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Craigslist and Local Search

  |  April 23, 2009   |  Comments

Local businesses can leverage the power of searches on this online classified ad site that gets more than 20 billion page views each month.

The most searched for term in mid-March 2009 was "craigslist," according to Hitwise. It was the first time since March 2006 that "myspace" was not the top search term in the United States. The increase in searches for "craigslist" is understandable in light of the economic squeeze many shoppers are feeling. Good for both buyers and sellers, Craigslist is known as a place to turn unneeded items into quick cash and for being a source of bargains.

Craigslist began as an online community bulletin board. It has essentially become a Web-based classified ad marketplace. Like most classified ad platforms, it's focused on specific locations. According to craigslist fact sheet, 50 million people view 20 billion Web pages on its sites every month. There are 500 Craigslist sites in 50 countries and in each of the 50 states in the U.S. Many local businesses have made Craigslist a part of their marketing mix. Depending upon your location and niche, you may wish to consider it, too.

Craigslist has gone beyond the classified ads you see in newspapers by being both free and searchable. The free part attracts sellers of all stripes. After all, if you have something to sell, advertising it for free to millions of searchers is a no-brainer. For buyers, the ads are easy to search, making it a breeze to sniff out what you're looking for without reading hundreds of ads only somewhat related to what you really want to buy.

The simple algorithm displays search results first by the posting date -- with newer ads appearing above older ones -- and then by keyword. So, it's important to use keyword rich text in the title and description of your ads. Since people have the option to search titles only, make certain your best keywords are contained in your headlines. If you can make the title eye-catching, it will help your ad from blending in with all of the others on the screen. Some advertisers use asterisks, dollar signs, question marks, and the like to stand out from the crowd.

You may also upload images into your ads, which definitely improves their effectiveness. Searchers may opt to include only ads containing pictures within their results, so ads without images are typically seen by fewer people. A combination of keyword rich text and clear photos is ideal.

You can link text or images within your ad to a landing page on your Web site. Ideally, the landing page is designed to give more information to the searcher about the product or service and to help close the deal. The landing page may contain clickable links to other Web pages, examples of your work, testimonials from satisfied customers, a form to capture contact info about the clicker, a coupon redeemable at your shop, and more.

Keep in mind, people shopping on Craigslist are generally bargain hunters. They are looking for a good deal, so the best strategy to get their attention is to offer a deal. However, most shoppers here are savvy and it has to be a real deal, not a measly 10 percent to 20 percent off. Anything with "free" in the title will also attract a lot of attention, but may also be met with healthy skepticism. Limited time and limited quantity offers can be effective ways to spur action and make a "Buy Now" call to action more compelling. Think about ways you can use discounts for Craigslist readers to get your business in front of new customers.

Your ads will only stay up on Craigslist for 30 days before expiring, so you need to resubmit every month. However, this is not undue burden if it results in qualified customers to your business. Since the newest ads are seen by the greatest number of browsers, some people repost frequently and rotate ads almost daily. If you focus on attracting searchers, rather than browsers, this isn't really necessary.

In addition to advertising services and items for sale, you may also place ads in the events and community categories. Explore these for additional opportunities, such as posting local news and announcing neighborhood events.

Like other forms of marketing, leveraging the power of searches for Craigslist terms to promote your local business is something you'll need to brainstorm and test. Discover what your competitors and similar vendors in other areas are doing and learn from it. Hopefully, you'll experience success that you can then build upon and refine. However, if the results aren't worth the effort it to maintain your listings, let it go. There are plenty of other places to advertise online and Craigslist is not a good fit for every local business.


Mary Bowling

Mary Bowling has been involved in all aspects of online marketing since 2003. She has a special interest in Web site usability and in search engine optimization, including optimizing all types of media for search engines. Mary has also developed specialized expertise in promoting brick-and-mortar businesses on the Internet through local search marketing. She is currently doing independent consulting and working with seOverflow and Maia Internet Consulting in Denver, CO, optimizing and marketing a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits online.

Her accomplishments include speaking at Search Marketing Expo and Search Engine Strategies conferences on a variety of topics, conducting trainings and webinars for Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Workshops, authoring popular white papers on local search and SEO for WordPress Blogs and speaking at SEMpx' s Searchfest.

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