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Covid19’s Effect on LinkedIn Ads

Bidding and Budgeting

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Follower Ads (Red call-out boxes)
Follower Ads impressions were decimated on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Since these are only served on Desktop, it shows how few people were on LinkedIn on their desktops. The other ad formats didn’t see such large decreases, telling us that members largely switched over to mobile during the holidays.

Follower Ads costs skyrocketed on holidays. An indication of what happens to prices when to the audience vacates the platform while advertisers are still bidding.

Single Image Sponsored Content (Purple call-out boxes)
Single Image Sponsored Content impressions were above average the day before Thanksgiving but dropped to 80% and 68% during and after. Signals many people taking time off work and not spending as much time on LinkedIn.

The day before and day of Christmas was interesting to see an increase in impressions, although these were weekend days which are traditionally lower anyway and wouldn’t be hard to beat. The day after New Years (January 2 nd ) saw 17% higher-than-average usage, which is what we expect to see.

Costs around Thanksgiving skyrocketed to 35%, 52%, and 69% above average, making for very expensive traffic. Around Christmas, costs were elevated 3-16%, which is up, but not egregious.

New Years costs were really surprising though. They actually dropped from 1-33% of average, which is what we usually see after the New Year, but to see the diminished costs during the holiday was interesting. We would guess this is due to advertisers pulling back; although I don’t understand why advertisers would pull back en masse for New Years but not at Christmas just a week before, unless it had something to do with running out of budgets by the end of the month and needing to pull back.

Video Ads (Blue call-out boxes)
The day before Thanksgiving was pretty much business as usual, but we definitely saw fewer impressions the day of and the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve was up 6% but the day of and the day after were down to 81% and 54% of average.

New Years Eve had lower impressions which we’d expect given the holiday, but similar to Sponsored Content (since they share the same inventory) were up 11% and 7% respectively.

Thanksgiving CPMs were elevated 3-31%, but Christmas did not follow suit, strangely. Christmas CPMs actually dropped 11-32%, which I don’t have an explanation for.

New Years CPMs also dropped significantly, but we expect that for the same reasons we see decreased costs around New Years every year. But a drop between 50%-71% is huge!

After New Years Analysis

Unsurprisingly, impressions and clicks increased after the New Year (1/3-1/5) since we’re back to work and all rested up from time off for the holidays. 

What is surprising is that costs on Follower Ads were still elevated by 11% even after the holidays.


Show Transcript

What happens to your LinkedIn Ads on holidays and vacation? Well, it’s a total pain to calculate. So I went ahead and did it. I can do hard things. We’re talking a holiday ad performance on this week’s episode of the LinkedIn Ads Show.

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

Hey there, LinkedIn Ads fanatics, I’m sure you’ve wondered if you should pause your ads on holidays, or just let them ride? Well, I’m a total data junkie so I took it upon myself to crunch the data and find out and it gets juicy. We’re gonna walk through it and analysis that I did over a lot of data to tell you conclusively whether or not you should be advertising on LinkedIn over holidays. And make sure to stick around until the end for an extra bonus analysis that I did about ad performance after the new year. All right, let’s hit it. If you’ve been listening for a while, you may remember Episode 32, where I did a whole analysis of what happened to LinkedIn Ads availability, and pricing during the COVID 19 pandemic. And I really enjoyed doing that study. It was a ton of data crunching, but a lot of fun. Well, and we get asked all the time by clients whether or not we should be pausing over the holidays, especially in November and December here in the US, where we have Thanksgiving and Christmas, followed closely by New Years. In the past, we’ve oftentimes given the advice to pause entirely over those holidays. And there are a lot of reasons why. The first is that it’s towards the end of a quarter and a month so these larger companies are bidding more aggressively to try to finish strong. And this is going to lead to increased competition, which means you’re going to pay more at these times. It also happens to be the end of a year. So budgets that are use it or lose it, they have to be spent. So advertisers are again bidding up and this is leading to increased competition and costs. And meanwhile, people are traveling and taking more time off due to the holidays. This leads to less time spent on LinkedIn, which means fewer impressions to go around. And so more advertisers fighting over those. It’s really important to understand that what you pay on LinkedIn, it’s all an auction. And the auction is driven by supply and demand. The supply is the people on LinkedIn that are logged in and ready to receive ad impressions. The demand is our demand as marketers trying to get in front of them. And we’re bidding in order to do so. So what we pay right now is this interplay of people being on LinkedIn, and US advertisers trying to get in front of them. So when the supply of LinkedIn visitors decreases, all else held equal, our costs are gonna go up. But in this case, where your visitors decrease, and competition increases, it means your overall advertiser costs are going to skyrocket, which is obviously not great if you’re trying to be efficient with your advertising. If you’re using manual bidding during these times, you kind of have a hedge, or a bit of insurance when costs are going up. Because when costs rise, you’re naturally just going to lose more auctions. And so when those costs get over your bids, you just naturally leave the auction. And then of course, when costs come back down, you’ll be back to receiving traffic the way that you were. If you’re using LinkedIn’s maximum delivery of bidding, though, you’re just going to ride that wave of high costs all the way up, and then back down, and you’ll be subjected to whatever is happening on the platform. Costs can spike with no warning whatsoever. And those high costs are especially a problem since the platform doesn’t allow you to do any sort of timing of your ads. So if you want to pause your campaigns or pause certain ads, it has to be done manually. Or in our case, we ended up building an internal de partying and ad scheduling tool. So that that wouldn’t be a downside for us. But we realize most people aren’t going to have something like that at their disposal. And we’ve talked a lot about costs increasing, which is totally a huge factor in whether you should be advertising over the holidays. But there’s something else to keep in mind. It’s lead quality, we found something that is the same every single year. And that is any demo or call scheduled, 95% of time it’s going to get pushed back to after the new year. Just think about it. How many calls have you said, hey, let’s push this into the new year. Well, now you’ve pushed a meeting forward potentially several weeks. So by the time you actually go to do that meeting, you’ve most likely forgotten entirely who this person was and why you wanted to talk to them. So over the holidays, if you’re paying more for those leads, just to leave them cooling over the holidays. Obviously, it’s not a great combination. And this is what we’ve seen in past years. But my question was, does it still hold up today? I always like to test my assumptions and see what platform changes have happened. I was actually spurred on to do this because I had six different LinkedIn reps, all pushing really hard, saying that we should be advertising over the holidays. Some even went as far to say that costs drop over the holidays. This wasn’t the case from what I’ve experienced in the past so I really want to do this analysis. And I’m ashamed to say that this analysis took 31 hours of my life, I started and it was pretty straightforward. And then I kept coming across cool data points that I wanted to study and dive deeper into, I had to restart three times. And I’m certain that if I were really really insanely good at Excel, this probably wouldn’t have taken this long. But let’s jump into the methodology.

I had some requirements. First of all, we needed these accounts to be decent spending. But they also had to be spending similarly. So we hand picked accounts that were spending between about $15,000 to $20,000 a month. They also had to be really similar in brand strength so we picked very well known companies in their space. And all of these accounts happened to be in the Fortune 1,000. We also wanted to make sure that the ads were similar in focus, and they were using similar ad types. We didn’t want to combine one account that was running text ads, and another one running sponsored messaging, and then another one running sponsored content. We pretty much scored the jackpot, because we had five accounts that match this criteria. They were good spenders, but they were also similar. They were all Fortune 1000. So they’re gonna be really well known across the board. They were all running the same ad formats, we really couldn’t pass this opportunity on. As we dove in, though, we realized that there were several variables that had to be controlled for. The first was whether or not this was a weekend or a weekday. For example, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, we’re all on weekends this year. We didn’t want to compare a holiday to a normal weekday, or even a combined average of weekdays and weekends, since weekends and weekdays both act very differently on LinkedIn. Plus, the days after each of these holidays were a weekday. It was Monday. And of course, we needed to be able to tease out the difference between a holiday Monday and a normal Monday. Thanksgiving was really kind to us, it made sure that the holiday itself as well as the days before and after were all weekdays, which made it much easier to analyze. Oh boy, I wish I could have just thrown out weekends and weekdays differences, it would have saved me a lot of time. The next variable we had to control for was ad type. If you were to calculate the click through rate across multiple ad formats, let’s say for instance, sponsored content and text ads, the average would be absolutely meaningless. You can’t average sponsored content and text ads together. Sponsored content has like a .44% average click through rate, while text ads have a .025%. So text ads have a click through rate that’s like 1/12 of the average sponsored content. Plus text ads show way more impressions because there’s not much of a frequency cap. And so if you’re showing both of those ad formats to the same size of audience, your text ads are going to show a lot more impressions. And that would totally sway your click through rate to a much lower number that really wouldn’t make sense. So all this to say that in this analysis, I had to break out the different ad formats so that cost per click and cost per impression would actually be meaningful. For metrics to track I knew costs, were going to be the one that was my main concern. And I started out by using cost per click. And then I realized occasionally there were days with no clicks, and then I’d have a zero in a denominator. And nobody likes seeing error divided by zero in their Excel. So I ended up adding in CPM as well. And it was nice to show them alongside. And then CPM never has a problem with a zero and a denominator. And the final variable to control for was account changes. These had to be accounts that couldn’t make any major changes to adds to bidding and budgets. And in cases in these accounts where there was a major change, we just threw out any day where those changes were made. The result of all of this was over 121,000 rows of data to be crunched, and a 60 megabyte Excel file. So the sample sizes were pretty robust, and the findings were strong as well. Okay, we’re gonna jump to a quick sponsor break and then we’ll get to dive into the actual results of the analysis.

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All right, let’s jump into the results of the holiday analysis. And don’t forget to stick around until the end for that bonus analysis that I know you’ll love. If you go to the show notes page, you’ll see a paste of all of the data that I’m going to be talking about. So I’m just going to describe to you what it is that you’re seeing. The first column is the holiday that we’re talking about. So you’ll see Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s There, you’ll also see a column for ad type. Underneath ad type, you’ll see the acronyms FA, which is a follower ad, which is one of the dynamic ad formats. You’ll see SC, which is short for sponsored content. And it’s specifically single image sponsored content. Because we also have VI for video ads, which is also technically sponsored content, it uses the same inventory. Then you’ll see a column called Day. And what that is, is we tracked the day before the holiday, the day of the holiday and the day after. So we could paint the whole story of what’s happening as the week progresses on holiday week. Then you’ll see all the data, the data are all percentages have an average day of its kind. So if you see the column of impressions, we’re showing you how many impressions Christmas Day got, as opposed to a normal Sunday. Because these are a percentage of benchmark, if you see anything that’s under 100%, it indicates that there were less of that that day than there are on a normal benchmark day. So impressions, for instance, if you say less than 100%, on impressions, that indicates that there were fewer impressions served that day than average. Clicks is the same way. If you see less than 100% clicks, that means that there were fewer clicks that happened. But I think what’s even more interesting is that when you see the clicks percentage is higher than the impressions percentage, that tells us that people were more active that day at clicking. Our CTRs went up that day, which is pretty cool. You’ll see a column for spend and this is just the ability to tell our campaigns on average, able to spend more or less or about the same. It’s the spend ability of campaigns on that day. The next column is CPC or cost per click. And again, seeing less than 100% indicates that campaigns have lower average costs per click than average. If it’s over 100%. That means average costs per click were higher than average. Makes sense, right? You will see some blanks under the cost per click heading. And that’s because there were some days where follower ads didn’t get any clicks and so rather than having a really ugly divide by zero error, I just deleted them out. But the next column is for CPM or cost per 1000 impressions. This is likely a better way of gauging costs than CPC, just because this was how we were getting charged regardless of if people were clicking or not. And again, less than 100% indicates that campaigns were spending less than average, over 100% means that we’re getting gouged a little bit.

Alright, let’s start specifically with follower ads, because they were really interesting. In the graphic, these are the red call out boxes. So anytime that you see a red box around data that was dealing with follower ads. What was interesting is that follower ads impressions were decimated on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Literally impressions were around 10%. But since these are only served on desktop, that shows us how few people were actually on LinkedIn on their desktop machines. Since the other ad formats show on mobile, and we didn’t see such large decreases, that tells us that members largely switched over to mobile devices during those holidays. Then when we look at costs, follower ads costs skyrocketed across all holidays. And to me, this is a perfect example of supply versus demand. The supply of advertisers stayed constant because LinkedIn doesn’t allow us to do ad scheduling and leave the auction. Meanwhile, the demand of advertisers stayed constant because LinkedIn doesn’t allow us to pause our ads certain times and take ourselves out of the auction. And at the same time the supply of members on the platform because they weren’t there on desktop devices they left and that causes costs to shoot through the roof. For example, on the Thanksgiving holiday costs tripled, on Christmas, they almost doubled and on New Year’s Day about doubled. Okay, so that’s follower ads a little bit interesting.

Now let’s move on to single image sponsored content. These were the ones in the purple call out boxes. So sponsored content impressions were above average the day before Thanksgiving, but then dropped to 80% and 68%. On the day during the holiday and after, this totally signals to me that people were working right up until the day before, and that during the holiday and after they went ahead and took time off, and weren’t spending as much time on LinkedIn. The day before and the day of Christmas were really interesting to see an increase in impressions. And I didn’t really have a great explanation as to why this was, although both of these were weekend days, which are traditionally lower anyway, and so it wouldn’t be too hard to beat the average. The day after New Year’s, this is January 2, we saw 17% higher than average usage, which is what we expect to see after the new year. And we’ll tell you all about that data here soon. The costs around Thanksgiving skyrocketed to 35% to 69% above average, making it a really expensive holiday to be advertising. Around Christmas costs jumped 3% to 16%, which is certainly up, but it’s not egregious. New Year’s costs were really surprising though, they actually dropped one to 33% of average, which is what we usually see after the new year. But to see the diminished costs during the holiday was interesting, usually we see them after, we would guess that this is due to advertisers pulling back. Although I don’t understand why advertisers would pull back on mass for New Years, but not Christmas that was just a week before. Unless, of course it had something to do with running out of budgets by the end of the month, and needing to pull back.

Now let’s analyze video ad. There were the blue call out boxes on the image that you see on the show notes page. If we look at the day before Thanksgiving, it was pretty much business as usual. But then we saw a huge dive in impressions on the day of and the day after Thanksgiving. The costs on Thanksgiving, though they jumped 3% to 31%. But strangely, Christmas didn’t follow suit. Christmases CPMs actually dropped between 11% to 32%, which I don’t really have an explanation for. New Year’s Eve definitely had lower impressions, which we’d expect given the holiday. But similar to the other sponsored content that we’ve already talked about, since they do share the same inventory, the impressions were actually up 11% and 7%, respectively. And as you’d expect, New Year’s CPMs dropped significantly, which we do expect usually, but it was a huge drop between 50% to 71% drops in price.

So my takeaways here are that generally costs go up over holidays. So I recommend pausing your ads over those times. And even in cases where costs will drop over the holidays like for Christmas and New Year’s, I still recommend pausing your ads due to the lead quality drop. I would not suggest pausing your retargeting ads though. I think your retargeting ads are good to keep going. And remember how we talked about supply and demand, how it affects our pricing on LinkedIn. Let’s talk about something that makes our pricing even worse. Rising costs are totally exacerbated by advertisers who are bidding by the impression rather than by the click. The reason this is the case is because when someone is bidding by click, they’re only paying when someone actually takes action. And then the advertiser with the highest click through rates, ends up getting the best relevancy scores and that drives everyone to be better. If you’re bidding by the impression though, it really doesn’t matter how you’re performing. Any advertiser willing to pay enough, LinkedIn is going to bypass the auction and start showing ads. LinkedIn has caused rising costs smartly on their part, but I think it’s terrible, by making maximum delivery the default bidding method because it’s the default, the less experienced advertisers just end up going with it. We talked about in episode six about when maximum delivery should be used. But it’s effectively bidding by the impression but letting LinkedIn bid as high as they need to, to make sure that it can spend your entire budget every day. So if your daily budget is like $10 for a campaign, it may only need to bid like a $60 CPM to spend it all. But if your daily budget is high, let’s say something like $1,000, and you have a relatively small audience, you might find that the platform has to bid $400 CPMs, in order to show your ads enough to spend your money. Just as a reminder, if your click through rates are two to three times the benchmark CTR for that ad format, then it’s actually in your best interest to bid CPM as it saves you money. 90% of the time, though, you’re not going to be beating your benchmarks by two to three times. And maximum delivery is the most expensive way to pay for your traffic. If you’re bidding maximum delivery just because it’s easier to spend your budget. You’re just pushing yours and everyone else’s costs up on the platform. And the only winner here is LinkedIn Corporate, who’s watching their revenue climb quarter over quarter.

So we as advertisers, what can we do about out this? I would encourage you don’t bid max delivery unless you have really high CTRs. I would also encourage you to pause over holidays. And please don’t bid really aggressively at the end of a year or a quarter or a month, if you don’t have to. Because if we as advertisers stop pushing the costs up, then prices come down for all of us, then, who knows, maybe there are some advertisers out there who need to be bidding on holidays, and they end up getting lower costs to do so.

Okay, I mentioned that if you’re going to stick around to the end, I would share a bonus analysis with you. What we generally see is after the New Year, holiday performance tends to look really good on the platform. Costs come down, it becomes a lot easier to spend your full budget. So I wanted to do this analysis and to actually quantify this. First off, looking over three different ad formats, follower ads, single image sponsored content, and video ads, we average the 20% increase in impressions. And we saw clicks increased by 14%, which is pretty similar. It shows there’s more people on LinkedIn spending time after the new year, and they’re about as engaged as usual in clicking. When we look at costs, though, we see that follower ads have an 11% higher CPM, but cost per click is about the same. So that shows the difference made up of people actually clicking. Single image sponsored content, though, the costs actually dropped by 22% afterwards. And video costs actually dropped by 49% to the CPM, not bad. All of this goes to show that performance after the new year really is good. Takeaways from the New Year are advertise strong for the New Year. Traffic is up and costs are down and lead quality tends to be really high, too. Anecdotally, what we see is that now that people are back in the office, they’re pretty rested from having a nice long break, they’re a lot more likely to be agreeable towards having a meeting. There’s not a whole lot of other stuff clouding up their schedule. Plus, they tend to have budgets again for the year which were depleted just the previous month. It’s the beginning of a month and a quarter, so people don’t feel like they have to bid super aggressively to try to finish things up strong. I absolutely love the first week of January every year. All right, 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.

First off, the tables that I was reading off of, they’re gonna be in the shownotes. So go visit the show notes page, if you want to see specifically what I was talking about there. Also, check out the link to Episode 32, all About COVID-19’s effect on LinkedIn ads. Feel free to compare those and see this COVID-19 act more like a holiday or is it totally different. Check out Episode Six, all about bidding and budgeting to dive deeper into maximum delivery, and manual bidding and all of that. If you are one of your colleagues or looking to learn more about LinkedIn Ads, check out the link to the course that I made on, right within the show notes. It’s by far the most detailed and lowest cost course out there and it’s by LinkedIn Learning, so you know, the production is awesome. If this is the first time you’re listening to us, make sure to hit that subscribe button, because you obviously care about LinkedIn Ads. If this is not the first time you’re hearing this, though, can I ask a special favor? Can you go and rate and review this podcast in whatever podcast player you listen in? It would go a long way to say thanks for the 31 hours that I’ve sunk into this report. With any questions, suggestions, corrections, reach out to us at And with that being said, we’ll see you back here next week. Cheering you on in your LinkedIn Ads initiatives.