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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Marketing & Advertising | 1 comment

Free, Effective Advertising: How to Create a Kick-ass, Professional, Visually Interesting Craigslist Ad

My successful advertising strategy budget: $0

Craigslist Ad

My website-like Craigslist ad for web design & development

That’s right: zero. Yet, I have so many potential clients contacting me that I simply don’t have enough time or energy to help them all, so I end up turning down business. How is this possible?

My largest only 2 sources of clients are referrals from existing clients and Craigslist – both free, but very powerful, advertising techniques. In the past, I’ve advertised in local publications such as newsletters and newspapers but ended up wasting my money paying for those ads because I didn’t get any leads. These days, most people go to Craigslist – not the classifieds in the newspaper – to find what they’re looking for, including freelancers. I’ve been advertising exclusively on Craigslist for years now, and I’ve been very happy with the results.

As you probably know, posting an ad on Craigslist is free in nearly every situation. This is great. However, Craigslist is also absolutely littered with boring, mediocre posts for very average and subpar web designers & developers and other types of freelancers. The challenge for you as the freelancer will be “standing out” of the crowd. Luckily, this actually isn’t very difficult – at least on Craigslist – provided you have some design skills and an understanding of basic HTML.

Prerequisites: Basic understanding of HTML and web design & layout. Photoshop or GIMP experience is also recommended, but not required. (If you don’t know HTML, or want a quick refresher, take a look at this basic HTML tutorial.)

First, do this: look at your competition

Bad Craigslist Ad Example

An example of a typical “bad” Craigslist ad — plain, uninteresting, non-visual, uninformative

Go to Craigslist for your location and choose computer services or creative services (or the service category in which you’ll be advertising). Take a look at 10 or so ads. I think you will find that the vast majority of posts are plain text, or perhaps a single, large image. I think you will agree that most of these Craigslist ads look unprofessional and are not at all engaging. Use this fact to your advantage by creating a visually stunning and highly professional Craigslist post advertising your freelance services so you can stand out of the crowd in the popular Craigslist marketplace! Here’s how…

If you were a web designer or developer about 10 years ago, you may remember that website designs and layouts used to be implemented using godawful HTML tables instead of CSS. Luckily, those days are long gone, thanks to CSS2 and CSS3. However, in order to create an awesome Craigslist ad, we will have to use some of these old techniques for creating a layout, as Craigslist does not allow any CSS.

To our advantage, Craigslist supports many useful HTML tags. Here’s a complete list:

  • <b><u><i><big><small>
  • <font>
  • <p>
  • <br>
  • <blockquote>
  • <hr>
  • <h1><h2><h3><h4><h5><h6>
  • <ul><ol><li>
  • <dl><dd><dt>
  • <a>
  • <img>
  • <pre>
  • <table>
  • <tr>
  • <th><td>


Why should you care?

Because these tags give you the power to create visually stimulating ads with sophisticated layouts, allowing you to dominate your Craigslist category and get more business! The tags that will be most useful are the anchor tags for creating links (<a>), header tags (<h1>, <h2>, etc.), the <img> tag, and, most importantly, the <table> tag. (The <font>, <b>, <u>, and <i> tags can also be useful for styling text, but the various header tags may be sufficient.)

How you start

Create a new HTML document in a text editor or WYSIWYG editor such as Dreamweaver, and start by just playing around with a two-column table. Think of your Craigslist ad as a simple, but visually engaging, one-page website, and design and develop it accordingly, using high quality, grammatically correct copy (rare on Craigslist!), images/graphics created in Photoshop or GIMP, and tables for layout purposes.

Why this is the best technique

The advantages of this using technique are (1) it allows you to develop a better-looking, visually-focused Craigslist ad that looks like a real website as opposed to a classifieds ad and (2) you have actual text in your post as opposed to a single, static image (a common technique used on Craigslist). This is good for SEO purposes (search engine optimization) because the Craigslist engine and Google/Bing/Yahoo! can read and understand the textual content in your post plus it’s great because users of Craigslist are more likely to perform a search relevant to your freelance services and actually find your ad.

Once someone finds your ad and clicks on it (along with 10 other ads that are unprofessional, boring text-only ads), your ad will grab the user’s attention, hopefully leading him or her to contact you as opposed to another freelancer.

Does this actually work?

In short, yes (if done right). Countless clients that found me via Craigslist have told me how professional and eye-catching my Craigslist ad was in comparison to the competition, and that’s why they contacted me. Now I’m getting paid and they’re spreading the word about my services like wildfire!

There’s nothing better than free, effective advertising! 🙂

1 Comment

  1. This is really good. I can see i have a lot to learn as a beginner but i know i’ll get there one day.

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