craigslist logoIn many markets the online classified site gets insane amounts of traffic. Many real estate agents have attempted to take advantage of this by repeatedly posting ineffective ads and conclude it’s not a reliable source of website traffic or lead generation for them. Heck, I was even one of these agents for most of 2010.

You see I was posting ads nearly every day but the only responses I ever got were spam. How can that be? I was using professional looking HTML templates, lots of photos and a several paragraph description of the property and neighborhood amenities. I knew buyers were looking at the ads, but why weren’t they contacting me? I decided early this year to find a better way. I spent a lot of time researching what makes CL classified ads effective and this is what I learned.

5 ways not to suck at Craigslist

1. Stop using the same template as everyone else

Take a few minutes and search your local CL and note what kinds of ads and headlines everyone is posting. More than likely most agents are using the same or very similar ads with little different between them. Your ad needs to stand out from the rest and the more your ad looks like a private party ad the better your results will be.

2. Stop posting every picture & detail

The goal is to redirect that buyer away from everyone else’s ads and get them on your real estate website. If you are including 6, 10 or 15 images in your ad and a paragraph of text the viewer already has enough information to eliminate that property if it does not fit their criteria. Give them a taste and make then click through for more photos and details. That way even if they do eliminate that property once they’re on your site there’s a decent chance they will stay and look around.

3. Include 2-3 calls to action

The first call to action should obviously be a link to the listing on your own site. If you have a good idx solution a link to the listing page is even better. The full listing details and photos are all there and hopefully a call to action to save the listing or request a showing.

I recommend you also create a secondary call to action linked to a landing or other opt-in page. In my example below I include a link to Astoria Oregon homes for sale under $150,000. Try to use a generic CTA that will appeal to most buyers in your market (foreclosures, water front properties, ect.).

The 3rd CTA should be your phone number, front and center. Use the format 212-555-1212 so it’s clickable on mobile devices.

4. Track your ads

The big problem with any marketing is figuring out what working and what doesn’t. If you don’t track your ad views, click through rates, and headline variations it’s difficult to improve your ads. At the minimum using a trackable link in your ad will at least show you how many visitors clicked. From there your website analytics take over and you can monitor bounce rates and other metrics.

CL does block some url’s generated by shortening services like, a good alternative if you are using a wordpress real estate website is your own custom short link. The free WP plugin Pretty Link Lite allows you to create your own short links and track the clicks in real time. For example if your domain is you can create a link that looks like that points to whatever page you want (onsite or offsite even) so you can track your ad clicks.

Bonus ninja move: Any images you insert as HTML can be tracked this way too, giving you a free and easy way to monitor total ad views. In my market CL has two areas that overlap and by using this method I was able to figure out which area got the most traffic.

5. Less is more

From my experience ads with lots of white space, a single image and 2-3 calls to action work the best. I’ve experimented with inserting a logo, website header image and other items to dress up my ads but the ads with a very minimalist look perform the best in my market. Here’s an example:

example craigslist real estate ad

example craigslist ad

(the required broker contact info was cropped out, make sure you comply with your state and local rules)

Time to execute

Now that you’re creating clean, minimal ads with multiple calls to action that are trackable you’ve already improved your CL strategy 200% over posting generic HTML ads. Testing different headlines, calls to action and the day/time you post your ads will hopefully increase your inbound traffic and leads further.

Stay tuned for another post on how to create CL ads that work.

What’s your Craigslist strategy? Let me know what is working for you in the comments.