusions and exclusions there. Now, there’s something that you really need to understand about how exclusions work on LinkedIn. And that starts with an understanding that many individuals on LinkedIn have multiple concurrent positions. So, whenever you’re targeting or especially excluding elements of individuals, LinkedIn is going to match any of the elements of whichever position. So let’s say that you have two positions. Maybe in your day job, you’re seen as a director. But on your other one, you’re a board member, which maybe I haven’t checked to see what LinkedIn calls board member, but maybe that’s like a VP or C level. So now whenever you’re excluding something about an individual’s position or experience, LinkedIn will exclude them by whichever position matches that trait. So if you’re looking to target VP and above seniority. You’re going to get yourself from your board position. But if your full time job, you’re actually a director, then you’re not getting the right person. Maybe now you’re starting to understand why sometimes you get lower quality leads coming through even though your targeting is great. So let’s say that you want to get rid of those kinds of leads. So instead of targeting higher seniorities, You’re going to exclude lower level seniorities. It sure makes sense, right? Well, the way it works is totally opposite. If you’re going to exclude anyone, let’s say, director and below, now you’re not able to be targeted at all. Now, this metaphor might not be in great taste, but we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And it doesn’t mean that it’s bad to exclude by seniorities, but I just want you to understand what it is that you’re getting yourself into, what you’re signing up for by excluding seniorities rather than targeting specifically larger ones.

Here’s an extra special one. When you are targeting by company size, only companies that have that size listed on their company page are going to make it into your targeting, which makes perfect sense. But what you may not know, there are a lot of companies out there, who have not gone out of their way to go create a company page on LinkedIn.

So let’s say you specifically want to target larger companies. The right way to do this is to go and specifically say, yes, I want companies that are larger than, let’s say, 1,000 employees. But you might be tempted to go the opposite way, and that’s going to exclude any company that’s smaller than 1,000 employees. But you don’t want to do this, because what’s actually happening is you are certainly excluding those who are known, like 1 through 1,000 employees, but you’re inherently including the unknown company sizes, which tend to be smaller companies, and you may have just shot yourself in the foot . Now, if you want to specifically target smaller companies, this can work to your advantage. Because if you are excluding all larger company sizes, you’re left with those that are known and smaller. But you’re also left with the unknowns, which also tend to be smaller and because other advertisers aren’t able to target them specifically, you might find these to be much less competitive and hence less costly.

What about excluding by title? Well, LinkedIn has these things called super titles, and they’re kind of confusing. The way it works is rather than LinkedIn making a catalog of every single job title that someone has, what they do is they group them into supertitles. These are groups of really similar titles that they can pretty much call the same thing. And this makes a lot of sense. Let’s say your co worker calls themselves a demand gen manager. And you called yourself a manager of demand generation. Well, of course, it would be really annoying for advertisers to have to spell out every individual version of demand generation manager. So LinkedIn put them together in a super title, but there are inaccuracies here. And the one that we’ve called out before that we’ve noticed is that LinkedIn thinks that marketing specialist and CMO are the same thing. We found this because we were targeting CMOs and we noticed a whole bunch of people with the job title marketing specialist were getting into our campaign. So we go to exclude that job title. And as soon as we excluded marketing specialist from that CMO campaign, our whole audience disappeared, and immediately it went from 80, 000 being nice and healthy to zero members, too small to actually target. I don’t recommend very often excluding by job title anyway. It’s kind of a last resort, because job titles are so specific, and if you’re trying to get rid of a certain class of professional, it’s usually much more effective to exclude them by things like job functions and seniorities. Something much broader. You add one exclusion, rather than having to come up with a whole list of job titles to exclude. I want to caution you against excluding audiences so much that all of a sudden the campaign just gets whittled down to nothing. We’ve found that campaigns that have, let’s say, less than 20,000 people being targeted end up being pretty much unmanageable. The reason why is because they’re so small that you really have to bid really high in order to capture enough people from this audience. And at the same time, there are so few of these people online at any given time that it’s actually really hard to spend much budget at all. I really like audiences that are between about 20,000 on the small side to 80,000 on the high side. You can, of course, go larger, but I don’t love LinkedIn’s recommendations of 300,000 and above, just for reasons that we’ve talked about previously on the show.

I also want to caution you against excluding job titles that could still be relevant. Every once in a while, we’ll see campaigns where someone excluded a job title because maybe one or two poor quality leads came in with that title. And it’s definitely okay to cut a few things here and there. But you don’t want to add, like, 20 exclusions to every campaign that whittle this audience down to where it’s just not large enough to have any effect at all. And you are throwing out a lot of baby with that bathwater.

Just a reminder, people’s careers are not that cut and dry. We find that your scalability of your account is really hampered by these crazy blanket exclusions. When you just add exclusion after exclusion, trying to get your audience exactly right, And you end up getting it so tight that if you decide to expand your campaigns and try to scale them up when maybe you have more budget or your goals increase, and now you’re really stuck, you don’t have much scalability. But if you have exceptionally small budgets, I am a fan of chopping these campaigns up with lots of exclusions, because it’s okay to throw a lot of baby out with that bathwater, because you’re going to be left with just the baby, if that makes any sense.

But as a reminder, that’s only the really small tight budgets. But if you’re running an evergreen account where you’re purposely trying to stay in front of your ideal target audience as often as you can to stay top of mind, then yeah, you’re gonna want these larger audiences and you’re not going to want to encumber them with so many exclusions that you’re left without that scalability.

There are a couple interesting things about exclusions that you may not know. First off, LinkedIn was worried about people being able to exclude certain racial groups, or sexual orientations, or anything like that that could be prejudicial in nature. And you could totally see people joining groups on LinkedIn around their skin color, or nationality, or sexual orientation. So LinkedIn basically said, all right, we’re not going to allow people to exclude by group name. So we can always target by group name, but we can’t exclude by it. And I think this makes sense, but I am always sad to, to lose one of those cool, exclusionary tools that we could use, but it’s just another case where one bad apple ruins the whole bunch.

A lot of people figure this one out the hard way. You can’t exclude a job title if you’re targeting by either job function or seniority, and vice versa. You can’t exclude a job function or seniority when you’re using job title targeting. And the simple reason for this is that your job title actually determines your job function and your seniority. LinkedIn looks at your job title to determine what function and seniority you are . And so for that reason, it wouldn’t make sense to be able to exclude part of the same thing. I also want to caution you against excluding by skills that are too broad. So, for instance, if you’re explicitly trying to target marketers, and so you decide, hey, marketers aren’t salespeople, so, I’m going to exclude the skill of sales. Well, what ends up happening is that there are a lot of marketers out there who add sales related skills to their profile and vice versa. A lot of salespeople who have marketing related skills on their profile. So you end up throwing a lot of baby out with that bathwater by excluding by those skills. You could get really specific and exclude deeper sales skills, like, maybe sales lead qualification or some skill like that. But that’s very specific, and it takes quite a few of those to try to get rid of those folks, so I’ve found blanket exclusions like job function and seniority to be a lot more effective here. So for instance, if you want salespeople out of your campaign, it’s much better to exclude the job functions of, let’s say, sales and business development. We kind of touched on this before. But there are some things that are safe to exclude. That would be anything dealing with the profile and not the position that they hold. For instance, your geography has nothing to do with your position. Skills also don’t have anything to do with their position, because people can add skills from before in other positions. Same thing with groups. You can join groups outside of a specific position, but of course we know that we can’t exclude by group. If we could, it would fit into this easy to exclude and safe to exclude category. But that leaves the kinds of traits that are not safe to exclude without throwing a lot of baby out with that bathwater. Anything dealing with their position that they currently hold is not very safe to exclude by because of the reason we talked about that a lot of people have multiple positions. Now, if you’re uncomfortable having to deal with this, like targeting people with multiple positions, you can actually talk to your LinkedIn rep and have them add a custom segment as an exclusion. Because LinkedIn does have a custom segment of anyone who has multiple concurrent positions. If you do that, you will be throwing a lot of baby out with that bathwater. But some people just prefer to have cleaner targeting data.

Alright, I’ve got the episode resources for you coming right up, so stick around.

Thank you for listening to the LinkedIn Ads Show. Hungry for more? AJ Wilcox, take it away.

On episode 115, we talked about specific use cases for when you might want to target and when you might want to exclude your current customers. So check that one out.

We also mentioned the demographics episode, episode 54, about how you can go and check to see which demographics are interacting with your ads that you may not actually want as part of that audience. Whether you’re just starting out with LinkedIn ads or are ready to go pro, you’ll want to go join the fanatics community. This is There you’ll have access to all four of our courses, taking you from absolute beginner to total expert. Plus you’ll be in the community with other like minded LinkedIn Ads experts who are bouncing ideas off of each other, and you can collaborate and find what’s working best and what else you can try. In the community, we help each other be successful and it’s amazing. If this is your first time listening, please hit that subscribe button. We’re excited to have you here, . But if this is not your first time listening, please do go and rate and review the podcast, especially on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. That’s by far the best way that you can say thank you for us putting all of this content together every week. With any questions, suggestions, or corrections, reach out to us at And with that being said, we’ll see you back here next week. I’m cheering you on in your LinkedIn Ads initiatives.