LinkedIn Audience Network: Why your LinkedIn adverts are appearing on third party sites

PUBLISHED 23 Mar 2022 - UPDATED 15 Aug 2023

If you run a 'Sponsored Content' advertising campaign on LinkedIn, you might assume that your adverts will appear on LinkedIn itself. But it could be that most of your impressions get served on third party sites instead. We look at why that happens and how to see the impact on your campaign.

Introducing LinkedIn Audience Network

LinkedIn Sponsored Content is a paid advertising option that enables your advert to appear "directly in the LinkedIn feed of professions you want to reach". Less well known, however, is that your Sponsored Content advert may appear on a whole range of third party (external) sites too. How does this happen?

When setting up an image or video Sponsored Content campaign in LinkedIn's Campaign Manager tool, you'll have the option to "Enable the LinkedIn Audience Network". And it will be ticked by default - so you might not even know you have it selected (which is a bit cheeky):

Enable LinkedIn Audience Network

Here's LinkedIn's own explanation of Audience Network:

The LinkedIn Audience Network is a feature that allows you to extend the reach of your Sponsored Content campaigns by delivering your ads beyond the LinkedIn feed to members on third-party apps and sites. When the LinkedIn Audience Network is enabled in campaign set-up, the same targeting parameters, bid type, and budget created for your campaign applies.

Displaying ads on the LinkedIn Audience Network gives you up to 25% more reach with your target audience.

So you are reaching the same audience, just on third party (external) sites that they visit rather than on LinkedIn itself - no bad thing.

The impact of Audience Network

LinkedIn says that Audience Network "gives you up to 25% more reach". You could take this to mean that only up to 25% (or an extra 25%, so 20% of the total) of your impressions would be served on Audience Network sites, with most of them appearing within the LinkedIn feed. That's not the case, or at least not necessarily.

Recently I was involved with a campaign that had LinkedIn Audience Network enabled. To my surprise, 99.6% of the impressions and 100% of the clicks occurred on third party sites rather than LinkedIn itself. Yes, this is anecdotal - but it does show that in the right (or wrong) circumstances, your ads may hardly show on LinkedIn at all.

I can think of two reasons why a campaign might skew towards third party sites.

  1. Availability. If your campaign has very specific audience targeting, fewer impressions will be available on LinkedIn itself. It would be interesting to see whether there is an inverse relationship between LinkedIn's forecast 'target audience size' for a campaign and the percentage of impressions served through Audience Network.
  2. Cost. LinkedIn aims to maximize your advertising budget efficiency. In its own words (as the screengrab below shows), it will "try to get you the most results possible with your full budget". If Audience Network offers a lower cost per result, LinkedIn will likely serve more impressions there. This may be, for example, because the click-through rate (CTR) is higher on those third party sites.

LinkedIn bidding strategy

You may now be wondering about the impact of Audience Network on your own campaign. The good news is that LinkedIn provides advertisers with two ways to see how much of their campaign has been delivered through Audience Network, and to compare their Audience Network results with their LinkedIn feed results: using the 'breakdown' option or exporting a CSV report.

Let's look at each of these in turn:

Breakdown: On/Off Network

The quickest way to see your reliance on Audience Network is to use the 'Breakdown' option. You'll find this dropdown in Campaign Manager, when looking at overall account results or individual campaign group results. Change it to 'On/Off Network':

Breakdown On/Off Network

And LinkedIn will add two additional rows to your results table, 'On Linkedin' and 'Audience Network'. This lets you see all the metrics (spend, cost per result, impressions, clicks, average CPM and average CPC) not just overall but for each of these two platforms individually.

Export CSV Report

The other way is to export the data as CSV. Again you do this in Campaign Manager, when looking at overall account results or individual campaign group results.

Click on the 'Export' button in the top right, then choose one of the two Audience Network reports: 'Audience network campaign performance' or 'Audience network ad performance'.

LinkedIn Export CSV

Once you have selected your time breakdown and clicked the blue 'Export' button, LinkedIn will immediately generate your CSV. Open it up and look for the column headed 'Platform': this will indicate whether a given row relates to Audience Network, LinkedIn or Overall.

Getting actionable results

Looking at your results, it may be that your campaign has been delivered both on LinkedIn itself and through Audience Network. This will enable you to make a direct comparison between the two.

However, if your campaign is almost totally skewed towards Audience Network (as in my real-life example earlier), this won't be possible. Your next step here could be to run two otherwise identical campaigns, one with Audience Network enabled and one with it disabled. Actually, you could copy the existing campaign and simply change the Audience Network setting (click on the 'three dots' icon and select 'Duplicate':

LinkedIn duplicate campaign

So now you know why your LinkedIn ads are appearing on third party sites and how well they are performing there. But which sites are they appearing on? I'll look at that in my next article about LinkedIn advertising...

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Andy Harris
1 year ago

After searching through some dross this was hands-down the best explanation of audience network thank you.

Carlos Jones
1 year ago

Thank you!!!

James Clark
Hi! I'm James Clark and I'm a freelance web analyst from the UK. I'm here to help with your analytics, ad operations, and SEO issues.
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