How to target developers (where traditional advertising often fails) & a comparison of the ad channels/platforms.

TL;DR for the TL;DR

  • choose goal
  • choose audience-appropriate platform
  • setup conservative targeting (better to under- than over-serve)
  • design practical & relevant ads
  • :warning: connect to the right landing page, amplify paths people are already taking
  • run small tests before scaling ad spend

Targeting developers

  • most devs hate “traditional” (pop-ups, flashy colours) advertising
    • dev personality: sceptical, pragmatic, practical, “tribal” (trust other devs’ expertise more than marketers’)
  • retargeting (ads follow users across sites) works well :heavy_check_mark: but requires analytics/tracking :stop_sign: not great for devs
    • maybe ok for late stage (consideration, activation, engagement, upgrades)
  • paid ad campaign components:
  1. Goal: desired reaction of target (dev) audience
    • e.g. tool signups, platform leads, etc.
    • if they don’t yet need your tool, build a memorable brand so they remember you in future when they do need a tool
    • signups should actually use the tool – follow up if not
    • free users should upgrade to paid plans
  2. Targeting: where to post? who views?
    • e.g. platforms (Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, …)
    • :bulb: ask customers which platform they prefer!
    • :warning: context: will a platform’s users be in the right mood for your ads?
    • go deep/specific, e.g. target:
      • tech stack
      • role ( FE front-end
        , BE back-end
        , DevOps (software) development + (IT) operations
        , ML machine learning
        , DS data science
      • company (enterprise, startup, freelancer)
      • level (junior, senior, architect)
    • use analytics/tracking/cookies (for now) to filter out non-relevant targets
  3. Creative: what to post?
    • format (in-feed, banner, pop-up) & medium (video, animation, text) should be non-intrusive & :warning: “as non-advertising as possible”
    • content: actual message to convey
      • :heavy_check_mark: don’t fear some explicit, technical jargon and sarcastic humour
      • :warning: focus on features (“5ms video load time”) rather than values (“better videos quicker”)
      • :warning: link to comparison to alternatives
      • :heavy_check_mark: link to case studies & use cases
      • :heavy_check_mark: link to getting started, examples, and docs
  4. Landing page: where ad clicks lead
    • :warning: usually not good to use company homepage: too stuffed with projects unrelated to the ad
    • pick based on existing analytics (what are users currently doing), e.g.
      • amplify paths: twitter -> blog on problem X -> product X -> signup implies twitter ads should link to blog on problem X
      • shorten paths: homepage -> product X -> docs for X -> pricing -> signup implies ads for X could link to docs for X
      • amplifying might be better than shortening/creating new paths

Channel comparison

key: :heavy_check_mark::warning::stop_sign: emojis indicate how well things work.

  • experience of channels: :stop_sign: most don’t work well
  • Google Display Network (GDN)
  • Ethical Ads
    • :heavy_check_mark: targets devs (blogs, readthedocs, etc.), context of ads is “learning/working”
    • :heavy_check_mark: small (image + brief text), non-intrusive
    • pay per impression
    • :heavy_check_mark: GDPR-compliant (no tracking – targeting is done by page)
    • filtering by page costs more
  • Carbon Ads (BuySellAds)
    • :heavy_check_mark: focus on devs (like Ethical Ads) – mostly ML machine learning
      and DS data science

    • :stop_sign: more intrusive (like GDN)

  • Twitter Ads
    • :heavy_check_mark: appear in-feed
    • :warning: important to target engaging keywords & “look-alike” (similar) followers
    • :warning: good guides aren’t dev-specific
  • Reddit Ads
    • :heavy_check_mark: in-feed, in-thread, or in-conversation
    • :heavy_check_mark: can target subreddits
    • :stop_sign: can only filter on location & device (not keywords nor topics)
  • StackOverflow Ads
    • :heavy_check_mark: non-intrusive, ads look like answers to questions
    • managed (not self-serve), min. contract $10~$15 k/month
  • YouTube Ads
    • :heavy_check_mark: video remarketing works well: amplify existing conversion paths by showing ads to people who visited your product/pricing/docs/high-intent-blog
    • lots of targeting options (like GDN)
    • :warning: intrusive, especially without proper targeting
  • Google Search Ads
    • :heavy_check_mark: branded search works well: “a google tax on keywords” containing your product name (pay for a keyword to show up in search results)
    • top of SERP (intrusive default) or page bottom (feels more helpful)
    • think about relevancy:
      • :heavy_check_mark: brand name (“github”)
      • core features/use cases (“ CI continuous integration
        “) – :stop_sign: don’t work well if linking to blogs
      • comon typos of both off teh abov (“gitub”)
      • competitor comparison (“vs github”, “github alternative”)
      • :stop_sign: integrations (“slack”)
      • :stop_sign: competitor (“gitlab”)

:scroll::speech_balloon: Extended discussion at ycombinator#32191615.