Whether you’re a marketer looking to know more about the developer space, or a developer looking to know more about marketing, you need to know about "Developer Marketing."
Developer marketing is about understanding the niche market you’re trying to enter. It is about taking already established marketing tactics and principles, and understanding which work, which don’t, and which have to be modified.
This post is a complete guide to everything you need to know to successfully convert developers, thereby creating more revenue for your unique product.
Why Care About Developer Marketing?
The very first thing you need to know is that developer marketing doesn’t mean throwing out everything you’ve learned about marketing. Rather, it’s about knowing exactly the tactics that work and those that don’t.
The exact tactics that work will be covered in depth throughout this post. but, as a quick example: don’t try to do gated content when targeting developers. Every developer knows about services like 10minutemail. With this, they’ create a temporary email, get your gated content, and then you’ll have a useless email for leads.
This is just one example of why developer marketing is different. But it perfectly captures what’s so special about developers. They’re tech-savvy, obviously. This is also the reason that you’ll see way less success with paid ads, as most developers use ad blockers. In fact, as many as 72% use adblockers.
So, why care about developer marketing? Because, if you market to developers using traditional marketing tactics, you’ll either be unsuccessful or waste resources. Or both.
How is it Different from Traditional Marketing?
A digital marketer has many tools in their arsenal, tactics that have been proven to gain conversions. As mentioned already, many of these tactics will either just not work or have a much lower ROI than they would have in traditional marketing.
When you combine the fact that most developers use ad blockers and reject cookies, tracking becomes incredibly hard to accomplish. This certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use any tracking at all, but it does mean that you can’t completely rely on it.
To truly be successful in developer marketing, you have to understand how a developer works and what sort of material they are looking for. You can use analytics as a guiding light, i.e., seeing what pages are gaining the most traffic from Google.
One of the most important aspects of marketing is attribution, or being able to tell what page or ad made someone become a customer. Some analytics tools simply use Last click attribution, and this will certainly work fine even with developers. However, if you want more complex attributions models, like linear attribution, you’re going to have a tough time. While anecdotal, my personal experience is that most developers do not like to be tracked, and they are willing to go to great lengths to prevent it.
The root issue isn’t that developers are tough to market to. They’re just humans like anyone else. Instead, the root issue is that they’re tough to track, which inherently makes marketing tougher. Suddenly, you have to rely more on an understanding of the developer community, what their workflow is like, what the buying journey is. There’s much more psychology involved.
Developers Use Google, Heavily
There are primarily two ways that a developer discovers your product:
- A friend or colleague recommends it.
- They discover it through Google.
Now, you might think that this means you have two different channels to focus on. But how did the friend or colleague who is recommending your product discover it? Likely through Google.
So, in the end, your developer marketing efforts need to be focused on Google. After all, many developers go as far as calling themselves "professional Googlers." I was even guilty of this myself before I went into marketing.
Developers have quite a different workflow than most other b2b audiences. While there are no official studies, this quora thread provides enough anecdotal evidence to convince you that developers spend a large portion of their time Googling solutions, with one answer stating:
I was literally googling every 5 minutes for “how to do X in python”
Looking through the thread, you’ll see most developers stating that their use of Google significantly decreases as they understand the language or framework more. And, as a former developer, this has also been my experience. However, it never goes to zero. And it’s important to understand how the usage of Google changes for a developer over time.
Developer Marketing (Almost) Equals Content Marketing
At this point, it should be clear that most of your marketing efforts should be spent on content marketing, if your audience is developers.
However, there’s still reason to use some other marketing tactics. For example, you still need to have proper landing pages, good technical SEO, and perhaps even paid ads on branded keywords.
However, you’ll get the most success by focusing on content. Now that you know just how much Google is used by developers, this shouldn’t be a question.
The next step is to figure out what type of content developers are looking for. If you start doing content marketing, but you’re trying to capture developer attention by creating sensationalized, click-baity content, you’ll fail.
It’s important to understand how critical developers are, as well as the fact that they’re always looking out for either new information or interesting perspectives.
You also need to understand that the phrase "developers hate marketing" does have a bit of truth in it. It’s not so much that developers hate marketing, but they hate bad and lazy marketing. Most developers I’ve encountered, myself included, have developed a knack for simply ignoring any marketing efforts.
CTAs, sign-up links, and generally any conversion link that stands out as a clear marketing effort are very likely be ignored. Especially if they’re at the end of the blog post. Instead, you need to focus on presenting a topic in a way in which the developer comes to the realization on their own. They need to believe it’s their own idea to try out your product.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t place sign-up links in your blog posts. It just means you have to write "… which can be solved by using X," instead of "Sign up today for a free trial!". It’s subtle, but the difference here is that the first CTA feels like an extension of what’s already being written. It’s incorporated into a sentence.
Lastly, you need to understand that not every piece should lead to a conversion. Most of the time, your content should focus on providing information and guiding the reader to the next part of their journey. If there’s no clear way of tying your product to the blog post, you shouldn’t try to sell your product.
Trying to sell a monitoring tool in a blog post about viewing Linux processes doesn’t make sense. You can tie it into your product by making a case for how it’s important to view Linux processes when you are monitoring a server. But, if you create a section on this, it is likely to be ignored, as that’s not why the reader clicked your blog post. Instead, create another blog post where you are making a relevant case, which you can then link to.
Essentially, don’t force developers. Focus on providing resources where they might need it and then wait for them to come to you.
Understanding the Google Journey
The way developers use Google can be described as a journey. In the beginning, they’re just starting to learn about a new language. At this point, they’re constantly Googling, trying to learn new concepts and specific implementations.
They are trying to grab onto as much information as possible and, as such, they are much more likely to be reading every section of your blog post.
When they get more comfortable with the language, they start using Google more as a lookup database. They search something like "view processes in Linux," click on the first result, skim through it to see the specific command they need, and then close the site. They don’t even notice what site the post is from.
For you, as a marketer, this should clearly indicate where your content marketing efforts should lie, i.e., in the beginning of a developer’s Google journey. To be clear, a developer starts on this journey often. It doesn’t have to only be when they’re learning a new language.
Developers are constantly running into new challenges and having to learn new tools and principles. They can be an expert in managing Linux servers, but suddenly they have to do it in AWS instead of Azure.
A lot of knowledge can be carried over, but there’s still enough new knowledge to be gained that a developer is now back at combing through blog posts, gathering as much information as needed.
To summarize, spend 70-80% of your content marketing efforts in creating content for developers at the beginning of their Google journey. Why not 100%? Well, there are still benefits to be had from being a look-up site. For example, it helps establish expertise, authority, and trustworthiness; the classic EAT model.
Developers Aren’t Your Buyers
A curious fact of developer marketing is that your audience is not necessarily going to be your buyers. This puts you in a peculiar spot, where you have to create content for two different audiences at once.
In most organizations, it will be a manager or team lead who is going to authorize the purchase of your software, not the developer who discovered it. But, most often, it will be the developers who are going to discover your product and then bring it to the attention of their manager.
This is very important to understand as you start creating content, as developers sit both at the top of the funnel, in the middle, and at the bottom. However, the middle and bottom funnel (perhaps even top funnel) content should also be relevant to managers.
In some cases, managers are developers who have transitioned into a management role, but that’s not always the case. So, what to do about this?
Make sure that everyone can understand your content at a high-level. It’s fine to include code samples, mentioning specific server features, etc. In fact, you should. That’s how you make content relevant for developers. However, you need to make sure that anyone can understand the topic at a high level. A few times I’ve heard from my non-tech editors that I write content that’s even approachable to them. This is some of the highest praise you can get.
Making Content Approachable
Making content approachable by non-tech people and relevant to developers, at the same time, is one of the trickiest aspects of technical writing. As with anything, it’s a skill that has to be practiced and developed. However, there are a few key things that you can think about already today:
- Provide resources for all technical aspects
- Relate the topic to something that everyone knows
- For example: "A blockchain is essentially a digital version of a ledger"
- Start each section in a way that’s universally understood and then get more technical as you dive deeper
Focus on Features, Not Benefits
Everywhere you look in marketing, you are told that it’s important to provide value. This is true, especially in developer marketing. Because of how critical developers are, they simply ignore any content that doesn’t help them either solve their issue or provide a unique perspective.
A common way that marketers provide value is by explaining the benefits of a product, which makes complete sense. When you explicitly provide the readers with benefits, they won’t have to come up with them themselves, making it easier to convert.
Well, that’s not entirely the case for developers. If you’re only listing out benefits and not providing information on how your product works, a developer won’t be able to imagine how your tool fits into their workflow.
You still have to make clear the benefits of using your product, but you have to make it clear exactly how it’s done. You might write "Our tool helps you deploy your applications faster," which is certainly enticing. But this doesn’t help me in determining whether your tool will help me.
It tells me that you think it’ll help me, which is a good first step. However, you need to convince me that it will improve my workflow.
Who Can Learn Developer Marketing?
In short, everyone. Everyone can learn developer marketing. However, there’s a difference between ability and mastery.
It’s going to be much easier for a developer to transition into a developer marketing role, than it will be for a marketer to convert, for one simple reason. They don’t have to research the audience and understand it because they have been the audience. In fact, some are still the audience.
Personally, I’m still very interested in software and cloud technology, even though it’s not my day job anymore. But, because of my interest, I’m still researching it and hearing about exciting new features. So, even though I now work in marketing, I’m still a part of the developer community and audience, which gives me a unique perspective.
But again, everyone can learn it. In a later section, you’ll see a more in-depth explanation of how to transition into a developer marketing role, whether you’re coming from a developer or marketing background.
Benefits of Developer Marketing
There’s a clear reason that the term "Developer Marketing" even exists. It’s because there are clear benefits to be had from focusing directly on developers. Some benefits of focusing on developers are:
Higher Chance of Conversions
When you focus directly on developers, you understand their journey and patterns much more explicitly, letting you tailor your content to them directly. The more you understand how developers interact with your content, the higher the likelihood of converting them into paying customers.
Become Trusted Within the Developer Community
When you start to focus on creating good content for developers, you quickly get a better understanding of what developers want and, as such, you’re able to create more relevant content for a developer. As you become better at this, there’s a higher likelihood that you can create content that’s trusted by developers and shared within the community. As more and more posts get shared, you build up more trust and, at the end the day, trust is the most valuable thing you can have when marketing to developers.
Increasing Your Knowledge Base
Because a lot of your content is top-funnel, you are inherently creating a knowledge base, outside of the documentation you have. Any good content strategy targeted at developers includes a number of high-level topics, focused more on providing information than trying to sell something.
While it’s unlikely that you get many conversions from a blog post that’s just informational, it can easily be used as a way of getting users sent further down the funnel.
Challenges in Developer Marketing
While there are certainly a lot of benefits to be had from investing in proper developer marketing, there are also some challenges associated with this field. The benefits should outweigh the challenges, but they’re still important to be aware of.
Developers Hate Marketing
This is by far the most obvious point, and it has been stated a number of times throughout this post already. However, it’s incredibly important to remember. As stated in the beginning, developers don’t actually hate marketing—they hate bad and lazy marketing. Keep this in mind as you’re developing your marketing strategy.
Developers are Driven by Information
Because of how critical and solution-oriented developers are, it can be tough to create good marketing materials. A lot of material created in marketing focuses on benefits, use cases, ROI, etc. With developers, however, the most important thing is to provide enough information that they can come to a conclusion by themselves. Don’t ever try to force a conclusion.
Gated Content Won’t Work
Nothing is ever black and white and, of course, you are likely to get at least some leads by creating gated content. However, it’s almost certain that it won’t be as effective as it would be with other audiences.
Most of Your Content Won’t Sell
One of the biggest things you have to come to terms with when you’re marketing to developers is that most of your content won’t result in conversions. Again, because developers are usually only looking for information, and they may even be opening up five different links for a single query, it’s unlikely that they are looking to buy something. The most important thing for you, as a marketer, is to make sure that you’re present when developers need information, as well as when they’re ready to buy.
Developer Marketing Best Practices
Throughout this post, you’ve seen a lot of examples of how to be successful in your developer marketing efforts. This section will sum up all these points, as well as add a few more.
Provide Information, Not Sales Copy
If you are going to take anything from this post, this point is the most important one. Sell your product by being helpful, not by being convincing.
Create a Strategy, Not a Post
It’s very rare that a single post leads to buying customer. Usually, you need to make developers aware of your product by helping them solve an issue, and then you can lead them down the funnel.
Because of this, it’s important to create a strategy and to imagine what a possible Google journey could look like.
Make it Skimmable
Given how much time developers spend on Google and how many blog posts they are reading, it’s fair to assume that they aren’t reading all of them fully. So, make sure that all posts that you create can be skimmed and understood quickly. The trick is to make sure that, while skimming, they see something that makes them want to dive deeper.
Understand the Relevant Content Types
Make sure you understand what type of content developers are looking for. While there are many sub-categories, it can usually be divided into two types: 1) posts that are helpful and 2) posts that provide interesting perspectives.
If there’s a sure-fire way to have developers not be interested in your post, it’s to fill it with fluff. There’s a general consensus in marketing that longer posts perform better.
However, if it’s only longer because you’re filling it with useless information, it’ll hurt you in the long run.
Remember that developers are looking for solutions, so their threshold for bad content is a lot lower than most.
Avoid Unnecessary Jargon
Too often I’ve seen technical posts that try to be relevant to developers, by including technical terms, i.e., jargon.
It’s true that for most posts you do need to use industry terms, but there’s a difference between using terms that a developer would use in any regular meeting and throwing in random jargon that technically makes sense, but that no developer would use. Using unnecessary jargon is a guaranteed way to lose credibility.
This is a good question to ask yourself when you’re coming up with a content strategy. It doesn’t work 100% of the time but, if the answer is “no” to this question, you need to heavily think about whether it’s a good topic or not.
Make Posts Seem as if They’re Written Out of Pure Interest
Developers love to share information, which is partly why you see so many blog posts being created by developers on sites like HackerNoon and Medium. And these posts are also getting a lot of traffic, even though most of those developers have never taken a writing or SEO class.
The reason is simple. It’s clear that they’ve been written out of pure interest. The developer has worked on something, found an interesting solution, and now they want to share it. It’s always easier to be enthusiastic about something that someone else is already enthusiastic about.
Make Each Post Work as a Standalone Piece
Given how much focus this post has had on creating a content strategy, this point may seem counterintuitive.
However, there’s a good reason that it’s included. It goes back to the point of developers being solution-oriented and wanting a quick answer to their problems. If you force them to click around and follow various links, there’s a good chance they’ll just find another post instead.
So, create a strategy and understand the Google journey of a developer. but, at the same time, make each post work by itself. This is where developer marketing becomes tricky.
How to Get Started in Developer Marketing
If you’ve gotten to this point, it’s likely because you want to do something within developer marketing. Perhaps you just need to do a single piece, or perhaps you want to start a career. Whether you want to start a career or just do a bit of work with developer marketing, the way to get started is the same.
However, the path will naturally be different depending on whether you have a background as a marketer or as a developer. Note, these steps are meant to be the most optimal steps. It’s entirely possible to start a career in developer marketing without doing the following. However, the following steps will give you the best jumping-off point.
As a marketer, it’s assumed that you have knowledge about how to create good SEO content. Your task now is to understand the developer community and what their workflow is like. The best way to do so is to become a developer. Of course, it’s not likely that you are going to be using all your time learning to code, just so you can be an effective marketer (although it will likely pay off dividends!).
The point of this is to get a feeling for how developers work. As you’ve spent a week or two trying to learn coding, you’ll start seeing some patterns in how you are phrasing your search queries, as well as what results are popping up. Granted, this will be far from the experience of working as a full-time software engineer. But it should be enough for you to understand some of the developer pain points.
If you’re an engineer who wants to foray into developer marketing, you first need to gain some writing skills. You already know a great deal about how developers work, their workflow, and the kinds of results they’re looking for. This is a big advantage to have.
So, the very first thing for you to focus on as you make the shift into marketing is to level up your writing. This means that your posts shouldn’t just state a bunch of facts. A good blog post will:
- Have a common thread
- Flow well
- Be skimmable
- Avoid fluff
- Be backed by sources
- Reads like a story
Once you’ve learned some basic writing skills, you should start learning some SEO. There are a few ways to get started with this. Personally, I recommend that you start following people on LinkedIn who are consistently sharing quality SEO advice. Here’s a list of some interesting people to follow:
- Maeva Cifuentes
- Brooklin Nash
- Andrew Holland
- Peter Rota
- Emma Stratton
- Lauren Lang
- Julia McCoy
- Ugi Djuric
- Dr Fio Dossetto
Once you’re confident in your writing and SEO skills, start writing professionally! There are tons of publications and writer programs that you can be a part of here. Take a look at this list.
The Importance of Using Developer Experience
There are marketing agencies that boast about how they know developer marketing, but then they list Digital Ocean as a developer community. This clearly demonstrates a willingness to learn the market but failing to do so. Digital Ocean does indeed have a lot of great resources, but it’s not a place where developers gather and only few get to post.
There are content agencies that can market to developers, but you’ll never get the most optimal experience, unless you hire engineers to aid your developer marketing efforts.
In the end, there are a lot of things you’ve seen in this post that aren’t explicitly unique to developer marketing. Some of these things are well-known in traditional content marketing. However, they’re mentioned here as they are extra important in developer marketing.