Creating Classified Ads that Work

If you’re like me, you probably have a basement or a storage locker filled with unused items. Sure, you could list it online, but you would rather unload it more quickly and conveniently. Why not run a classified ad?

Got a car or cycle to sell?

Check out the classifieds. People do scan those listings for used vehicles. (You will have to trust me on this. I have a teenager in the house, who can quote most of today’s auto ads by make, model, and year.)

Of course, you could park your hot set of wheels on your front lawn with a “For Sale” sign tucked under a wiper blade. However, if you want to attract more attention, and get those wheels rolling in a hurry, you will want to write a classified ad.

What is a classified ad?

Classified ads are short typewritten listings of merchandise and services for sale. Local newspapers devote entire sections to these. Most papers arrange items by category, from Animals to Zoo Passes and more.

These are the shortest of all printed promotions, but they are the most popular as well! People purchase antiques, automobiles, boats, concert tickets, equestrian tack, household goods, pets, pianos, sewing machines, and even real estate through the classifieds.

Today, such ads appear not only in newspapers and magazines but also online. Web communities and marketplaces offer free and paid classified ads.

Because most classifieds are placed by individuals, rather than businesses, people usually write their own ads. Professional copywriters are not consulted for classifieds. Still, ad-writing is a science. It takes some skill to write an effective ad, particularly if it must fit in an inch or two of column space.

As a professional ad-writer, I have developed a checklist for composing classified ads:

1) First, write the title.

Often, the title will be printed either in all-caps or bold type. Usually, it will run directly into the ad copy, rather than appearing on a line of its own as a headline. The title must identify the product or service you are trying to sell. Editors base ad placement on the titles, and you want to be sure your listing appears in the appropriate category.

Remember: readers scan the classified pages quickly to find what they want. People never read every ad, just the ones that interest them personally.

Here are a few examples of successful classified titles:

1967 GTO – loaded

Elvis jumpsuit – original!

Expert math tutoring

Free! Baby rabbits

Piano lessons – with Boston Pops teacher

Rascal Flatts tickets

St. Bernard puppies

Steinway baby grand

Trek mountain bike

In the classifieds, titles need not be overly creative. Don’t strain your brain for wordplay or catchy phrasing. Just list the item in clear terms for quick readers.

2) Keep your ad content short, but include the essentials.

Include any details that will help to sell your item or service. Before you write your ad, you will want to obtain a copy of the publication and review similar ads. Consider how you might compose a listing to compete successfully with what is already offered, read more from here.

Abbreviations are perfectly acceptable in classified ads, as long as they are clearly recognizable. A four-door vehicle may be called 4-DR. A three-bedroom house can be 3BR. Apartment rent may be listed as $950/mo. A part-time job might pay $10/hr.

When you place a classified ad, you can expect to pay by the word, or possibly, by the column inch your ad occupies. Brevity counts!

3) Decide whether a photo or drawing be helpful.

Photographs and artwork always add to the cost of your classified listing. Sometimes, such placements are not available. If they are, you will have to weigh the value of adding a visual. If you believe it will attract readers’ attention and make your ad stand out from the rest, you may decide it is worth the cost.

Some papers will offer bold type or ALL CAPS for an additional cost.

When you run a classified ad, you will have to pay for every issue in which it appears. Running a more expensive ad one time (with a photo), and selling your item quickly, may be more economical than opting for a more economical ad and having to re-run it for several days, weeks, or months.

4) Add accurate contact information.

The purpose of a classified advertisement is to persuade people to contact you for more information about whatever you are offering. The most well-crafted ad is worthless, if it does not provide a means of approaching you. Believe it or not, people do forget to include this.

Include your name, phone number, and e-mail address.

Classified Ads

5) Proofread your ad carefully.

Until recently, classified ads were ordered by phone. To place ads, we called our local newspapers and dictated our copy verbally. Then we trusted the classified section editors to get our ads right. If they made any serious errors, they usually offered to re-run our ads without charge.

In some cases, we may have hand-delivered or faxed ads to newspaper offices. Still, we had to rely on them to re-type our information correctly. Transposed phone numbers were not uncommon. Again, they often re-ran our ads for free in such cases.

With the advent of e-mail, all of that has changed. Now, you can compose your copy and zip it off with the click of a mouse to the right department. Of course, the responsibility for accuracy now rests in your hands. Be sure to double-check your listing, particularly your own contact information. After all, you are paying for the ad, so you want it to be right!

6) Be ready for responses!

Timing is crucial! If you run your ad in the Sunday paper, don’t plan to go away that weekend.

Be sure your voice-mail and e-mail are working. Check your messages often. Classified ad shoppers often make inquiries about several ads at once. If they catch you first, they are more likely to purchase from you. Make yourself available to answer responses. Make the sale!

Bill Sutton
Creating Classified Ads that Work