How to Write an Effective Craigslist Ad
Simple and effective techniques to help you write better Craigslist ads
In this article I'm going to discuss several tips and techniques you can use to write better Craigslist ads that will help you sell those things you no longer need! Maybe you've posted a few Craigslist ads and nothing sold. Maybe you've never used Craigslist. Maybe you've asked yourself, "Why don't my Craigslist ads ever sell anything?!"
Follow the basic guidelines in this article and you will write better, more effective, sales-oriented Craigslist ads. This is a long article that is designed to really teach you and show you how to do this whole process.
Skill Level: Intermediate
My credentials: Digital Marketing Professional (10+ years). I sell things on Craigslist occasionally; I've sold small items, like furniture and appliances, and big-ticket items, like boats and motorcycles.
Have you ever posted an ad on Craigslist?
"I've posted a few Craigslist ads, and they never work or sell anything ..." ~common complaint
Don't worry. You're in the same boat as A LOT of people. Craigslist has made it so easy for anyone to post an ad for just about anything that many people have tried their hand at it and failed. This discourages them. I'm going to help you.
I've been managing a retail marketing department for years and am going to share some basic tips with you on how to make a Craigslist ad that sells that piece of furniture, or old guitar, or rug, or tool, or whatever it it you're trying to sell.
There is also a chance that you've heard of Craigslist, but have never used it to sell or buy anything. If that is the case, www.craigslist.org is a site where users (like yourself) can create and browse ads. It is free to use. You can do all sorts of great stuff on this site. You can look for jobs, like-minded people, but it is most commonly used to sell and purchase personal products and services.
The Basic Components of a Craigslist Ad
There is essentially no difference between a Craigslist ad and any other ad. The essence and goal are the same: To sell something. I'm going to list and describe the basic elements of a good Craigslist ad. Then, after this I'm going to describe how to write each one of these sections effectively.
- Posting Title, Price, and Specific Location - When you create a new craigslist ad, you will be presented with these fields. The posting title is the headline customers will see when they're browsing for products. The price will be displayed next to the posting title. The specific location is also displayed in the customer's browseable search results.
- Posting Description, which is really: Headline, Sub Heading, and Sales Copy - The craigslist interface presents you with a large text area and calls it "Posting Description." This is where you actually write your ad. I recommend breaking that section into multiple parts:
- Headline - This should accurately describe the item, your intentions for the item, a price, and be very brief. This should also be the largest (font size) text in the ad.
- Sub Heading - This line is slightly smaller (font size) than the Headline, but bigger than the sales copy. It is designed to encourage the customer to respond to your ad, and gives them instructions on how to do that.
- Sales Copy - This section, sometimes called the Body, is where you can use more descriptive and persuasive language to sell your item, or service. The font size here is very regular, like what you're reading now in this article.
- Images / Pics / Pictures - Craigslist allows you to post images with your ad. This, in almost all cases, is vital to the success of the ad. It allows the customer to visually inspect the product, or get a visual reference for the service being provided.
Next we're going to discuss specific techniques you can use to create each one of these sections. If you use these techniques your ad will have an advantage over anyone not using these techniques.
Use basic sales techniques, and HTML, to create highly effective Craigslist ads (Don't worry, it's easy!)
In this section we're going to elaborate on the basic components described above, but we're going to focus on the components of the Body of the ad: Headline, Sub Heading, and Sales Copy. I'm going to give you solid instructions on how to create each section using sales techniques and some HTML. If you're not familiar with HTML, or are intimidated by it, don't be. This is going to be extremely basic.
- How to write the Headline, and format it with HTML
- Firstly, you need to have an effective headline. We will use HTML to format the headline. An effective headline should be succinct and describe exactly what the ad they are looking at is. We will discuss this more in the example ad later in this article.
- HTML is just text. Craigslist allows you to use basic HTML to format your ad. Most people do not do this but it makes a huge difference!
- We're going to write your headline with an H1 tag. Here is how you do it:
- <h1> Type headline here </h1>
Typing <h1> starts the headline, and typing </h1> ends the headline. Everything in between will be formatted as large bold text.
- How to write the Sub Heading with HTML
- Similar to the Headline, we're going to discuss how to write a great Sub Heading in the example below. An effective Sub Heading is going to encourage the customer to respond to your ad, and provide them with instructions on how to do that. This technique is also referred to as a "call to action."
- We're going to write the Sub Heading with an H2 tag. Here is how you do it:
- <h2> Type your Sub Heading Here </h2>
The h2 tag is just a slightly smaller version of the h1 tag. Note: There are actually six H tags. H1 is the largest, and most important, and H6 is the smallest and rarely used.
- How to write the Sales copy, or body of your ad
- The sales copy does not have to be formatted with HTML. Most of the time this is unnecessary. But, it is very important that you format your Sales Copy by breaking it up into relevant paragraphs. By doing this you will avoid the "wall of text" syndrome. We've all seen huge forum posts, or ads with no paragraphs or line breaks, and it's very unattractive.
- Make sure each paragraph focuses on a specific aspect of the product or service.
- We're going to elaborate more on this in the example ad later in this article.
In the next section we're going to look at an example craigslist ad. This is where we are really going to get into some effective sales techniques and how to put that HTML formatting described above to good use!
Example Craigslist ad, with HTML formatting and sales techniques - "How to sell your old leather sofa."
In this section we're going to dissect a real craigslist ad. It is very short, and simple, but displays all of the techniques described in this article. We're also going to elaborate on why certain choices were made and how you can implement these methods when creating your own ad!
Example Ad: How to sell your leather couch on Craigslist
Preliminary basics: (1) Log in to your Craigslist account. If you don't have one, sign up, they're free. (2) click "new posting". (3) Select city location. It will default to your city. (4) Select posting type. In this case: "for sale" (5) Select a category. In this case: "Furniture - By owner" (6) Choose your locale. Select your county. Don't worry, your ads still show in the neighboring counties. (7) Now it's time to create your posting!
Screen shot of the ad interface, with markup to identify the components
The Craigslist ad creation interface
We're going to dissect the above image. When a person is browsing through craigslist for a product or service, they are browsing through categories, locations, or performing keyword searches. Whenever a list of results is shown this is called a Search Result. This is where your ad is going to show up, and is your first opportunity to draw the customer in. If they don't click on your search result, you have no chance of selling the item.
The Posting Title, Price, and Specific Location are the components that will be displayed in the search result. You have very limited space, and potentially high competition. So let's make it count! The Posting Description, which creates the ad Body, is what is shown after the ad is clicked in the search results. This is also where the Pics / Images will show up. However, an important thing to note is that if your ad contains images, a little icon appears next to your search result listing.
The Posting Title
The posting title is going to be very similar to your Headline, but maybe slightly different. By necessity it will usually be a little shorter. In our example, our Posting Title reads: "Ivory Leather Sofa FOR SALE (like new)". It seems simple, and it is, but that title is doing several things. It's describing the item: leather sofa, providing some details like its color and condition, and the intention of the ad - it is FOR SALE.
It might seem obvious that it is for sale, but "for sale" is commonly typed into search engines when someone is looking to buy a product. For instance, someone might type in: "Leather sofa for sale." In most cases, you want this in your title, if it is relevant. The details are also important because when looking at a list, the Ivory color description, or the 'like new' claim might make them click on your leather sofa ad instead of another ad that just says "leather sofa"
Price and Specific Location
How do you price an item for sale on craigslist? How do you know what it is worth? What if I price it too high? Ahh yes ... Pricing your product or service. This is one of the eternal challenges of marketing for all businesses, of all sizes. But, it's actually not that hard in this case. There is a very easy way to determine the value of an item or service. (1) What do you need to charge to feel okay with the sale? (2) What are your prospective buyers willing to pay? The actual value of the item lays somewhere in between those two numbers.
In this case, I priced our leather sofa at $150.
I typically put the city I live in for the Specific Location. You can do subdivisions, counties, intersecting streets, or zip codes, or leave it blank. I highly recommend filling in this location.
The Posting Description
This is where you're going to write your Headline, Sub Heading, and Sales Copy with all the fancy HTML formatting you learned earlier! Below is a screen shot of what the ad is going to look like when you're done!
Add / Edit Images
This allows you to add images to the ad. I cannot stress how important it is to include a good image of what you're trying to sell! Continue below to see a screenshot of the completed ad, and below that a detailed description on how to recreate the example.
Here is a screen shot of the finished Leather Sofa example ad!
Here is the same screen shot with orange highlighter
A walkthrough of the Posting Description (ad Body)
To spoil the ending of this tale, this is a real ad I created to sell my old leather sofa. I created this ad, and by the following weekend the sofa was sold, and I had money in my pocket. I literally had people waiting in line to buy the couch. I've used Craigslist many, many times to sell items from around my house. It works. So, let's walk you through the final stages, which is the Posting Description, or the ad Body. This is where we write the Headline, Sub Heading, Sales Copy, and attach Pics.
- The Headline, and why it works
- Ivory-colored Leather Sofa in great condition $150
- Why does this work? What is the headline supposed to do?
- Using the H1 tags like we discussed in the formatting section will display the text in large bold print. This headline will jump out at the potential buyer and tell him exactly what to expect, and whether or not he wants to view the rest of the ad.
- The headline is supposed to coincide with the potential buyer's intentions. I cannot stress that enough. For example, if the potential buyer wants a leather sofa, specifically, and your headline fails to mention that it is leather, then your headline does not coincide with your potential buyer's intentions. Conversely, if the viewer of your ad wants a cloth sofa, and sees your description as leather, he will not waste his time--or yours--and move on. In this case, that is the desirable outcome.
- The Sub Heading, and why it works
- If you're interested in purchasing this sofa, please call David @ 555-555-5555
- Why is this a good sub heading? What is a Sub Heading supposed to do?
- Using the H2 tag like we discussed in the formatting section above, your Sub Heading will appear in slightly smaller text than your Headline, but will still be larger than your Sales Copy. There is a real chance that the rest of your ad may not even be viewed. If the Headline and Sub Heading are good enough, that might be all the potential buyer needs to pick up the phone.
- The Sub Heading is used to reinforce the Headline and give the potential buyer the opportunity to respond immediately. In the marketing world we call this a "Call to Action," but all that basically is, is a command, suggestion, or instruction to the potential buyer, informing them on how to respond. In this example, I'm instructing the customer to call me directly. It is carefully worded to be very agreeable with the correct viewer of the ad. If they can answer yes to the condition: If you're interested, then I tell them exactly what to do: Call David, and I provide the phone number.
- Some call to actions also include a time line. This can be very effective. For instance, the same Sub Heading as we have now could be appended with, "Must be gone by this weekend!" Or something simpler like, "Call me today." These commands work, and simplify the process for the potential buyer.
- The Sales Copy, and why it works
- Review the images below, and if you like what you see, give me a call. $150 is a great deal for a leather couch with no damage, and we are not smokers, so there are no stains and no smoke smell.
- Do you even need sales copy? What do I write here? It feels like fluff ...
- The general rule of thumb for sales copy: explain the benefits and features of your product, or service, in the as few words as you possibly can to satisfy a potential buyer's purchasing needs.
- This doesn't mean you should write a little bit. Some things might require an extensive description, or a lot of persuasive copy. For instance, if you're selling a vehicle, your sales copy might include an exhaustive list of all the features and after-market modifications. Conversely, if you're selling a desk, you might only need to write a little bit about it, and maybe include the dimensions.
- My sales copy could have been better in this case, but it was still effective. For instance, there are two things I left out that are important for previously owned furniture purchases. (1) What are the dimensions of the sofa? (2) Why am I selling the sofa? The second one is surprisingly important, and it was simply an oversight that I left it out of the ad. Potential buyers almost always want to know this. Include a simple and honest story to go along with your ad. In this case I would have appended the sales copy with: We recently purchased a new sofa and no longer have room for this one.
- If it feels like you're writing fluff, then you probably are. Don't write fluff. It doesn't work. Don't forget the obvious details either. Just because you think it might be obvious, that doesn't mean it is not a feature or benefit worth mentioning.
- Additional incentives for the buyer, and why they work.
- If you live close by, I will deliver the leather sofa to you.
- Incentives can help a buyer choose your product or service instead of a competitive one. Maybe there were several ivory leather sofas for sale in my area at the same time. Why choose mine? Incentives help buyers feel like they're getting a deal, or that there is added value in the purchase.
- If you can anticipate your potential buyer's resistance points, and you have a solution, mention in. In this case, not everyone who wants to buy a sofa has the ability to transport it. I do, so I offered delivery service for the couch. In this case, that is what helped me sell the sofa, and the client paid an extra $25 for it! It doesn't always work out like that.
- Your ad will not always have an additional incentive. If it doesn't, no big deal. But if it does, it is important that you include it.
- In this case I've used the H3 tag.
- <h3> If you live close by, I will deliver the leather sofa to you. </h3>
- Pics / Images, and why they're important
- I Included two images (two different angles)
- In almost all cases your potential buys will want a visual reference for what he is considering. If you can get a picture, do it. It is very much worth it. I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not skip adding a picture to your ad!
- I'm not good at stuff like this ... How do you ad a picture to a craigslist ad?
- Don't worry. It is pretty easy, actually.
- (1) Save the image(s) on to your computer. (2) Save them in a folder dedicated to Craigslist. That way it is easy for you to find it and use it in the future for new ads! (3) In the ad creation interface, click the Add / Edit Images button. This will reveal the ad images interface. (4) You can multiple images (at the time I wrote this, it was four images). Click on the browse button next to one of the "add" fields and that will open a dialogue box (technical term meaning: an interface that helps you complete an action). (5) browse to your image in the dialogue box, and confirm your selection. (6) You will see it added to your ad in the add images interface. Notice: The images are only visible when previewing the ad. (7) Repeat this step until you have all the pictures you want attached to the ad.
FINISH YOUR AD!
At the bottom of the ad creation interface you will see a button that says "continue." Once you've filled out all the information, and attached your images, press continue. You will be walked through the final stages of previewing your ad, and completing the security process. Once this is done your ad will be posted and live!
In the next section we're going to discuss the basics of what to expect once your ad is live, and how to follow up. Then I will offer some closing thoughts and observations.
How to follow up your new, beautiful, effective, Craigslist ad
The follow up to your ad is where you actually make the sale. I will offer some guidance here, but that part of the process is largely up to you. But hopefully, the ad did most of the selling for you! Here are some basic follow-up guidelines.
- If you instructed the potential buyer to call you, be prepared to answer your phone and jump right into a sales call. TIP: Always answer unfamiliar numbers with a reassuring greeting, like, "Hello, this is [YOUR NAME]?" If you included your name in the ad this will immediately inform the potential buyer they have contacted the correct number and relieves them of the sometimes-awkward, "Hi, is this so-and-so? I'm calling about the ..."
- Check your email! Most craigslist ads allow the potential buyer to send an email. It is very important that you check your email frequently during the day, and night, when you have a live ad running. The faster you respond to the email, the better your chances are to close the sale (we call this "response time"). Remember, your email response is a sales pitch. Answer any questions they have and then sell, sell, sell! Offer an incentive and a call to action in your response every time if you can.
- Be prepared to negotiate - Negotiating is not for everyone. It really helps to know ahead of time your "lowest acceptable price." If you're offering a price of $150 and someone low-balls you and offers you $50, don't hesitate to say, "Sorry. I will not go that low," and give them a chance to adjust their offer, or just end the call.
- Follow Craigslist's recommendations - Craigslist posts a lot of useful tips and recommendations for how to avoid scams and safety protocols. Just be careful when setting up meetings. When in doubt, bring a friend along. I would avoid meeting people for a purchase alone, if possible. Some local municipalities offer "safe zones" at police departments for Craigslist sales.
Closing thoughts and additional observations on what makes an excellent craigslist ad
If you've made it this far, you're a real trooper! It's a great way to get rid of some old stuff, advertise services you might be offering on the side, and perhaps best of all, you can make some money. If you use these techniques I've described, your ads will stand out from all the other ones. Don't believe me? Take a look through the craigslist ads yourself, and you will immediately see the difference.
You'll notice in the example ad I repeat several terms over and over again and sometimes change them very slightly. For instance, I say leather sofa, or leather couch, or just couch, or sofa, a lot. This is done deliberately. Your ad will not only show up when people search on Craigslist's searching interface, but can potentially show up during a regular Google, yahoo, or Bing search (or any other search engine that has indexed Craigslist, which is probably all of them)! So, you want to use as many accurate varieties of your product or service as you can.
Good selling to you! Feel free to leave me any thoughts, comments, or questions. I'll make sure to check back here often. You are on your way to creating better, more effective, and gorgeous craigslist ads!
I want to hear success stories! Did you create an ad after this, and it worked? Tell us in the comments.
Be peaceful on your way,
Did this article help you create better Craigslist ads?
Questions & Answers
Craigslist asks for a 'handle.' What is this and is it necessary?
If the "handle" field is required, then it's necessary. If not, then no. Your ad should include a name though so when people inquire they know who to address.
Think of a "handle" like a "screen name," in other words, a name that represents you on the website. It could be your name, or it could be something else like BestCraigsListSellerEver87, or something like that.