The Real Scoop on Craigslist for Business


Craigslist began in 1995 when Craig Newmark decided to send a regular email to friends about events happening in San Francisco, California. The list was popular. More and more people wanted to receive it. In 1996, Craig decided to turn it into a website that allowed people to add their own listings. Craig was surprised when people started posting other types of listings besides events. The rest (as they say) is history. Craigslist is now one of the world’s most-visited websites, and is the king of classified advertising on the web. Craigslist now has seven-hundred local sites in seventy countries, receiving over a hundred million new posts and around fifty billion page views every month.

Why is Craigslist so popular? The popularity of Craigslist can probably be explained by its ultra-simple interface, its variety of useful categories, and the fact that it’s free to use.*  Since it gets such an enormous amount of web traffic, you may easily post an ad that will be seen by lots of people quickly. It only takes a few minutes to create an ad. Then it takes roughly fifteen minutes for that ad to be live and viewable on the web. People can browse the categories on Craigslist to look at ads, or they might simply do a search for what they are looking for. They might search “leather sofa,” “carpet cleaning service,” or “three bedroom house.” The results they see will be sorted by the date and time of the most recent postings. Although people use Craigslist for many different reasons, the three most popular reasons are: advertising goods and services, meeting people, and job hunting.

* Actually, Craigslist is not always free. They make their money by charging for posts in certain categories in certain areas, such as job postings in the San Francisco Bay area, brokered apartment rentals in New York City, and therapeutic services all around the United States.

Could Craigslist be helpful to your business?

There is no doubt that a lot of business is done through Craigslist. It serves a purpose that no other website serves at this time (factoring in its huge amount of traffic). If you think there is a chance you could find customers through Craigslist, you should try it. One of the great things about this outlet is that it’s easy and painless to try. Perhaps do a few tests over a couple of weeks. Making it work for you might just be a matter of trial and error. If you decide to try it, here are some tips to help you succeed:

  • Make your titles stand out.
  • Add details so people can understand more about what you are offering.
  • Add images to your ads.
  • Use keywords in your titles and text to make your ads more likely to appear in searches.
  • Start with a question, such as “Are you looking for an easier way to _____?”
  • Make your ad relevant to the local community.
  • Include a call-to-action.
  • Instead of pushing for sales immediately, try to get a response for a free offer (like a free consultation).
  • Keep your prices on the higher side so there is room for negotiation.
  • Repost your ad after 48 hours.
  • Create an account. If you create an account you can edit, repost, and delete more easily.
  • Carefully consider the time that you post. Remember that posts appear in order of the date and time of posting.
  • Craigslist allows you to use hyperlinks in your ads, which may be a helpful feature for viewers who want more information. To make a hyperlink in your ad, just type the web address starting with http:// and the system will automatically turn it into a hyperlink.

Playing by the rules

Just as on other areas of the web, there are always those who will go to obnoxious lengths to become more visible. Craigslist may seem like a big free-for-all, but there are rules. Without these rules, Craigslist would be so full of spammy posts that no one would bother using the service. The most important rule about using Craigslist has to do with the frequency and location of your ads. It reads as follows: You may post to one category and in one city no more than once every 48 hours. Craigslist ads show in the order of the most recent. For that reason, advertisers would love to be able to repost their ads more often than every 48 hours. That would give them more visibility near the top. Craigslist has filtering systems that detect when people break the rules. If their system detects that you are not abiding by the rules, it will take down your ads and might cancel your account.

Craigslist security and anonymity

Craigslist has a very good system for keeping your email address anonymous from the readers of your ads. It allows you to receive the response messages by email, but “anonymizes” your email address. This feature is called “Craigslist mail relay.” It works two ways: protecting the advertiser and also protecting people who reply to ads. (Anonymized email is the default setting when you post an ad, but you may also choose to show your email address.)

Unlike Amazon and eBay, Craigslist has no rating system for members and sellers. Absolutely anyone can go to sell or buy. The fact that Craigslist allows us to be anonymous is both a good and bad thing. The good part is that it protects your identity from the public, rather than requiring you to display your name and contact information. The bad part is that it creates a platform for shadier characters to operate. Always be cautious when communicating on Craigslist. Examine all communications carefully while in the anonymous framework before giving anyone your full name or contact information.

Other classified ad sites

Although none of these come close to having the amount of traffic that Craigslist has, you might find one of these other classified sites to be helpful:

Top things to know about Craigslist

  • Craigslist is one of the most popular websites in the world, with around fifty billion page views per month.
  • Most advertisements on Craigslist are free to post, but there are charges for certain categories in certain locations.
  • Craigslist has rules for advertisers in order to keep it from becoming overloaded with spam. The most important rule is that you may only post to one category and in one city, no more than once every forty-eight hours.
  • Craigslist has a policy against anyone posting for another person as an agent or posting service.
  • Craigslist has a very good system for keeping contact information anonymous between possible buyers and sellers.
  • Besides advertisements, Craigslist also has very popular forums.
  • Craigslist is a local service. You choose the city or region in which you want to advertise.

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Barry Abraham is the author of "The Internet Marketing Strategy Book."  This is a 10-chapter book that gives an easy-to-understand overview of current Internet marketing opportunities.

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