The Dark Side of Using Craigslist Tools

Everyone knows that Craigslist is a great source of leads, but many property managers don't have the time to keep up with posting chores. The market has responded with a variety of third party posting services and tools to help. Check them out, but proceed with caution because there is a potential dark side with many of these services.

Third party posting services and companies do your Craigslist postings for you, and using them violates Craigslist Terms of Service. This has been discussed numerous times, but just in case you aren’t aware, you (and the posting service) can be fined. You can check it out for yourself here: www.Craigslist.org/about/terms.of.use.

Many property managers continue to use third parties because Craigslist's enforcement of this policy has been minimal. But the reality is, this is a business risk, and however minimal, it's something that you and your company's legal or risk management department should be aware of.

Craigslist is also ghosting a lot of listings, which is one of the ways the site tries to enforce their no posting services policy. In a nutshell, you (or the third party doing the postings) go through the motions of posting and publishing your listing. The listing shows up in your account as published, but it never shows up on Craigslist. No one knows for sure why Craigslist ghosts some listings and not others. However, it appears that Craigslist sometimes ghost all postings from certain accounts or ads that the site finds objectionable. To complicate things further, third party posting services use multiple accounts, and some of the account's ads may be ghosted while others are not. The only way to know for sure is to spot check a number of ads.

Free and low cost Craigslist ad generator tools can make the posting chore quicker, but should also be used with caution. These tools are systems that help expedite your posting chores by generating template-based HTML ads for you in just seconds.

First, while your results may vary, all of our A/B tests indicate that text ads work better than HTML ads. Even though it's free to post to Craigslist and these ad generation tools make it faster, the task still takes up valuable staff time, and you want to be sure you're getting the best results.

Second, make sure you know how the lead from your Craigslist posting will be tracked. Can you put your own tracking numbers on the ads? This is the only way to ensure that the leads you are generating from your posting efforts are truly free.

Craigslist is still a great source of leads for most communities. By all means, continue to post. But if you start noticing that you're not getting as many leads as you once did, it may be because there are 2,000 or more ads posted every day in your market, or your ads are not showing up, or your leads are being attributed to other lead sources.

Do Your ILS Perceptions Jive With Reality?

We all cope with aging in different ways. In my case, I have always taken solace in the fact that I don't quite look my age.

But this week, I got a rude awakening. I had a few headshots taken for a speaking engagement, and in one of them, I look ten years older. The photo captured every wrinkle and every uneven spot in my complexion. I look in the mirror every day, so to me, my appearance doesn’t seem to change. But seeing the truth captured in print was a wake up call that my perception was not in alignment with reality.

This same type of shift—a slow erosion that's unnoticeable month to month but adds up over the course of a year—is happening in the online advertising space. During the past year, it's likely that a combination of the economy, a proliferation of new sites, and your own improvements to your website and internal web marketing have reduced the number of leads you are getting from paid advertising sources (although not all sources are experiencing declines). Renters are being more careful than ever, which is also decreasing the average closing ratio.

But has this shift changed your thinking about the standards by which you measure your ILSs? Some marketing managers are very realistic, but many are still expecting to pay less than $10 per lead. In most submarkets, you'll be cutting off your nose to spite your face. Sure, you’ll still get some leads, but if you cut all advertising that doesn't meet this standard, you'll lower your cost per lead but you won't have enough leads to work with.

Although it's tricky to measure where leases come from, it's not difficult to look at year over year changes in aggregate data. Take a look at your lead data for the past three years to make sure that your expectations are not outdated. You can also ask ILS vendors to identify overall trends.

Like me, you might not like the year over year picture. But the best decisions can only be made if you are armed with the facts, so it's best to just take a deep breath and take a closer look.