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Publicity Tips: Writing Classified Ads

by , MBA

What makes a classified ad good or bad? Let's start off by looking at some general tips:

Tips on writing a classified ad

  1. Leave out hyperbole, such as "the best...," and instead give the reader real facts on which to make a decision.

  2. Put the most important information at the start of the ad.

  3. Use standard abbreviations.

  4. Know the value of what you are selling.

  5. Sell at fair value--too low, and people assume your item is inferior. Too high, and they won't buy it.

  6. Don't describe something as "a steal." People perceive that as a come-on.

  7. Don't advertise one item and then sell another. This is illegal, and it could get you hurt.

  8. In the ad, include the information that you as a buyer would want.

  9. Don't say something is in mint condition unless it looks like it just came out of the factory.

  10. Use direct language--if something is used, say it is used. "Pre-owned" is a transparent attempt to be deceitful. The kinds of buyers you would attract with such deceit are probably not the kind of people you want to associate with.

  11. Be specific. Don't try to appeal to everybody, or you'll appeal to nobody. Think of the ideal customer, and write an ad targeted to that person. Don't worry if the ad is a turn-off to anybody else. For example, if you are selling a skateboard then use lingo in which skateboarders talk. Don't say your board is in good condition. Say it's "gnarly" or whatever is the current lingo.

  12. Say only what you can back with facts.

  13. Don't be afraid to list limitations of what you're selling, if doing so prevents misrepresenting what you're selling. For example, you are selling a portable scanning device. If it is not a color device, say so. "Works great in black and white. Does not scan color."

  14. Leave out things that don't matter. People don't need to know why you're selling something. If they ask, fine, but that kind of information is generally a waste of time to read.

  15. If you provide a phone number, provide the best time in which to call. Be sure to note your time zone, unless it's a local ad.

  16. Don't use ALL CAPS or multiple exclamation points!!! These show the reader that you are either an amateur or a crook. Let the substance of your offer do the selling. Don't try to make up for bad copy, inferior goods, or bad service through nonstandard punctuation or capitalization.


Top three things a classified ad must do

  1. Appeal to the reader. You must assume the reader is "scanning" the page on which your ad appears. Therefore, something about your ad must cause the reader to stop scanning and read. The first few words of your ad are of the utmost importance and deserve your careful consideration. Most surveys show that words or phrases that quickly involve the reader tend to be the best attention-grabbers. Note that people do have "ad fatigue" and are cynical when ads begin with certain worn-out words, phrases, or claims. Use your own experience to determine what these are, and don't use them.
  2. Say what it says in the least possible number of words. Your ad must quickly get to the point. What exactly are you offering? Ads that consist of long ad copy that basically says nothing do not work. To keep the reader, don't keep text that doesn't serve the point of the ad. A 30 word ad that says exactly what you are offering will perform much better than a 300 word ad that a reader must wade through before finally giving up and moving on.
  3. Lead the reader to take the desired action. Make it easy. "OK," the reader is thinking, "This sounds good. What do I do next?" Try to think in terms of specific, easy to do steps that the reader should take.


Ingredients of any good classified ad

  • Attention. Your headline needs to be clear and compelling. Leave out junkwords and hyperbole.
  • Interest. Ask the question, "Why should the reader care?" When you have the answer, you'll know what to say to pique the reader's interest. Do not use cliches or come-ons--these turn off more people than they attract.
  • Desire. People buy things either to solve a problem or to feel good. How is your offer satisfying either or both of these?
  • Action. A call to action is how you get the reader to take the step that makes you money. Make this easy to understand and easy to do.

Stay honest

Many people think they need to be clever so they can stand out from the pack. This is not true. Sincerity is a very attractive quality to a potential buyer, because it creates an underlying feeling of trust. Without trust, people do not buy.

If your product or service is good and you communicate the benefits and limitations to the reader, then you will have well-informed customers who do not feel tricked after the sale.

Now you know the basics. The rest is up to you.


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