Marketing Your Business on Craigslist

This guide can help you showcase your products and services on the popular online marketplace site.

From ecommerce websites to furniture wholesalers, small businesses both online and off are realizing the marketing power of Craigslist. Founded in 1996 by Craig Newmark, the Craigslist site 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.

There's no question that Craigslist is one of the most powerful marketplace websites in the world. You can buy a car, hire a new employee and rent an apartment in the same place. However, just because Craigslist is capable of doing a lot of different things, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's the right format for your business. Even if it is the right site for you, you may not be using Craigslist in the most effective way possible.

So, how can you know whether the site will help with what you need and make sure you're putting your time to its best use? Well, that's what this guide is for. The following tips will help you determine whether Craigslist might be a good fit for you and offer another outlet for marketing your products and services.

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What sort of goods or services sell best on Craigslist?

From services like tutoring, car repair and real estate to products such as wholesale furniture, consignment goods and retail ecommerce, the Craigslist site 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. It can also help affiliates and webmasters looking for new ways to find customers.

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What is your ideal 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 want to target with your marketing approach. If you're a service provider, you can identify available cities on the site that encompass your service region. Keep in mind that some regions overlap.

For instance, if you're a mobile groomer working in Orange County, Calif., but you also work in nearby areas like Los Angeles to San Diego, Craigslist reaches your service area across four cities. In that case, 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.

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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. That's a good thing, because it allows you to compete with everyone else without spending your entire day making ads, plus you can follow these rules and still get excellent exposure.

To get started, 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 always be careful to delete your old ad. Craigslist users are quick to spot businesses that misuse the system, and if you didn't know this already, online audiences don't tend to be all that forgiving. The Craigslist flagging system puts the power of spam control into the hands of the users.

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How to build ads for the site

Building an ad on Craigslist can be as simple as typing in some text on the site, or you can incorporate more design aspects with HTML and images. Regardless of what you're selling or your assets, though, a direct approach tends to be the best one. For instance, if you're a real estate agent who uses Craigslist to help promote properties for sale, you should build a text ad that incorporates images of the properties for sale -- and 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. Including important search words, such as "three bedroom" or "condominium," will help with your sales efforts, as will regional identifiers including a ZIP code, city or community name. That way, when people search for specific items that fit your criteria, they will find you in the search results.

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Craigslist's search function isn't based on a search algorithm; instead, search results on the site are displayed first by date, then by keyword. This makes the text content of your ad extremely important.

However, adding images will help improve your ad's effectiveness as much as strong text. Just as importantly, adding images to your ad isn't difficult. Even if you're not web savvy, the "upload image" function will help you 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. In fact, the best performing ads on Craigslist are often simple text ads that get straight to the point.

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How to track your success or failure

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 complementary.

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 match your prices to become competitive 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. Even in the winter, a snowmobile will not sell nearly as well in Los Angeles as it will in Vermont.

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Harness your community by using the forums

As an open market, Craigslist can help sellers from all walks of life. Keep in mind that as a business owner, you're just as likely to compete on the site 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, which means that if you're willing to do more than just post ads, you can harness the power of your community. 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.

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Protect yourself against fraud

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 on the site. It's very easy for users on the site to fall prey to scam artists, and you need to protect yourself from the start if you want to sell safely.

Start by making 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.

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Why you should market your business on Craigslist

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. Help yourself and 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.

Do you have other tips or success stories about Craigslist? Share with us in the comments below.

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