What It Is: Small, line ads in newspapers, magazines or any print or online publication
Appropriate For: Businesses looking for a low-budget advertising option. It's especially effective for selling small-ticket items, hiring employees, increasing phone-in queries or driving visitors to websites.
Typical Cost: $5 to $100 per line, depending on the publication, geographic areas, time of year, number of ads you buy, and whether you sign a contract or purchase ads on a week-to-week basis. Rates vary greatly, so contact each publication for actual costs. Be sure to specify that you want business rates (and unfortunately, those classifieds cost more than ads placed by individuals for non-business purposes).
How It Works: Classified ads certainly have their place in advertising--just look at the back pages of any newspaper or magazine to see how many businesses use them. The classifieds section is the only section of a publication--with the exception of crossword puzzles--that people read with active engagement, scouring them with a pen or pencil in hand and circling ads of interest.
Most commonly used to advertise job openings and garage and estate sales, and as a way for buyers on a budget to search for home furnishings, used cars, baby gear and other equipment for sale, businesses also find them effective for small ticket items like pizza and wing specials, dry cleaning deals, oil changes and the like. (Classifieds aren't often used for large ticket items or to promote special events. Those need a bigger splash than a small classified ad.) And besides being valuable for directly advertising products or services for sale, classifieds are a great way to get people to visit your website, where you can provide all the information you can't fit into the ad and more.
When deciding whether to use classified advertising in your marketing efforts, you must consider the merits of each publication you're thinking about using to be sure it'll reach your desired target market. Obviously, you won't find a 40-year old woman reading the same publication as a 20-year old woman, so just knowing a publication is aimed at women readers isn't enough information to know before you make your ad buy. You still need to know the publication's circulation figures; specific demographics reached; how many times a week, month or year it's published; and where the issues are mailed or purchased.
Once you determine which publications will be best for you, contact the publication's advertising departments and ask for a business-classified rate sheet to be mailed, faxed or e-mailed to you. This contact information can be found on the inside cover or in the first few pages of all magazines, and a call to the newspapers will get you the rate information you need. You'll see that many daily and weekly newspapers offer "neighborhood" sections or a choice of ZIP codes, so you can cover just the areas you want or the areas you can afford. Some free magazine-type publications you find in pharmacies and grocery stores (Auto Trader, Home Sales, etc.) also have classified sections you can buy by ZIP code.
Besides the print version, you can also buy classifieds in the online versions of most publications. For either, you'll want a great headline--something that's eye-catching and that makes the reader curious--and a line or two that provides clear information as to what you sell or the service you provide. Then the only other things you need are your site's URL and a phone number. Making a case in four or five lines (including the headline) for readers to take action is about as inexpensive a form of advertising as you're ever going to find.
One last bit of advice: No matter whether you're a first-time advertiser or a classified ad veteran, it's a good idea to compose several different versions of your ad and the place the different ads in separate publications to see which ones get the best response. Once you've determined which message is most effective, try using it in publications that didn't pull well for you to see whether the problem was the message or the publication. (You should also continue to use it in the publications where it did well.) It's this trial-and-error process that tells you what is--and isn't--bringing in the calls or hits.
To find venues for your classified ads, visit www.gebbie.com for a list of daily and weekly newspapers and magazines.
Kathy Kobliski is the founder of Silent Partner Advertising in Syracuse, New York. She is also the author of Advertising Without an Agency Made Easy.