Click to discuss this article!
The Outsiders' Guide to Craigslist
by Richard O. Johnson
Consumer Advocate and founder of NotBarter.com
 
Revised September 10, 2013
 
 
The phenomenally successful community bulletin board known as Craigslist serves over fifty million online users in the U.S. alone, and, except for modest fees in designated cities for certain classes of ads, all its services are without charge.
 
Beyond its imperfect documentation, however, Craigslist support is largely non-existent (understandably so, in view of its enormous popularity and the modest size of its staff). You'll almost certainly have more luck addressing your questions to a third-party site like Help Owl. Or just read this guide.
 
Posting
 
Posting is straightforward. You just find the prominent "post to classifieds" link (it's at the upper-left corner of the main page), drill down to the appropriate category, and fill out the simple form.
 
The first page to which you're directed when posting will invite you to create an account. You don't really need an account, but it'll take only a minute or so to set up, and can make things a lot easier. So do get that account.
 
Posting fees. Nearly all posts are free. If yours is not, you'll find out soon enough, or you can look over this list of exceptions. Should there be a problem with a paid post, you can use Craigslist's billing support channel: either phone (800) 664-0633, ext. 1, or write billing@craigslist.org.

Required fields. In general, the only required posting fields are Title and Description. If you omit Price, for example, users will simply see no reference to price on your post, unless you include price information in the body text.
 
Should the need for which you posted be met right away, that's the end of it. In most cases, however, you'll want to re-post. Without re-posting, your post will stay up (in Los Angeles) for between 7 and 30 days, depending on the category, but you don't want to wait nearly that long. Posts appear in chronological order (last submitted on top), and users who browse will typically stop perusing after two or three days' worth of posts.
 
Other users, who search by keyword, may retrieve older messages.
 
(You can always edit your post, but editing won't move it up as will re-posting.)
 
Another way to improve your response rate is to post in more than one category. But don't do that before reading about Craigslist's...
 
Restrictions
 
Craigslist is replete with rules and regulations. Trouble is, they're not particularly easy to find, they're not all in one place, and, worst of all, some of the most crucial ones are not in print at all!
 
Whether the rule is in print or not, if you're found in violation you'll be penalized, and the penalty can range from a rejection of the current submission to a continuing block. You may be invited to register your protest but in my experience such protests will be ignored.
 
If you want to see what rules are written down, find the Craigslist Terms of Use, Frequently Asked Questions, and General Posting Guidelines. I've enumerated here the most important (stated and unstated) Craigslist rules. Bear in mind that enforcement varies (sometimes will be immediate and other times may take weeks or more).
  1. You may not post "essentially the same item" before deleting the old item. This applies even when posting in a different city or category. So if your post lends itself to more than one category, you need to alternate the categories. 

    Workaround: You may be able to overcome this restriction by setting up an additional account with a different email address.


  2. You may not post the same item more than once in 48 hours. Until February of 2006, this rule wasn't strictly enforced. Now you will not be permitted to re-post until fully 2,880 minutes have elapsed.

    Note that it may take about 15 minutes before a new post is accessible to users.

    Hint: Bringing up your post as submitted, by clicking on its heading on your account page, will disclose the date and exact time posted, two lines below the head.

    Update. As of this writing, Craigslist is requiring about 15 minutes more than 48 hours before allowing a re-post, in this quirky fashion: It will allow you to delete and resubmit (if the 2,880 minutes have elapsed), but at the end of the resubmission process it will disallow the new post as too similar to another recent post (!). To avoid this situation, add 14 or 15 minutes to the 48 hours, before reposting.

  3. Your post may not contain a link "to a commercial website or auction." This is an example of a rule I haven't been able to find anywhere, until I was blocked for violating it! You may have to guess whether Craigslist will consider the linked site "commercial." Craigslist's current enforcement of this restriction seems to be minimal.

    You'll be entirely safe if you don't link to any website, but instead invite the reader to email you for more information (very easily done--see below). This option however involves the risk that your reply may be blocked by a spam filter (even though your message isn't spam). You may always give a Web address as non-linking text, or link to a webpage without any links on it.

  4. You may not exceed your "volume limit." As I write this, Craigslist doesn't define the volume limit in any way, but will reject a post for this reason. Try the workaround for restriction 1, above. Or just re-try ten minutes later.

  5. The Posting Description cannot be longer than 1000 characters. The Posting Description is your entire post exclusive of the title. This seems to apply only to paid listings, so otherwise it's probably safe to ignore it.
Posting Tips
  • Craigslist makes it easy as pie for its users to respond to your posts. If you want phone calls, simply include your phone number in the writeup. If you want emails, Craigslist will "anonymize" your email address, never to be seen by responders. These folks will click on a link to respond, and that response will go to Craigslist, and then to you.

    Each anonymized email response will refer to the unique number for that particular post. So you can easily track your responses to see which posts are most effective.

    (You can still track responses if your post refers the user to a webpage instead of eliciting an emailed reply. Just set up a free account at StatCounter.)

  • The body of your post can be in either plain text or HTML. If you choose plain text, Craigslist will automatically convert any Web addresses starting with http:// to links (but exercise care when including a Web address--see Restrictions, above). 

    Craigslist allows you to add HTML tags to a plain-text submission. Not all tags are supported. Those that are definitely supported are listed here. (The point that other tags will be "stripped out" is not always observed by Craigslist, however.) I strongly recommend your use of the <big> tag for any post that you may want to bring to the attention of folks over 60 or so.

  • Depending on the posting category you may be invited to add a picture from your hard disk. (For more details, go to www.craigslist.org/about/help/pic.) Otherwise, you can add graphics in HTML with the <img> tag, if your picture has been posted to the Web--although lately Craigslist has been blocking that tag in some cases.

  • At times Craigslist pages may not properly display. For example, a deleted post may still appear green (denoting an active post), or you may be given the option to delete a post that you've already deleted. If you should encounter this issue, refreshing the page might help. Or ignore the Craigslist page and rely on the emailed confirmations--bearing in mind that these may take 15 minutes or so.

  • Before finalizing your post, you'll have to decipher a "Captcha" code to assure that you're not a robot. These codes are always case-insensitive--so you can ignore caps. 

  • It's wise to vary the posting time of an ongoing post, so that a different set of users will see your post close to the top. Two good posting times are early morning and early evening, and you may want to switch from one to the other every few weeks.

  • When Craigslist's servers get too busy you may not be able to complete your post, and may see instructions to wait a while, perhaps accompanied by a button. Using the button will only delay you further. Just refresh the page after a few minutes (and repeat if necessary).

  • A "flagged & removed" message, should you get one, is not as formidable as it might seem. All this ordinarily means is that you'll have to re-post. (This leniency unfortunately does not extend to posts that are "blocked." But even blocks are not usually permanent.)

  • Of late Craigslist has been removing posts without explanation of any kind! This may never happen to you, but if it does, the best solution is the workaround for restriction 1, above.
How Best To Post 
 
Even if you have multiple postings suitable for several categories, these steps will reduce the re-posting process to about a minute a day, while giving you maximum exposure.
  1. Compose your posts. You may want to create an entirely different post for each category. If sufficiently different, posts promoting the same transaction may display simultaneously without a problem. Alternatively, use the workaround described above under Restrictions.
  2. Create your account, by using the link on the "post to classifieds" page.
  3. Create two bookmarks for your browser. One will be your account page, and the other will be the browse page (the Craigslist main page for your locality), for reviewing others' posts.
  4. Submit your posts.
  5. Wait 48 hours plus 15 minutes.
  6. Open your account page.
  7. Pick a post you'll want to re-run. Click on that post.
  8. You'll be given two choices, Edit and Delete. If you want to re-run the post in the same category, choose Delete. Then go back to your account page, click on the deleted post, and you'll be able easily to re-run it.
  9. If you want to re-run the post in a different category, click on the Edit button, to bring up your "raw" post.* Then using Ctrl-A and Ctrl-C [in Mac, Cmnd-A and Cmnd-C], copy that raw post to the system clipboard. Go back to your account page and delete the post. Finally, open the post page that you've bookmarked [step 3 above], and post in the appropriate new category [using  Ctrl-V or Cmnd-V].
  10. If you have another post to re-run, repeat steps 6 through 10.
  11. Wait a day, and repeat steps 6 through 11. (But don't attempt to delete/re-run any post until 48 hours from its last posting.)
*Should you forget and delete the post without first copying the raw post, you can still obtain the raw post by beginning [pretending] to re-post the deleted post.
If you're promoting the same transaction in several different categories, it may be to your advantage to stagger the posts. To this end you'll want to keep one or more initial posts for a longer interval than the others.
 
Browsing/Searching Tips
 
Don't overlook the search box at the top left of Craigslist's main page. The judicious use of keywords can be a big timesaver over simple browsing.
 
These tips will help you use Craigslist to take advantage of others' posts. All the tools described are free.
  • Searchtempest lets you search many cities at once, and offers other search options, like limiting your search to posts with pictures.

  • A little-known source of great bargains consists of offers on Craigslist to sell unwanted gift cards. This opportunity stems from the fact that many holders of gift cards either paid nothing for them, or paid well below the face value. For example, DiscoverCard users using their "Cashback bonus" have been able to purchase certain gift cards at half price.

    To secure such a bargain, visit your bookmarked "Browse" page, and follow the "for sale" link. Then in the keyword search box, enter "gift card" (with the quotation marks), and pick out the offers that appeal to you.

    Don't hesitate to bargain with the seller for a lower price. (Aim at no more that 50% of face value.) Once you've made a deal, be sure you verify the amount of credit remaining on the card. This may mean meeting at the store.

    For other strategies for buying or selling gift cards, see my article at this page.

  • Housing Maps utilizes Craigslist and Google Maps to help you better locate available housing throughout the country. You'll be able to specify your price range, and you'll see at a glance whether there's a picture or pictures of the property. Once you make your preliminary selection, you'll be taken to the original Craigslist post.

  • Yard Sale Treasure Map uses Craigslist posts to find yard sales near you, according to items you're seeking, acceptable distance, and even your preferred day. .

 
The author offers free consultation to members of NotBarter.com.
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape        
1