Write the Perfect Craigslist Post

Craigslist is weird. Equal parts shady flea market and poetry slam—and crammed full of just as much junk as either. If you're trying to sell something or rent an apartment, your post needs to stand out. Crafting that perfect post is equal parts art and science.

Good news: I have a Black Belt in Craigslist. I've bought and sold literally dozens of cars and motorcycles, rented and rented out countless apartments, and spent more hours cruising it than I should probably admit. I know first-hand what works, and I am more than happy to let you in on the secret. Just Western Union me $85 and I will mail the secrets to you. I kid!

Play by the rules

The 7th level of Internet Hell is the Craigslist help forums. "Help." Ha. There is no help here, only a posse of insufferable trolls who answer your questions with self-righteous derision. This is where the people who police Craigslist hang out, and users are directed there to find out why their posts were removed. You don't want to go there.

But, on the other hand, thank god for these guys. Seriously, they are the first line of defense that keep you from getting relentlessly scammed on the 'list. Unfortunately, they also flag and remove anything they think is fishy—from violations of CL's terms to the proper price for your vintage motorcycle, which they have never seen and know nothing about. Never before has the term "necessary evil" been so apt.

Do not cross them. Not even once—because if have a user account and you get a post taken down even once, your ads will be much more likely to be flagged and removed.

Write the Perfect Craigslist Post

Images

It doesn't matter if you're trying to rent or sell a car, a chair, your apartment, or your sweaty body: You need to have images in the post. And you know why. Nobody clicks the ads without pictures. And if nobody clicks, nobody sees. But images can be tricky; they can hurt as much as harm.

  • Don't use photos you have uploaded anywhere else on the Internet. Two reasons: For starters, if someone uploads your photo to Google Image Search, they might be able to find more information than you'd like to give out. What if you're using a photo that you took of your shiny bicycle in front of your house and posted on Flickr? It might be geotagged, and someone could very easily figure out where you live (and that you have a shiny bicycle) without even emailing you to set up an appointment. Second reason: Using the same Image Search technique, a potential buyer could see that your photo is readily available on the Internet and wonder if you actually have anything to sell at all. You might be a scammer who downloaded someone else's picture and is trying to lure people with pockets full of cash to a shady location. That's what I would assume, anyway.
  • Use Craigslist's uploader tool. Here's why: CL's "help" posting about this subject says you can add pictures to your post in the housing, for sale, and personals categories by selecting "Add / Edit Images" at the bottom of the posting form. That doesn't necessarily mean you can't use external services like Photobucket or Flickr, but if a Help Troll wanted to ding you, he could interpret the language that way. It has happened to me. But here's the thing: photos uploaded with Craigslist's tool might suck a little bit, but it doesn't matter...
  • Don't worry about image quality. In fact, slightly crummy images are actually desirable. Your stuff never looks as good in photos as it does in real life, right? Well, awesome images convey a level of verisimilitude, and if a potential buyer sees something to nitpick in your megahighres photo, he's less likely to come by and investigate what may or may not be a scratch. As long as your picture demonstrates that whatever your hawking is likely as described, you are golden.
  • Keep your images small. A 5-megapixel image is 2,592 pixels wide. Craigslist is 850 pixels wide. You know what's annoying? When you have to scroll horizontally to see a giant fucking image of a $750/month apartment. 800-pixels wide is fine, thank you.
  • Photograph a detail you mention in your post. Trust is the name of this game, and you want people to believe that you actually have what you are selling.

Write the Perfect Craigslist Post

Words

Writing the perfect Craigslist post is about two things: The headline and the detail. The headline is the bait, and the details are the hook. Most people on CL aren't looking for any old _______. They have a specific model in mind: one-bedroom, 4wd, 55-inch, 10-inch (throbbing), 750cc, etc. So when you think about what you write, don't try to sell them on your model of whatever-it-is; sell them on your particular whatever-it-is.

  • DO NOT WRITE HEADLINES IN ALL CAPS. Or I will punch you in the soul. Seriously, do you want to annoy people before you've even had a chance to negotiate? Even if you do want to annoy the world, you should still avoid the caps. Capped headlines are the Internet version of compensating for a small penis with a loud motorcycle; everyone knows what's inside is a disappointment.
  • Headlines should be information-dense and short. This is an optimization play: the most amount of information in the least amount of space. Think about what you would look for in what you're hawking. If it's a vehicle, for example, you want model year, model name, trim level (LS, EX, and so on), transmission type (trust me), and color. For an apartment, the number of bedrooms, square footage, the floor it's on and the flooring type are good places to start. Selling your body? You know we got to hear about that ass. You need to make sure that people who are cruising through looking for something in particular see your goods' best quality, right there in the headline.
  • One adjective per headline. Again, this is about avoiding the appearance of overcompensation. Choose the one descriptive term that you think best embodies the best part of your item, and show it to the world. Irresistible!
  • Now make that adjective the focus of your review. You know what sucks? Arriving to look at something and being disappointed because it was not all that the ad promised. You know what is awesome? Arriving to look at something and being stoked because it's so much better than the ad promised. All your post has to do is get someone to come look at the item, so it's OK to leave some things out. Let the item do the rest of the selling. Not only will this not hurt your chances of success, but it will speed up the process. If a would-be buyer sees your stuff as a hidden gem, it evokes an urgency, a need to buy that thing now before someone else finds out what a smoking deal this is.
  • Keep it short. Craigslist itself is a utilitarian medium: unfiltered information in its raw form. Make your post reflect the culture. Remember that people are likely cruising through dozens of similar posts; don't waste their time. Let the quality, condition, or price of your item make it memorable.
  • Lists are your friend. Nobody cares about your deft use of the semicolon; a through-written post is not necessary. Start off your listing with a couple of sentences of personal anecdote along the lines of I've had this car since it was new or we are three laid-back girls who enjoy brunch and like to party naked and then go right into a list of details. People want details, but those details don't need to be threaded into a bolt of useless words. Make someone hunt for information, and they'll quickly become bored and move on to someone else's post. And again, be judicious with your list. Try to limit yourself to 10 awesome line-items.
  • Don't be cute or funny or clever. Ever heard of Best of Craigslist? I hadn't either, until a post of mine got yanked by the Help Trolls for supposedly blatantly angling for a nomination for that award nobody gives a shit about. (Fuck you, Craigslist Cops. When you were kids, did you tell your parents you wanted to be Internet trolls when you grew up? Oh, my mistake, you probably are still children.) Sorry. Had to get that out. Anyway, creativity is not appreciated on CL, so save yourself some trouble and play it straight in your posts.

Other Tips

  • Price high. This might sound like it would deter people, but it won't. I mean, don't gouge, but also don't be afraid to to ask for the high end of the range for your item. First off, people will haggle you down anyway and leave feeling like they got a good deal. Win/win. Also, cheap stuff sets off brain alarms for experienced 'listers. As the saying goes, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You want people to feel like they are inquiring about a quality product.
  • No gifs, colored backgrounds, or flashy anything. You will look like a used-car dealer.
  • Don't be one of those jerks who only responds to phone calls. For many of us, talking on the phone is a second step in an Internet relationship, not a first. It just feels a little too intimate. And also, it's really stupid to put your cellphone number on the open Internet. You wonder why you get ten-hundred survey calls a day?
  • I don't want to see a single exclamation mark in your entire post. And I am not alone.
  • Have extra, higher-res photos on hand. People will ask for them.
  • Don't rip people off. Do you believe in Karma? No? How about angry motherfuckers who will come to your house and ruin your life? Yeah, you know they exist. If you play someone on Craigslist, chances are he will come back at you, and you'd better pray he takes legal action, because baseball bats are cheaper and often more effective. Craigslist is a community, and if you treat it right, you will reap the rewards. If you don't, well, I warned you.