I have been an active user of StackOverflow for a while and also make a lot of decisions about the advertising of my company's products. We have tried StackOverflow ads and are getting ready to try again -- still working to find the right ad that gets a good enough ROI.

The product is kind of a niche .NET developer SDK -- meaning only .NET developers would be interested and only a small subset of those. I can't really target better than .NET on SO (pretty much any .NET developer could be interested)

Anyway, the question is: what kind of ads on StackOverflow do you find effective or personally compelling and why? What kinds of ads do you click on?

We have tried advertising:

  • a 30 day eval of the SDK
  • video tutorials on how to use our product
  • a 5-day e-course on the subject our SDK covers (totally non-commercial -- no product info)
  • a free version of one of our entry-level SDK's
  • a free version of an SDK + a coupon for a complementary product.

I am trying not to be specific about what we do.

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    I think the best kinds of ads are links you put in posts on other people's random Q&A websites! – GEOCHET Aug 25 '09 at 19:08
  • NO PUNS – devinb Aug 25 '09 at 19:21
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    @Rich B: posting a link to atalasoft.com in a question about Atalasoft's advertisements is not an advertisement. It's actually pretty relevant to the question at hand. – Alex Papadimoulis Aug 26 '09 at 2:04
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    If Rich was offended by it, I'm glad he took it out. I struggled with whether to put it in. It's relevant, and it looked like I was hiding something when it wasn't there -- I really do need feedback on this in order to do my job -- some of the suggestions below did address my market, and were helpful. Thanks to everyone that answered, commented, and voted -- it really helps. – Lou Franco Aug 26 '09 at 11:49
  • @Lou: The image at the top of your web site of a person flying through the air is hiliarious. But that's probably not the 'professional feel' you're looking for! – Alex Angas Oct 2 '09 at 9:36

The more you try to sell me something, the less i want to buy it. If i'm on SO, and I see an advertisement for a product that might offer something useful to me, there are two things that will make me click it:

  1. A clear description of the problem it solves and that i happen to have.
  2. A registration-free trial download.

I don't care how much time you think it'll save me. I'm not interested in over-the-top promises of adulation or compensation resulting from using your product. I'm not going to watch a video, or attend training, or read any whitepaper that isn't packed full of juicy technical details and light on the buzzwords.

I care nothing for endorsements, cited reviews, or famous existing customers. Unless or until I try and like your trial version, i don't ever want to hear from your sales rep - not via email, and certainly not via telephone. Actually, i'll be that much happier if i can just pretend your sales people have no means of contact with the outside world.

You have one chance to catch my eye, and one chance to appeal to a real need of a working programmer with a job to do. Get cute, and you might do the former, but get too cute and you'll blow any chance at the latter.

I avoid using ad-blocking software, to better cultivate a healthy dislike for any company that fails to appeal directly to my immediate self-interest...

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    +1 for a registration-free trial. I hate having to enter an email/phone number as I know that will only get me on a list or a sales call. – scunliffe Aug 25 '09 at 23:13
  • "Give me something free, and then I'll be in touch if I like it." You do realize that companies are in the business to be in... well, business. Hoping that someone come backs and buys something is not a business plan. If you can't give up even your email for something you might be interested in buying, companies have a line for that. NEXT, PLEASE! – Alex Papadimoulis Aug 26 '09 at 1:50
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    Hey, it's one thing if i'm out looking for a product. If i'm scouring the 'Net for a debugging tool or data analysis library, i'll put up with a lot to get to where i can test out a likely candidate. But if you're gonna bug me while i'm doing something else, where's my motivation to sign up for future badgering? I'm sure things look different from the perspective of someone selling, but from here it just seems like... too needy. – Shog9 Aug 26 '09 at 2:05
  • @Shog9 -- that's a good point, but Alex is right that it's hard for us to justify if we don't have some idea who the contact is. Mostly, it would mean advertising wouldn't be trackable and therefore impossible to improve or justify rationally. It's not so much that I want to contact you (I do), but I want to know if you bought later. My idea is to offer more (not a trial, but a free SDK) -- that way the email seems worth giving. – Lou Franco Aug 26 '09 at 17:11
  • Asking for email is a reasonable compromise, so long as it's not abused. If i try and don't care for your product, i shouldn't have to unsubscribe from some update mailing list in order to stop hearing about it - if you send me one email confirming the download and don't hear back, i probably didn't use it. FWIW, if i'm asked for name, address, company info, phone and email, email stands the best chance of not being completely made-up on the spot. – Shog9 Aug 26 '09 at 17:35
  • FWIW, the last thing a (good) sales pro wants to do is waste their time or yours; they just want to make sure they understand your need and how they can help you fill it. But if it weren't for the "reminders" here and there, then sales would never happen and then we'd all be out of a job. As our Sales VP puts it, "we're all paid on commission in one form or another." – Alex Papadimoulis Aug 27 '09 at 3:28
  • I have no idea if Bambrick makes any real money off of it, but i gotta say - i love the advertising for TimeSnapper. The guy talks about it on his blog as though it were a labor of love, and never once sent me a follow-up email, though i took a good half a year between downloading the trial and finally deciding to purchase a copy. I understand the stakes are a bit higher when a product is priced at $400 instead of $40, but it sure is nice to be able to recommend a product to friends and co-workers without reservations. – Shog9 Aug 27 '09 at 5:26

Well the attempt of "if you really want to know, click here" almost got me to click the advertisement. The "Dont push this button" mentality probably works best. The best ads are the ones that solve my problem.

If I've been looking for a product and I see a banner for said product that is likely to fix my problem, I'll probably click on it. If not, developers are used to just ignoring ads.

Edit: I think some of the best ads would be video ads of "Here's your problem. Look how easy we can make it go away."

It also depends on what aspect of the market youre trying to capture. Is it the enterprise level? Small companies? Or individual developers. At the enterprise level, companies are always looking for solutions and a lot of quick fixes. On the flip side, it can be hard to gain acceptance of a product at that level.

For small teams/single developers, price tends to be a major factor for purchasing software. Along the lines of limited SDKs would probably be best here. Help them solve minor problems, and they'll remember you when they have the cash and bigger fish to fry.
At least that's what I think...

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  • I really didn't mean that -- sometimes people want to know more to give a good answer. Anyone could find out just by going to my profile -- it's not a secret -- I also figured you could just hover over to see it if you were curious. Thanks for the answer -- our problem is probably making it obvious what we do (hard to explain in short amount of text) – Lou Franco Aug 25 '09 at 18:47
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    Advertising is hard -- especially this market. – MunkiPhD Aug 25 '09 at 18:49
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    I clicked actually. – OscarRyz Aug 25 '09 at 18:49
  • Thanks. I appreciate this feedback. We sell to individual developers and enterprises. Agree with getting a foot in the door with a free SDK. So far, that got the best response, but it's hard to judge how it converts yet. – Lou Franco Aug 25 '09 at 19:00

Now this is one I just love!

definitely omg-yes-totally-now complete-bs user-manipulation http://ads.stackoverflow.com/ads/stackoverflow-ad1.png

Give us more like that.

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    Yeah, I just saw that one myself. I thought it was pretty clever. – mmyers Sep 29 '09 at 17:07
  • Mutter Mutter Mutter – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Oct 12 '09 at 15:21

Bring back the Jon Skeet ads. Users demand it!

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  • Those are funny... although, I wonder if he has any legal recourse for using his name for profit >.< – MunkiPhD Aug 25 '09 at 18:45
  • I am certain that Jeff discussed it with him beforehand and from reading Jon's posts/blog for a long time I'm sure Jon wouldn't be terribly stressed over it. – EBGreen Aug 25 '09 at 18:47
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    Want the UBER powers of the one and only!? DRINK SKEETORADE! – MunkiPhD Aug 25 '09 at 18:53
  • @Munk: That sounds disgusting. Shame on you. – GEOCHET Aug 25 '09 at 21:24
  • @MunkiPhD: If you knew what the word "skeet" meant in the US, you'd know why that sounds so bad. – gnostradamus Aug 26 '09 at 2:53

Great question, and there have been some solid answers thus far! Although I am familiar with the specifics of your SO campaign (and would be happy to discuss 1-on-1), here are some general things to consider.

Advertising is a numbers game. Impressions are purchased in the 100's of thousands and get a fraction of a percent of clicks. Of those clicks, only a fraction of the visitors to your site will download your trial and only a fraction of those people will buy it.

Regarding banner advertisements,

  • Almost all advertising is passively consumed; the only reason people pay attention is because the Most Prominent Thing catches their periphery and entices them to spend a second to glance over
  • People will visually follow the MPT to the second MPT, then to the third, etc; but, they won’t go to the Second or Third if they weren’t impressed by the first
  • If the First and Second MPT are not nearby, then confusion breaks out and some people will go the First and others to the Second
  • All of this occurs unconsciously within a fractions of a second

That said, I think it'll help the discussion to show some of the banner creatives that ran as a part of your campaign. Hope you don't mind me sharing!

alt text http://ads.stackoverflow.com/ads/1/1_StackOverflow-220x250-e-Course-Static-Final.png alt text http://ads.stackoverflow.com/ads/1/StackOverflow-220x250-e-Course-Static-new-girl.png alt text http://ads.stackoverflow.com/ads/1/StackOverflow-220x250-e-Course-Static-new.png alt text http://ads.stackoverflow.com/ads/1/StackOverflow-220x250-Static-new-girl-SDK-short.jpg alt text http://ads.stackoverflow.com/ads/1/StackOverflow-220x250-Static-new-girl-SDK-asp-net.jpg

Any thoughts from anyone else on the creatives?

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    Generic, bland, and stock photos make me immediately not care. Here's what would interest me: "How does OCR Work?! [image of a letter with little bezier curves and whatnot indicating the computer is trying to recognize it] Learn Free." Granted that's targeting people who are passionate about learning random things, but it's my position. – Tom Ritter Aug 26 '09 at 11:33
  • @Tom -- interesting idea on trying to show how something works. One thing we have in our favor is that imaging is inherently visual. – Lou Franco Aug 26 '09 at 13:27
  • Looking at those images, I feel that the concrete technology/problem names like "OCR", "Barcodes", "TIFF & PDF" and "ASP.NET image processing" would catch my attention most. These are keywords for which my programmer's mind has strong associations. So it seems I agree with Tom. – akavel Mar 19 '10 at 23:15

I've clicked on the past on text ads that somehow answer something I have in mind.

Thinking specifically on your product: what does your product solves?

If what you do, happens to match what I need, I'll click!

For instance:

..Need to add advanced imaging capabilities to applications...? click here

If I do need to add "advanced imaging capabilities to my applications" I would click there.

I usally don't click on 30 trial and related ads, because I think "They don't care about my needs, they just want to sell me a box"

Also, why would I like to "save" money, when what I'm doing is surfing the web?. I mean, I did not enter thinking "Hey I want to know how to buy anything and save 50 uds in the process"

No, what I usually do is, I have this problem, I want to find something to solve it. I'm going to ask on SO. If in the process there is a product that matches exactly my needs I would buy it.

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  • Thanks for the feedback. The one thing we wonder is if people associate something like "advanced imaging" with the actual features "OCR, Barcode Reading, etc" -- I could imagine needing OCR and not necessarily associating it with imaging. – Lou Franco Aug 26 '09 at 11:39
  • @Lou: for me that's exactly as you say: "OCR, Barcodes" - these are keywords which mean something concrete for me. "Advanced imaging" is too fuzzy - it could be anything from an alpha blending tutorial to wavelet compression or face recognition. – akavel Mar 19 '10 at 23:19

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