3 lessons we learned from launching ads on DEV

By Li-Lian Ang (Published on May 22, 2024)

We’re experimenting with paid marketing to help reach skilled and motivated technical people who might help align AI systems. We brainstormed platforms where we might find people who might be a good fit for our AI alignment course. For example, one type of audience we're interested in is people with software engineering and machine learning skills who care about positively impacting the world.

One platform that came to mind was DEV,[1] a community of software developers getting together to help one another out. It was simple to get started, so we gave it a test run!

Comparison of ad performance per 100,000 impressions between DEV and LinkedIn for the Alignment course.

We ran a paid marketing campaign on LinkedIn for a previous iteration of the Alignment course, and based on those numbers, we would have expected to get 2-3 applications, but in reality, we ended up with no form landings or applications — burning $1,000. Here’s what we learned.

💡 Lesson #1: Ask about the platform’s ad performance history for an accurate conversion cost

After the campaign, I emailed DEV and discovered that our campaign performed much more poorly than other Starter campaigns on the platform (two times worse click-through rate!). If we had asked DEV about the expected click-through rate beforehand, we would have set better expectations for ourselves.

Doing some quick math:

  • 100,000 impressions → 0.2% CTR → 200 ad clicks → 4% conversion → 8 form landings → 15% conversion → 1.2 applications
  • Given that the Starter campaign on DEV costs $1,000, we had set ourselves up to pay ~$1,000 per application!

Whether people click your ads depends on several factors, including the ad design, audience targeting and just plain good timing. Before putting money down on your next ad campaign, ensure the expected cost is worth it to you!

💡 Lesson #2: Get a customer success manager

We have a customer success manager when doing paid marketing with LinkedIn and Twitter, and it has made a massive difference in our campaigns. Our LinkedIn rep suggested tweaks to our campaign settings, which we hadn't known were options, and our Twitter rep connected us with a free service to create custom audiences, which helped us more effectively reach our target audience.

We chose not to put in $10,000 to have a dedicated customer success manager, but we can feel the difference with how in the dark we felt throughout the campaign.

By virtue of their role, success managers have cumulative learning across multiple campaigns and a better understanding of their user base to help you optimise your campaign. For example, they can give you feedback on the ad copy that resonates best with their users and the type of ad performance to expect.

However, not all success managers are created equal and identifying early on that you might want to switch to a different one could be enormously helpful!

💡 Lesson #3: Set up your own tracking

Ad platforms almost always provide a dashboard to see the number of impressions, clicks and (sometimes) conversions from your ad. However, smaller paid marketing platforms like Dev might not set up conversion tracking for you. This means you won't see how many people have engaged with your website once they’ve landed there from the ad. You'll want to optimise for conversions instead of click-through rates where possible, so having conversion data is crucial!

Even if the platform allows you to set up conversion tracking, you shouldn't trust their data wholesale because you don't have transparency on how they collect this data. With your own tracking, you can validate the data they share to ensure you're making data-driven decisions on your paid marketing.

It is always a good idea to setup your own tracking and to do it sooner rather than later. Tracking only starts once it has been installed on your website, so the longer you delay the more data you'll lose out on.

If you're deciding between platforms, we switched over from Google Analytics to PostHog and have benefited from how user-friendly and transparent PostHog is.


We're continuing to experiment with ways to reach the kind of people who will help ensure we build emerging technologies that benefit humanity. If you have any tips for us we'd love to hear from you.


  1. Also known as dev.to, DEV Community, or The Practical DEV

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