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Capturing Craigslist success: How to avoid the scams, play by the rules and get results.

Craigslist is the fourth most visited independent site for car buyers—with more traffic than Edmunds, and NADA Guides—according to a recent study from J.D. Power. What’s more, many dealers are seeing about four times as many clicks on Craigslist as on AutoTrader. It’s no surprise that dealers have begun to jump on the Craigslist bandwagon.

With this increasing popularity within the automotive marketing sector came a flood of companies that claim to be able to list a dealership’s entire inventory for them on a daily basis. The problem with this claim? Posting the same listings multiple times is against the rules, and will certainly result in a dealership’s listings being banned from the site completely.

That being said, if you play by the rules and create good listings, Craigslist can yield solid leads—a lot of them. It’s all about knowing how to avoid the pitfalls and reap the rewards.

Ghosting, blocking and other Craigslist no-no’s

If you use an automated system to post your ads, it’s only a matter of time before Craigslist finds out and blocks or ghosts your ads. When an ad is ghosted, the system will still give you a post ID and a URL, which you can see in your browser, but the listing will never appear in a search. This fools you into thinking the ad is active. The more times your ads get ghosted, the higher the likelihood that you’ll be blocked completely. When this happens, you’re essentially blacklisted from posting ads entirely.

So how do you play by the rules and avoid ghosting? Here are some tips:

  • First and foremost, always have a real person manually post the ad. There are no automatic shortcuts here.
  • Craigslist puts great emphasis on catering to local communities, so posting from a computer with a local IP address is crucial to posting success.
  • Craigslist prohibits the posting of the same/similar ads within a 48-hour period. If you re-post the same ad within that time period, you’re on the fast track to being ghosted and blocked. If you want to post an ad again, be sure to delete similar older listings.
  • Too many photos per listing can get your ads ghosted.

If you do choose to use a vendor to help with Craigslist posting, make sure they play by the rules—and check and report ghosting regularly. Because once you’re blacklisted, it’s extremely difficult to use Craigslist to post ads ever again.

Listing success

Now that we’ve gotten what not to do out of the way, what can you do to ensure success? First off, if you’re taking the time to post on Craigslist, you’ll want to get the most out of your efforts; that means creating consumer-relevant ads that set your inventory apart from the competition and that answer the questions car shoppers are asking.

In addition to posting quality listings, it’s crucial to monitor those listings in order to gauge results and optimize your campaign—just as you would with many other advertising media. Are your ads getting ghosted, and if so, which ones? Are people clicking on your ads? Most importantly, are your ads generating leads? Check the following reports daily, or at least weekly, to stay on top of these questions:

  • Posting Report—This kind of report should tell you the ads you are posting each day and which of those ads (if any) are being flagged or ghosted. This way you can ensure you are getting maximum exposure and can take action to fix/re-post any ads that may be causing trouble.
  • Performance Report—This report should tell you, at the very least, how many clicks your ads are getting. It should also tell you how many people are taking action from your ads (conversion rate). Ideally, you will be able to break these statistics down by make, model, price range and even posting time.
  • Leads Report—What good is your click-through rate unless the final result is interest in the vehicle and eventually a purchase? Tracking the emails sent as a result of seeing the ad on Craigslist is a great way to see the true impact your Craigslist ads are having on your business. Taking it a step further, there are companies that will give you a dedicated phone number so you can track calls from Craigslist.

Always run experiments to fine-tune your performance. If possible, track these experiments all the way to sales. For example, you may try posting one month with prices and one month without. You’ll get more contacts without the price because people will call to ask for the price, but does this convert into more sales? If your current Craigslist vendor can’t guide you in these endeavors and provide the aforementioned reports, you should seriously consider switching vendors. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

My mom used to tell me, “Jacob, if something sounds too good to be true … put all your money into it because these things only come around once!” No, she didn’t say that—and for good reason. If a Craigslist vendor is offering you a price that’s far below the competition, or is claiming they can post every car every day, then it probably IS too good to be true. Follow the aforementioned tips, however, and Craigslist can be a lead-generating gold mine.

Stephen Carroll Jr
In the article ( well done by the way ) you mention " too many photos can get you ghosted". What is too many / what is the recommended number to use ? Thanks
Eric Walraven
@Stephen If you are using a piece of software to generate the ads for you. Then industry standard is 10 photos per vehicle. No need for anymore. The whole objective is to get a call. I do agree with Jacob when he says: "If a Craigslist vendor is offering you a price that’s far below the competition, or is claiming they can post every car every day, then it probably IS too good to be true." A lot of vendors tell dealers they post all their inventory on Craigslist. It's true, but they do it throughout a 5-7 day period. It's really misleading. I'm with a company that will literally post 100% of the inventory daily.
Eric Gidney, AutoUpLinkUSA PA NJ DE
Great information Jacob. Like Eric states, I recommend staying around 10 images per vehicle. Also, with publishing services (we offer one as well and would be happy to provide a no obligation trial) we typically will cycle through your entire inventory within about 5 to 8 days. Any service that will dump your entire inventory in just one day is going to place your Craigslist account in serious jeopardy. One recommendation I make is to strongly monitor your phone calls from Craigslist. We include call tracking with our Craigslist publishing service and I often have our dealer clients share their calls. It is amazing how many shoppers rarely ever bring up that they viewed the vehicle on Craigslist, usually just stating they saw the vehicle "online" or on the "internet". Too many sales people still dont ask the source of their call! We have a few dealer clients with about 50-60 preowned vehicles on Craigslist and they receive about 30 phone calls per month to only about 4 emails. Dont spend your time waiting for emails from Craigslist...youll be getting better qualified opportunities over the phone, just make sure you are sourcing them correctly. Use a credible and strong publishing source, preferably with a trial period such as ours, and direct all of the calls during the trial to a direct dial or cell phone for one qualified sales person. Measure your results, and youll be amazed to see how strong your sales opportunities on Craigslist can truly be.
Jerry Thibeau
Nice article Jacob. At Phone Ninjas we are seeing a lot of traffic from Craigslist. We have been tracking lead source and on our reports it's coming in at number three behind dealer website and AutoTrader.
Jerry Thibeau
Nice article Jacob. At Phone Ninjas we are seeing a lot of traffic from Craigslist. We have been tracking lead source and on our reports it's coming in at number three behind dealer website and AutoTrader.

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