From e-commerce websites to furniture wholesalers, small businesses both online and off are realizing the marketing power of Craigslist.org. Founded in 1996 by Craig Newmark, Craigslist.org gets an estimated 10 million unique visitors per day. With an online classified ads format organized by either region or city, Craigslist connects buyers and sellers in more than 300 communities; for the most part, posting on the site is free.
If you've never heard of Craigslist or never considered using the site to market your business, the following tips will help you determine whether it might be a good fit for you and offer another outlet for marketing your products and services.
What Sells Best on Craigslist
From services like tutoring, car repair and real estate to products such as wholesale furniture, consignment goods and retail e-commerce, Craigslist is the ultimate destination for online marketers. If you manufacture goods, provide services directly or sell products regionally, Craigslist is a marketing tool you should consider. You can also easily promote an eBay store, a franchise operation or a referral partner. And it's a bourgeoning business opportunity for affiliates and webmasters looking for new ways to find customers.
Identifying Your Market
Like any other advertising medium, Craigslist requires some strategy, though paramount to its usefulness is simplicity. To start, you need to determine which city or cities you're going to post an ad. If you're a service provider, you can identify available cities on Craigslist that encompass your service region. Keep in mind that some regions overlap. For instance, if you're a mobile groomer working in Orange County, California, but service from Los Angeles to San Diego, Craigslist reaches your service area across four cities. So you'd want to develop your messaging and a posting schedule in each of these regions to increase your exposure. If you sell a product or offer a service nationwide, the opportunity to reach new customers is even greater.
Posting on Craigslist, either nationally or locally, requires an understanding of the rules. Craigslist has in place--a set of rules that prohibits advertisers from over-posting or spamming users. You can follow these rules and still get excellent exposure. To start, develop unique ads for each city you post in, focus on specific products and rotate them on a promotional schedule. Never post the exact same ad within 48 hours, and be careful to delete your old ad. Craigslist users are quick to spot businesses that misuse the system and can be quite unforgiving. The Craigslist flagging system puts the power of spam control into the hands of the users.
Building an ad on Craigslist can be as simple as typing in some text, or you can incorporate html and images. Typically, what works best is the direct approach. For instance, if you're a real estate agent using Craigslist to promote properties for sale, build a text ad that incorporates images of the properties for sale--you don't need to know html to do this. Simply define what property specifications best sell the property and keep the sales pitch to a minimum. Be sure to include important search words, such as "three bedroom" or "condominium," as well as regional identifiers including a ZIP code, city or community name. You do this so that people who search for specific items find you in the search results.
Craigslist's search function isn't based on a search algorithm; instead, search results are displayed first by date, then by keyword. This makes the text content of your ad extremely important. Ads with images only increase ad effectiveness. And adding images to your ad isn't difficult. If you're not web savvy, use the "upload image" function available during the posting process. (If you want to feature a large image or more than one, you'll need to upload your images to your own web server and reference them inside your ad using basic html.) Images, however, are not required. Often the best performing ads on Craigslist are simple text ads that get straight to the point.
If you plan to post in multiple cities and offer specific promotions, tracking which ads produce the best results is important. You can track a Craigslist ad by e-mail, phone number or website referral. Each tracking mechanism should feature a unique component like a custom e-mail address, telephone extension or website referral code. How you choose to track should depend on your industry and the typical methods customer use to communicate with you. Unlike eBay, Craigslist does not provide you with any demographic or tracking data.
Regardless of whether you sell a product or service, it's important to understand the competitive landscape on a daily or weekly basis. Supply and demand for certain products or services will fluctuate. Take the time to get to know the other players in your cities or categories. If you see a rush on a certain product, focus on something complimentary. For instance, if you're a mattress wholesaler and see that a large number of a specific brand and/or size mattresses are flooding your market, either price match or focus your energy on a different size or bed frame until the market stabilizes. Also, take into consideration the season and the demographic (both income and recreational) of the cities in which you post. In the winter, a snowmobile will not sell nearly as well in California as it will in Vermont.
As an open market, Craigslist welcomes sellers from all walks of life. Keep in mind that as a business owner, you're just as likely to compete with everyday people selling the contents of their attic as you are a national brand retailer with sights on breaking into your market. The community element sets Craigslist apart from its competitors. Harness the power of your community by doing more than just posting. The most trafficked area of Craigslist is the forums. Use the forums to communicate with fellow sellers and potential buyers or to establish an active, ethical voice for your business.
Fraud exists in every corner of the business world, both online and offline. The anonymous nature of Craigslist--the very thing that makes it so popular--is also the reason you should take measures to protect yourself against fraud. With no member or seller ratings system, Craigslist can fall prey to scam artists. Make an effort to talk to each new customer via phone, only ship items once payment is received, and always use your best judgment when it comes to business transactions.
Craigslist continues to experience rapid growth--additional cities have come online in recent months and more are expected to launch throughout the next year. The buzz about this great resource is sweeping the nation, and every day people from all over the world are visiting the site, looking to buy from trusted sellers and service providers. Get in on the action by harnessing the marketing power of Craigslist.
Shanon Lewis is a web-marketing expert who specializes in marketing on Craigslist. She's also the author of The Unofficial Craigslist Book and regularly shares her wisdom on Craigslist and online marketing at her popular blog.