In the pantheon of internet culture-defining websites, Craigslist ranks highly. You’ve probably used it in some way, shape, or form: to find a place to rent, recruit a guitarist for your band, track down a romantic “missed connection,” buy an inexpensive second-hand couch, even pick up a little extra work on the side.
Craigslist is just as infamous as it is famous, claiming a wide range of asterisks, especially when it comes to business transactions. Considering the marketplace isn’t highly regulated, “buyer beware” is almost always a given.
In short, Craigslist’s reputation precedes it. For everything bad you can say about the site, many legitimate businesses have used Craigslist to get off the ground, increase sales, get the word out about their online stores, and do critical market research that help your business differentiate from the competition.
Don’t shy away from using one of the internet’s most visited websites (20 billion monthly page views!) to advance your business. Instead, embrace it. Find ways to use Craigslist to your advantage.
Of course, both art and science go into using Craigslist to its fullest. This article is a guide to start making Craigslist a powerful element of your online store’s marketing.
What makes Craigslist different from other marketing or sales channels
Before you dive headlong into a Craigslist strategy, it’s important to recognize how the website is unique so you can craft a customized plan to leverage it.
Here are a handful of ways Craigslist is different.
- Locality: Craigslist is organized by region, which means your posts are hyperlocal. This makes it a lot simpler for you to start small and scale up from there, testing new locales as you find success in your existing ones.
- Timeliness: To rank on Google, you need to put a lot of effort into a variety of details. But Craigslist is different. When people browse Craigslist search or category results, they get matches based on the recency of the post. Though they can toggle between other organizational options, your post gets a much more equal shot at consideration than your website may get for certain keywords on Google.
- Text-heavy: Your featured images are important, but unlike social media channels, they aren’t always the biggest part of drawing in potential customers. Headlines share top billing with images, making them a crucial focus for each post. Body copy is also important considering how wary potential customers are of fraud. Clear, reliable text builds quick trust with shoppers.
- Variation: Due to the timeliness factor, your post runs its course in a matter of a few days. The short lifespan of posts means you can test different kinds of content in a relatively short period of time to see which pictures, headlines, and text resonate most with customers.
- Scrappiness: The organic and fast-moving nature of Craigslist rewards scrappiness. If you plan to use Craigslist as a sales or marketing platform, you have to evolve quickly and be willing to work without as much structure as you might be used to. For example, tracking can be dicey. You can get around this by using different email addresses and phone numbers so you can track the performance of different ads. You can also create custom URLs to see if you’re getting referral traffic from Craigslist to your online store.
Ways your store can use Craigslist
Armed with a little knowledge about what makes Craigslist different, you can build a strong strategy to use it for your store. Here are three ways you can leverage Craigslist.
- Connect with people on the forums
Believe it or not, Craigslist has a pretty active community of people connecting through the forums, creating 200 million posts every month. One of the ways to use the forums to your advantage is as a research tool. You can crawl active forums that are relevant to your product or service and use the research to help build audience profiles or tailor your product offerings.
You can also actively participate in the forums by joining conversations with potential buyers and related sellers. Consider this an extension of your social media marketing. Build credibility and relationships and you’ll have opportunities create long-term customers.
- Sell directly.
Think of Craigslist as another sales channel. It isn’t as simple to integrate with as Google Shopping, Amazon, or eBay. (You may have to do some manual work in keeping your inventory up to date on the backend, for example.) But it is an extremely active marketplace. If you’re looking for a new place to sell your products, you can do much worse than Craigslist.
To sell directly, you’ll need to learn the art of a solid posting. (More on that in the next section.)
- Drive traffic to your website.
As you work in the forums and on postings, you’ll have opportunities to drive traffic to your online store. If you’re selling a set of pans, for example, include a link to your online store for people who may be intrigued by related kitchen items.
The other big advantage to linking to your store is earning customers who may not fully trust the Craigslist buying experience. They may be more willing to buy if they’re doing it through an official sales channel that includes clear contact information and establishes your website as a reputable seller.
- Test product descriptions to use elsewhere.
Because your Craigslist postings live a short life and need to be replaced frequently, you can take the opportunity to tweak existing product descriptions on your online store and test them in a live environment. That way, you can test new content without impacting the live environment on your main sales channel.
How to craft an eye-catching Craigslist's post
If you’re planning to put your products up for sale on Craigslist, you’ll need to work on crafting compelling ads. What goes into the anatomy of a strong Craigslist ad?
Headers on product pages are clear and descriptive. Headlines on Craigslist should follow suit. Give your potential customer clear expectations for what you’re selling first, then use compelling body copy to draw them into the sale.
Like product descriptions, it’s important to pepper the body of your Craigslist ad with search keywords. Make sure to include all the relevant details of the product your selling, and use friendly, plain, and compelling language to excite your potential customer into buying.
Be sure to use high quality, high definition photos. Include as many photos as it takes to show every side, relevant angle, packaging, and other pertinent details your audience may be interested in. (Once again, these are best practices you should also follow on your product pages.)
Other information to include
Include your contact info to build trust with your potential buyer. Be sure to link out to your online store in case the customer wants to go through a trusted channel or browse more products.
Make your posts friendly and approachable rather than overly salesy. You may be running a business, but Craigslist is a people-focused website. Craigslisters will respond better to posts that sound human and trustworthy, rather than mechanical, businesslike, or salesy.
Other guidelines for postings
- Post only as frequently as you can within Craigslist’s spam guidelines. Obviously, you want to make sure to post often so your listing goes to the top of the page. However, there are limits to this. Wait at least 48 hours before you post again for the same product. And if you do post again for the same product, follow the tips below.
- Keep a clean shop. Make sure to delete old posts. Keeping multiple ads up for the same product could quickly get your postings flagged as spam.
- Vary your posts. Try to have a handful of different product descriptions in your arsenal. Variation is good both for avoiding getting flagged as spam and for testing whether some product descriptions work better than others.
- Scale to new markets. As mentioned earlier, Craigslist is unique in that your posts are hyperlocal. You can start testing in one market to see what kind of traction you get. Then, you can scale up to new markets if you find success. The market-based approach to sales makes it easier to scale your Craigslist business.
- Approach markets differently. Because of hyperlocality, some online stores can do their own geotargeting. For example, if sell sports jerseys, only post ads for the local teams. You can also approach pricing to match local markets.
Craigslist isn’t for everyone, but it does fit the business models for some online stores. Weigh the risks and rewards of rolling out a comprehensive Craigslist marketing plan carefully before you dive in. Remember that you’re working with low barriers to entry: posting is free, your posts are ephemeral, and chances are very low of cannibalizing SEO from your online store. If you keep your tone human and approachable and your prices competitive, you’ll have a good chance of adding a nicely performing sales and marketing channel to your ecommerce strategy.