Five Reasons Your Ads Aren't Reaching Developers

Portrait of Matthew Kammerer
by Matthew Kammerer
Jun 9, 2017
Woman on computer

Software developers can be a challenging target audience for advertisers. More so than other groups, they tend to be skeptical of new products, are quick to avoid ads, and protect their privacy online.

This means old school marketing rules and standard advertising tactics need to be thrown out to reach programmers online. In my experience, marketers often make five common mistakes when advertising to this group. These pitfalls and their solutions are discussed below.

1. Your ads are too long.

Three minute pre-roll videos and multi-frame display ads are great for comprehensively explaining a product’s benefits, but they don’t do any favors for advertising campaigns targeted at programmers. Software developers are an impatient group that will scan or scroll past anything that stands between them and the content they want to consume.

To get the most value from advertising, marketers should consider what an ad communicates at each stage of its rotation. Would a target audience get the product’s full value, call to action, and brand at any moment in the ad? If not, it’s time to reassess your design.

With scroll and scan-happy developers, marketers are better off opting for static ads that instantly communicate all information in a concise format. This gives peace of mind that the target audience saw all of the information at once regardless of when they saw the ad.

FullStory’s ad on Coding Horror shows that it’s possible to include brand information, product value, and a call to action with limited graphics and text. The ad is easily scanned and remains static, so programmers can understand product benefits at any point.

FullStory ad on Coding Horror

2. Your ads are served out of context.

Most people don’t make purchasing or product decisions when they’re watching a funny YouTube video or reading political news, and developers are no exception. Yet marketers continue to use open exchanges to serve ads to this group across millions of websites void of context.

Marketing to developers is easier when they’re already in the headspace of thinking about coding and work,” says Jackie Davis, HelloSign’s senior marketing manager.

“We’ve found serving ads alongside programming-related content boosts awareness of HelloSign and better aligns our product with the space,” she said. “Through these contextual placements, HelloSign’s message becomes part of the surrounding content instead of a distraction.”

In HelloSign’s case, serving an ad for its secure eSignature software alongside an authorization protocol is more likely to gain traction than a billboard above the evening news.

This article by Business Insider on Brexit is a good example of valuable ads made irrelevant through blind programmatic buys. A developer reading about international news isn’t concerned about the Facebook Developer Conference in that moment. But the ad would be relevant and maybe even useful if seen on A List Apart, Slashdot, or other programming websites.

Facebook ad on Business Insider

3. Your ads read like ads.

Ad copy tends to follow a formula of grabbing attention, highlighting amazing benefits, and telling people what to do next.

Unfortunately for marketers, this format doesn’t fully work for developers. As mentioned earlier, programmers are skeptical about miracle products, and marketers have to be pithy to avoid being scrolled past.

Developers appreciate anything that saves time and effort, and ad copy is no exception. They don’t want to sift through buzzwords or too-good-to-be true offers to find the truth. Instead, marketers should write ads that are simple, factual, and clearly state product benefits. Don’t be afraid to get technical to communicate value.

Rollbar checks off these boxes in its ad on Tobias Ahlin’s blog. Every developer knows hunting down code errors is time consuming and stressful. Rollbar’s ad grabs attention by communicating its product’s purpose immediately, explaining how it makes programmers’ lives easier, and offering a free trial to test it out firsthand. It doesn’t cite unbelievable benefits and keeps ad copy easy to scan and understand.

Once a target customer gets to a landing page, it’s key to show benefits rather than fluffy bulletpoints. A live account or in-depth docs will immediately demonstrate this value and encourage people into your funnel.

Rollbar ad on Tobias Alhin blog

4. Ad blockers stop your ads.

The best ad in the world can’t be effective if it’s never seen. Ad blockers have changed digital advertising, and marketers targeting programmer audiences are affected tenfold. Consider that young high earners are most likely to have ad blockers installed, and ad blockers mostly affect gaming and tech sites. That’s software developers in a nutshell.

Consequently, advertisers that want to reach programmers with digital ads should beware bid-based open exchanges. Ads served through these networks are most likely to be hidden by ad blockers and run the highest risk of being seen as annoying or irrelevant.

Marketers can instead opt to go direct to publishers with high loyalty among programmer audiences, as they might have turned off ad blockers to support their favorite websites. Another tactic is to run campaigns through an ad network that’s whitelisted by popular ad blockers. This includes Carbon Ads, which connects advertisers with websites relevant to code, design, and business audiences.

Ads served through Carbon are whitelisted through the Adblock Plus Acceptable Ads program, meaning they’re seen by anyone with default settings enabled. In our experience, people who use ad blockers still engage with our ads when they show up. This proves it’s more about relevance and quality than the fact that content is promoted.

5. You’re choosing bad placements.

Marketers opting for open ad exchanges never really know where their ads will show up. Often times, these placements end up buried at the end of content or intruding on users. Banner blindness to certain display placements also adds the risk of ads not being seen at all.

These issues affect all users, but developers are even more likely to be impatient and unforgiving towards annoying placements. Intrusive ads that block content could do more harm than good for your brand.

Marketers can instead book campaigns directly through high-quality publishers with programmer audiences. These direct bookings usually allow marketers to reserve specific placements so they know exactly where their ad will run.

Advertisers could also partner with an ad network that exclusively delivers premium, non-intrusive placements. For example, Carbon only serves non-intrusive creative and limits partner websites to one ad per page so marketers aren’t competing against other ads.

Slack ad on Is It Up

Design campaigns around your audience

Running a successful ad campaign targeted at developers requires a deep understanding of how this audience thinks and behaves. Treating them like other groups will lead to disappointment for any brand regardless of its product or service.

Fortunately, creating powerful campaigns targeted at programmers isn’t difficult, although it does require a pivot in thinking. Instead of opting for traditional tactics, marketers need to create clear, simple ads that are served in context through high-quality placements. Respecting programmers’ preferences will lead to more successful campaigns, a win-win for both audiences and brands.