Tips for Optimizing Craigslist Ads

CraigslistIf you work for or run a business with an opportunity to target customers locally, then I sure hope you’re not overlooking Craigslist.org. When I was seeking local SEO clients I couldn’t keep up with proposal requests during weeks I was running my Craigslist campaigns. My ads weren’t even all that appealing either. But, they were well-optimized and targeted.

Craigslist is a very powerful advertising tool that can be used to promote items for sale, real estate, services, jobs and community related items. Earlier this year I sold a vehicle for around $7000 in cash within 3 hours of posting my advertisement on Craigslist. The buyer was at my house in less than an hour. This is the typical experience I have. Not just some extreme case either.

Craigslist Stats

  • 34th most visited website worldwide, according to Alexa
  • 10th most visited website in the United States

Benefits of Using Craigslist

  • Users are ready to buy
  • Local leads convert well
  • Mostly free
  • Post multiple ads
  • Immediate exposure
  • Easy to optimize for
  • Complete control over listings
  • Ads rank well in Google

Although Craigslist is not considered a search engine in the traditional sense, it is one of the most frequently searched websites on the Internet. Similar to traditional search engines, an optimized Craigslist listing will get significantly more views than a non-optimized one.

Craigslist’s algorithm is nothing fancy. It’s really no more complicated than a standard site search. So optimizing for it is really easy. However, the majority of people still don’t do it.

By default, Craigslist search results deliver listings that contain all of the keywords used in the user’s search query. Listings are ordered by date, with the most recent listings at the top. So the key here is including all related keywords in your ad and posting it often.

Posting Title

Having a catchy title is a great way to stand out from the other ads. I personally like to keep mine short and sweet. This is something you should always be testing, though. Keep in mind I’m not an ad copywriter, but what works for me is capitalizing the first letter of each word, include the nearest major city, product or service information, ad special pricing, and staying away from ridiculous special characters. For instance, I’ve had a lot of success with ad titles similar to this:

Seattle Residential Carpet Cleaning – $70 SPECIAL!

Posting Description

Just like anything else in advertising, visually appealing ads can be very advantageous. A well put together HTML ad will likely have a much higher conversion rate than similar plain text ad. However, in order for your ad to convert you first need people to find it. And, I’m proof you don’t need a beautiful ad to have a lot of success with Craigslist.

One way to increase your page views is to have a killer posting title, but that will only get you so far. Another way is to optimize your ad with the right keywords. Unlike Google, Craigslist isn’t as strict when it comes to including a number of keywords in your listing. But, rather than worrying about having to stuff keywords throughout your entire ad, I like to focus on a well-written ad and then include my keywords in smaller font at the at the bottom, below the fold.

For a “Seattle Residential Carpet Cleaning – $70 SPECIAL!” posting I would include something like this at the bottom of the listing:

Areas served: city1, city2, city2, etc.,etc. until I covered all of the major nearby locations. I also make sure to include north, south, east, west, state name and abbreviation.

Craigslist only delivers results that match each keyword in a users query string exactly, so it’s important to use several variations.

Related keywords: keyword1, keyword1variant1, keyword1variant2, keyword1plural, keyword2, etc.

Because If a user searches for the word “car”, Craigslist WILL NOT return ads with only the word “cars” in it. You have to have the word “car” in your ad if you want users to find it using that keyword too.

To get a list of keyword ideas, I like to use Google’s Keyword Tool or Market Samurai.

Although Craigslist only delivers listings that match each keyword exactly, that doesn’t mean you’ll need to include every potential search phrase. Just the keywords. By including each keyword separated by a comma, that allows you to match all potential phrase combinations too.

I know that you’re probably saying to yourself, “isn’t this a bit spammy”? Well, I wouldn’t go quite this far on your own website, but I’ve never had an issue doing it with my Craigslist ads. As long as you’re not trying to hide the text, and you’re including it in a nice looking presentable way, then I don’t see anything wrong with it. If you’re not including irrelevant keywords, then it should improve user experience by helping them find what they are looking for quickly.

I typically like to post my ads twice a week on Monday and Thursday. Craigslist only allows you to post 3 service ads every 2 days per account, so I like to customize my ad for 3 nearby large cities. Or you could advertise three different services or specials in the nearest major city. Or whatever you like. As long as you’re taking advantage of all three of your available ad slots. Why wouldn’t you, for most categories it’s free!

Summary of Optimization Tips

  • Always be testing your ad title
  • Always be testing your ad copy
  • Include all nearby locations
  • Include related keywords and keyword variants
  • Post 3 ad variants (based on city, specialty, products or service, etc.)
  • Post twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays, etc.)

Other Notable Free Online Classifieds Websites

Keep in mind, even when adding all four of these other classified website together, they still don’t get as many visitors as Craigslist.org does on it’s own. So you really should focus on maximizing your Craigslist campaign first.

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  • May 15th, 2011 at 11:26 am Tim said:

    I liked the tips, but it would be great if there were some examples of the HTML for a Craigslist example site say for someone selling an auto.

  • December 1st, 2011 at 5:24 pm Mary said:

    This is great advice. What is your opinion on using ALL CAPS for the title. It certainly is eye catching, but annoying to read.

  • December 1st, 2011 at 5:47 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    I don’t like either it but sometimes it does stand out.

    I think it depends on several factors: length of your title, any special characters and niche.

    Can also depend on the look of the ads above and below yours as well.

    The best thing to do it test the same title with and without. Just be sure to post same time and day each week and test for multiple weeks each way.

  • December 16th, 2011 at 2:26 pm Jane said:

    Thanks for the great info, Wesley. I just found your site and read this article. I’m looking forward to exploring more of what you have here.

    I have a question if you can help to clarify. I noticed you mentioned posting to 3 cities nearby. I’ve heard that craigslist doesn’t like to have postings that are outside your own area and my immediate area is not too urban.

    I don’t know how far I can reach out, but I am located a few hours drive from Los Angeles and a few hours drive from San Jose, CA. These areas would be fantastic for what I’m doing. Do you think craigslist would give me trouble posting to those areas?

  • December 19th, 2011 at 1:55 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    As long as each ad posting is unique, I don’t think you should have any trouble.

  • April 7th, 2012 at 2:48 am Sam said:

    Do you still use these techniques today? If you’re still trying to get more SEO clients, how well does Craigslist work at attracting prospective SEO clients in particular?

    Thanks in advance

  • April 8th, 2012 at 1:52 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Sam,
    I don’t use craigslist to obtain SEO clients anymore. I’d have to say that roughly 50% of my business came from there when I did.

    However, I heard that it’s nearly impossible to keep an active listing because in certain categories everyone flags one another just because they can. They even had a few idiots on the local news here say they flagged people just for fun.

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