NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, March 2006
The Insiders' Guide to Craigslist
by Richard O. Johnson, TUGNET, CA
(click to email author)

If you're not using craigslist, it's time you joined the crowd. This phenomenally successful community bulletin board serves over ten million online users in a single month, and, except for modest fees in three cities for help-wanted ads, all its services are without charge.

If you're one of the uninitiated few, you use craigslist by posting your needs or interests in any of various categories, like jobs, for sale, services, housing, personal, etc., or by reading and acting on posts submitted by others. The craigslist for this area is at http://losangeles.craigslist.org.

Beyond its imperfect documentation, craigslist support is in practical terms non-existent (understandably so, in view of its enormous popularity and its staff of just eighteen). That's one of the reasons for writing this Guide.

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 posters are directed will invite them 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.

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 10 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 readers will typically stop perusing after about two days' worth of posts.

(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...

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 published at all (until you're found to be in violation, and by then you may be "blocked")!

If you want to see what rules are written down, find the craigslist Terms of Use, Frequently Asked Questions, and General Posting Guidelines. But bear in mind that other unstated rules may bear equally on your submissions. Here are the most important craigslist rules: 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. (You may possibly be able to get around this restriction by using different email addresses.)

Craigslist confuses this issue by appearing at one point to sanction posting "in multiple categories." This suggests that in some circumstances such multiple posts may be accepted. So if you want to try it, go ahead. The worst that can happen is that your second post will be refused.

You may not post the same item more than once in 48 hours. This rule is not strictly enforced. That is, if you delete and re-post your Thursday noon post at 8 am Saturday, chances are there will be no problem. But it's unwise (and really unnecessary) to post as often as daily.

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! Note that craigslist does not define what makes a website "commercial." My listing on the web of free summer shows, that contained a small link to my organization, was deemed to be "commercial." You'll be 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). Linking to a webpage without any links on it is also safe.

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 if you're running several similar posts, you can easily track your responses to see which ones are most effective.

The body of your post can be either in plain text or HTML. If you choose plain text, craigslist will automatically convert any Web addresses starting with http:// to links (but exercise care before including a Web address--see above). You can't otherwise mix plain text and HTML (don't add a few HTML tags to a plain-text submission).

You can add photos or other graphics to your post, in one of two ways. If your post is under the heading of "for sale/wanted," you'll be invited to add a picture from your hard disk. Otherwise (providing you're submitting in HTML), you can add graphics with the img tag. See craigslist's FAQ for more details. How Best To Post

The following assumes you're using Windows, and have postings suitable for several categories. (You can adapt these guidelines to other circumstances.) Performing these steps will reduce the re-posting process to about a minute a day, while giving you maximum exposure. Compose your posts. If possible, create an entirely different post for each category. If sufficiently different, posts promoting the same transaction may display simultaneously without a problem.

Create your account, by using the link on the "post to classifieds" page. Create three bookmarks for your browser. One will be your account page, another will be the craigslist post page, and the third will be the browse page (the craigslist main page for your locality), for reviewing others' posts. Submit your posts.

Wait two or three days.
Open your account page. Decide which post you'll want to re-run. Click on that post. You'll be given two choices, Edit and Delete. If you want to re-run the post in exactly 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.

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, copy that raw post to the Windows 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. Wait a day, and repeat steps 6 through 9.

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 Tips
Here are two tips for using craigslist to take advantage of others' posts. A little known source of great bargains consists of offers on craigslist to sell unwanted gift cards. This situation 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 distributes merchant gift cards at half price through its "Cashback" program.

To secure such a bargain, visit your bookmarked "Browse" page, and execute 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 meet the seller at the store, to verify the amount of credit remaining on the card.

Craigslist has joined forces with Google Maps at http://www.housingmaps.com, 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.

Richard Johnson is a writer and editor, and founder/administrator of FREE FOR ALL The Skills Pool, a 29-year-old membership organization (http://theskillspool.org). He is a volunteer with TUGNET HelpContact for assistance with Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Gmail. He welcomes feedback, at rj@theskillspool.org.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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