The Craigslist Killer (Lead Strategy)



A quick and dirty guide to how I generated 67 leads in one month without spending a dime — all during a “slow” month

I keep getting asked about an advertising campaign that I ran that generated 67 leads in a month so I did a little write-up that you guys might find inspiring.

The Results You Can Expect

When I tell fellow agents that I generated 67 leads from one campaign, I might as well have said 67 million leads. They are dumbfounded… after all, the average agent only gets ~60 leads per year. And I’ve eclipsed that number in one month. But this is nothing new for me. In fact, this isn’t even my best campaign. It’s just the first time I’ve publicly documented it.

This guide is LONG but very tactical. Everything you need to match my results — or even surpass them — is right here in this guide. Follow these steps to build your own lead generation campaign. It costs nothing except a little time upfront. I’ll also share some optional tools for under a hundred bucks that you can use to boost your results and automate the whole process, but again that’s optional.

An Overview of the Campaign

At the risk of over-hyping this guide — I am genuinely surprised at the amount of interest in my campaign — here we go.

This is the basic idea behind your campaign:

Borrow listings ⇨ ⇨  Create an ads  ⇨ ⇨  Generate traffic/interest   ⇨ ⇨ Capture leads

Here’s a quick visual guide:

classified-diagram

First, we’ll build one successful cycle–don’t worry, I’ll show you everything you need from email scripts to the ad format to the software. Then you’ll rinse and repeat the cycle until you reach your “leads need”.

If you’re not sure how many leads you need, that’s a separate topic. Click here and I’ll share the calculator I use to figure out how many leads I need based on how much money I want to make.

I calculated my lead needs at around 90 for the month (as you can see, I slightly undershot on this campaign but will fix it for next month).

I consistently capture 1-2 quality leads per ad that I post. That meant I needed to post between 2-3 ads per day. Craigslist allows me to renew my ads every 48 hrs so it looked more like posting 2-3 new ads for the first two days only and then I would just renew on alternating days until renews weren’t available.

That means that you can pull this entire campaign off with as few as six borrowed listings. You don’t need 20+ active listings–just six.

Of course I don’t have time or space to share every single ad I posted during this campaign, but I’ll show you the general gist of the campaign:

As I mentioned above, the basis of this particular campaign is “borrowed” listings–more on this in a minute–but it can work with ANY type of listings so long as the listing meets a few specific criteria. If you have your own listings, they might work, but they might not. Either way, it’s easy to borrow listings, and you should get comfortable with the process for those times when you don’t have active listings. It’s easy.

I’ve used this exact method for awhile now so I can expect consistent results from Craigslist, but any online classifieds with decent traffic will work–Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, OLX, backpage, Kijiji (Canada), you get the picture…

To recap, I plug borrowed listings into Craigslist with very specific calls-to-action pointing customers to my capture tools and then rinse/repeat. Here is an example of one of the ads I wrote (I share this one because it has great pictures), but they all followed the same format:

craigslistad
Click the picture if you want to see exactly how I created this ad with exact wordings etc…

Why Consistency Matters More than the Ad Itself

During this month-long lead generation campaign, I posted ads every single day. 30 days in a row. No exceptions. To me consistency is more important than having the perfect ad (although I’ll show you that too) or the perfect listing or the perfect lead system.

Most REALTORS run around so distracted every day that they can rarely do more than two consecutive days of lead generation. The fact is lead generation is the single most important task in my business. I’ll procrastinate almost anything, but not lead generation. Make it a priority and you’ll have more business than you can handle.

10-15 minutes a day isn’t too much time to keep your pipeline full.

To be fair, we have a ad generator that makes the ad writing a little easier. But really it just takes being committed to getting ads up every single day.

Wait… Isn’t Craigslist Just for Renters and Pervs?

Before I get started, I have to address the elephant in the room. For whatever reason, Craigslist has gotten a bad name among agents. Maybe it’s the “Craigslist killers” splashed across the headlines. Maybe you talked to a colleague who ran an ad on Craigslist once and didn’t get anything except for spam.

But whatever the case, you need to forget about what you’ve heard and try it yourself. The most recent studies available show that visitors to the real estate search page on Craigslist outrank Zillow shoppers in virtually every category. Here are the facts:

craigslist-demographics

Not to mention, I’ve written case studies about an agent in Florida who has sold a $700k property and a $1.2m property from leads to leads he captured from Craigslist–following my exact method. And that’s just in the last three months.

By now some of you are scoffing because you may have tried Craigslist posting and only gotten flooded with scams. My trick to avoiding that is that I don’t allow contact through Craigslist’s mail/text relays. I simply point them to my website, phone, and text capture. The bots that scan Craigslist aren’t setup to contact me through those methods so I essentially filter them out.

Okay, enough of that. Let’s get to the specifics now.

Step 1: Borrowing great listings

The first step to fully exploiting Craigslist is to procure a great listing. After all, we are advertising on a real estate classifieds website. You’ll get nowhere without a property to list. But this is the first place that agents go wrong.

Most agents I train on this method don’t have any listings, or else have very few. But here’s the secret: you don’t need to go out and take a new listing in order to follow this classified formula. In fact my formula is exactly the same whether you have 100 listings or zero. For best results, you’ll always want to borrow.

You can advertise any active listing in your market that you want as long as you have written permission. Pretty simple.

If you only advertise whatever listings you happen to have lying around at the moment, you’ll never generate quality leads at volume. If you’re willing to borrow, you can cherry pick literally any listing that you want.

All I do is pick up a recent copy of the local Homes Magazine or Real Estate Book, or browse the MLS. Personally I prefer the Real Estate Book. Even though it’s clearly dying a slow and painful death, it’s still great for spotting listings to borrow. Flip through the pages until you find a listing suitable for an ad. What you are looking for is always the same: Maximum curb appeal in your market’s average price range.

The Quality of Your Listings Matter

To find the perfect lead-generation listing, only two criteria matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s been on the market forever. It doesn’t matter if it’s overpriced. When it comes to generating high quality leads, all that matters is two things.

Criteria #1 – Curb appeal

Criteria #2 – Avg sale price + 20-30%

Curb appeal ensures that my listing on Craigslist will generate lots of clicks. News flash: people like pretty homes and hate ugly ones. Duh.

But you can’t simply pick the most beautiful home in the MLS, because chances are, it’s some mansion that’s way out of most people’s price range.

The average sale price in my market is $152,000. Add 20-30% to find your “sweet spot”. That means I choose a beautiful property listed between $180-195K. There will still be lots of shoppers in this price range (think back to Statistics 101 in college), but I’ll earn a higher commission when I close, and I’ll eliminate the low-end customers with credit problems.

Once I’ve chosen my “mark”, I contact the listing agent. I send a quick email just like this one. In fact, you can use this as template:

Hey Joe,

I was looking through the MLS… really like your listing at 123 Elmwood and would love to sell it! I’m putting together my ads for the month and I have an open spot. Would you mind if I included 123 Elmwood? Thanks, let me know.

-Levi

If you want to attract the best customers, you use very specific bait. When I was a kid we would use a piece of stale bread and hang our line over the drain pipe to catch catfish. And it worked every time. But if you wanted to catch something worth eating, then you had to save up and buy a better lure. It’s the same in real estate. If you advertise bottom of the barrel listings, just because you happen to be the listing agent, then you’re going to attract bottom of the barrel customers.

Low income shoppers don’t come from Craigslist. They come from low end listings.

I am a listing agent by training. I’ve never had shortage of solid listings to advertise. Heck, I was literally a contributor to the critically acclaimed book The Ultimate Listing Presentation! And I still borrow listings in order to create the “perfect” Craigslist ad. Take your ego out of it for a minute and ask yourself, what is going to generate me the most business? Probably not that $59,000 probate listing you took as a favor to a friend.

Don’t Wait to Get Started

Do this now. Use my email as a template (or better yet, make a quick phone call), but put your own spin on it. This approach really works and only takes a few minutes to complete. Just think, by the end of the day you could have several beautiful properties in your arsenal.

A quick side note: Don’t be afraid to borrow listings.

When I teach this practice, some agents look at me like I’ve asked them to do something sneaky or unethical. But let me ask you this. What if an agent approached you with the same question? Remember your fiduciary obligation is to your seller. Would withholding that listing from a free source of advertising be upholding that obligation?

Most agents are thrilled that I’m helping them move their listings. But of course I’m fully prepared for the possibility that one day the listing agent will decline my request. So what. There’s an entire book full of beautiful listings. Why would one “no” stop you?

Step 2: Writing a Great Ad

craigslistad
Click the picture if you want to see exactly how I created this ad with exact wordings etc…

I have written thousands of home ads myself and reviewed thousands more and I have found a handful of key features that are common to a good classified ad for generating real estate leads.

You can click the image above if you want to see my exact Craigslist ad. Most agents don’t care, but I know a few readers will want to replicate my ads exactly, so I’ll break it down step by step. Just click the ad above ^

For the rest of you, follow these simple principles and you’ll do fine.

1) Choose a good listing.

Agents that I talk to often think that a good listing is the low-priced new home that sells fast and I will tell you that is not always the case for my ads. Remember that selling the home is a secondary priority for an ad designed to generate leads. I generally try to pick a home with some unique selling feature that is 20-30% above the median home value in my area. This will make the ad writing easy and it will attract the most eyeballs.

2) Write out a simple description of the property’s features.

Beds, Baths and square footage should be included here, but also try to find 4-5 more selling features to point out. Since I am lazy, I oftentimes just copy/paste the “remarks” section of the MLS listing for the property since it usually does a good job of this already. Avoid writing a novel about the home.

3) Choose a great “featured” image.

Depending on what classified service you are using (Craigslist, Facebook, Backpage, Kijiji), this may be called different things but the concept will be the same. You will concentrate here on the single image that will represent your ad when someone is scrolling through listings. Most agents default to choosing the standard front-of-the-home shot. The problem is that if you also choose an image with the front of the home, your ad is likely to blend in with the rest. I usually try to pick outdoor shots here if possible. Backyards, outdoor spaces, nearby parks, pools, etc. These tend to not only make your ad standout visually, but oftentimes these are the features that make your home unique.

4) Pack the bottom of your ad with keywords.

You want your property to come up in searches so that you can maximize your eyeballs. Add in the names of every city, village suburb, subdivision, etc. surrounding your listing. Add in types of properties and property features that users might search for. Then just pack them in paragraph form at the bottom of your ad.I’ll pause here for a moment and say that most agents get these parts generally right with no problem.

The last part is perhaps the most important, but is by far the part I see agents get wrong the most. Agents have been trainedfor decades to write ads with a great description of the property. And sometimes that great description includes nice, flowery language. Unfortunately for most agents, describing an average 3 bedroom ranch home amidst hundreds of similar properties doesn’t usually doesn’t get anyone all that excited.

5) Write an attention grabbing headline.

Most classified sites offer their list of homes for sale to browse with two main components before the content of the ads–the featured image and the headline. That means you have only two opportunities to grab a customer’s attention and urge them to click on your ad. Since you have already chosen a great featured image, that leaves the headline to do the rest of the work. For a successful headline, you will need to focus in on one or two unique features of the property and then highlight those with language designed to grab attention.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, the unique features may not even be about the property itself but instead about its proximity to community features (parks, schools, shopping, etc.). You can also use language that otherwise would be out of place in the real estate section of a classified site.

If you have gotten this far, then you probably grabbed the attention of some customers and they are now interested in your property. They aren’t leads yet, though. They are just anonymous ad viewers.

Now it’s time to get people to go somewhere that you can capture them. For someone to make the leap, you are going to have need a clear and simple call to action (CTA).

Writing an Effective CTA

In order for all of this work to actually result in leads, your call to action must direct your viewers to something that will capture their phone number.

There are three basic ways to capture a phone number: a landing page, an automated text capture system, and a call capture hotline. I’ll cover how to set up your own infrastructure below.

To write an effective CTA, you just need to answer the questions of “What are they going to get on your site/by phone/by texting?” and “How do they get that information?” Withhold some information like price and full photos on the ad so they have a reason to continue on past the ad.

Then show them how to easily get that information by a) visiting your landing page b) texting your capture system or c) call your hotline.

I use all three “traps” for my customers to maximize leads. Different people will prefer different methods for getting the info they want. More options means more leads.

Again, if you want to see my exact ad including my call-to-action I break it down for those who want a step-by-step guide… just click here.

Helpful Hint: Craigslist doesn’t allow bold or italics to break up the text so wrap your CTA in “header” html tags to highlight it and draw attention. 

I do want to make an important distinction between the phone hotline which is passive (low-pressure) and asking someone to contact you directly which is much more active and less anonymous feeling for the customer.

Remember that online customers are primarily in phase one of the buying cycle. This generally means they will be unwilling to proactively contact a real estate agent, but they do want to continue to gather information prior to being ready to start searching so a call-to-action that asks them to call or email you directly will not work here.

Step 3: Building Your Infrastructure (Lead Capture Tools)

The final piece of the puzzle when it comes to generating leads on Craigslist is some simple infrastructure that every agent should have anyway. But in case you don’t, I’m going to break it down, tool by tool.

The tools you’ll need are as follows:

  • Lead capture website
  • Text auto-responder
  • Call capture hotline
  • CRM
  • Ad generator (recommended but not required)

All these tools  are included with Pipeline Pro Tools (my system) for $67/mo. But there are free alternatives out there too.

I have designed many of these tools myself, and now I sell them to 17k+ agents across the US and Canada. I’m going to show you the exact tool I use in each situation and how it works. And then I’ll follow it by showing you a free alternative to that tool. Sound fair?

You will see on my ad that I am directing customers to three different ways they can get current pricing, interior photos, or even a video tour. What you don’t know is that no matter what they choose (website, phone or text), I will capture the customer’s contact information. It’s the classic sales technique of offering a choice between two (in this case, three) yeses.

 

After having shared my classified ads with literally thousands of agents now who don’t have my system, I am not surprised at this point to get reports like… “Your ads got me hits to the site, but no leads!” “How’d you get so many leads, my ads did almost nothing?” “What am I doing wrong?”

Note: Capture is Key

The reality is that capturing the online visitors you generate is every bit as important as generating the visitors in the first place. Most of the sites I have seen plain old suck when it comes to lead capture.

Now I realize many of you won’t have all of these systems. I am going to quickly teach you how to build your own lead capture page that will effectively capture those client responses. Then you will have real lead information to follow-up with.

Tool#1: Lead Capture Website

So let’s talk about your website. If you haven’t been generating regular business from it, it’s not only because you don’t have good ads. The average real estate website only captures 1% of the visitors that reach it because of a simple design flaw. The typical agent website is designed to deliver information, not capture it.

For your website to capture leads, you need to build a capture page (aka a landing page or squeeze page) that is designed from the ground up to capture lead info. You’ll need a compelling offer and a frictionless capture form.

I call mine the Ultimate Website. It’s the result of over 1000 man hours and hundreds of thousands of individual tests. I’ve tweaked everything from the copy, colors, fonts, you name it. The result is a fully optimized lead capture website. My customers love it, but do you think I care? Nope. I care that it captures leads. (This comes included in Pipeline Pro Tools obvs.)

ultimate-website-screenshot
The Ultimate Website

You don’t have to be a geek to build a landing page. You can start as simply as a wordpress site, cheap hosting, and the Sumo plugin. Sumo allows you build lead capture into an existing page and run tests similar to how we’ve run tests on the Ultimate Website.

Free/Cheap Alternative

  • DIY WordPress Site
  • Free Sumo.com plugin
  • Cheap hosting and domain at $10-20/monthly

Building a decent site from wordpress is fairly easy and with free plugins from https://sumo.com/, you can build in and test lead capture as you go. I’ve done some testing with Sumo myself and have gotten capture rates as high as 10%.

WordPress is free, Sumo is free for the first few months, and basic hosting costs around $10/mo. Not bad for a DIY option.

What Makes a Bad Website

Let’s also talk about what doesn’t work in website lead capture. The common setup where an agent shows a few listings and then requires registration to proceed just doesn’t work. Completely passive (non-mandatory) registration doesn’t work. Both of these setups “feel” like they are serving your customer, but in reality not only do they not capture the customers at any significant rate (bad for you) . They also don’t allow the customer to get real information from a trained professional (bad for the customer) in the case of the passive registration or they bait-and-switch the customer leaving them frustrated in the case of the “few listings” setup.

Testing

Once you have a capture page, testing will be important. Direct customers to your new page and carefully track your capture rate (the unique visitors vs the number of leads you generate). Then try a slight variation of the page (new colors, wording, etc.) and track the capture rate there.

Anything above the national average of 1% is good, but obviously the higher the better. My Ultimate Website regularly capture 20-30% because the testing is automated. It runs invisible tests all day every day makes tweaks and adjustments automatically based on the data collected.

You don’t have to be a coding genius to implement this strategy. If you have the right capture tools and a good ad strategy, you can easily duplicate my results in any market.

Check out our pricing and see if we have availability in your market.

Tool #2: Text Auto-Responder

The tool I use is the Text Auto-Responder that’s included with my Pipeline Pro Tools system. It utilizes unique tracking codes for each property so I know what ads the customer is texting about. I can also program the response to say whatever I want (important) — whereas some other SMS systems on the market have the response locked.

How it works is simple. When a customer texts the unique property code to the number, the system automatically responds with the pre-loaded property information, pricing, and photos (or anything else you want to send them) so the customer doesn’t have to wait.

lcmtextss

Free/Cheap Alternative

There are many texting services out there. But since they all charge per message and this strategy should yield you upwards of 70 leads per month, it’s usually cost prohibitive to buy a standalone service.

Instead you can use your own cell number and issue “tracking codes” in your ads that you map to the properties you are using. If presented right, your customers will think you use one of the automated services and be none the wiser. Think of this as the poorman’s SMS system.

You will have to be on the ball about responding with quick information, but the price is definitely right for your own “text capture” service.

Tool #3: Call Capture Hotline

Our call capture system provides unique tracking codes for each property/ad and a tested message plays for each customer that prepares them for a call back while you get your property info in order.

Free/Cheap Alternative

There are a few options here. The simplest and cheapest option is to get an 800 number and have it forward to your cell-phone or landline. You could then change your voicemail to a generic “property information” call-back style message. The downside here is that you will not be able to track what ads the leads are coming from.

You can also search around for some of the less expensive 800 capture systems. I have generally seen them range in price from $30-70 monthly.

Before we built our own, we had the cadillac of Call Capture systems and loved https://proquesttechnologies.com/  (not cheap or free), and it is as close to comprehensive as you will find.

Tool #4: CRM

Any campaign that generates 67 leads per month is going to need a good CRM to keep things organized for you. Pipeline is included with our system and leads from our Text, phone and website all flow into it seamlessly. Then we designed it with a proprietary followup reminder system so you don’t miss a single customer.

pipeline

Free/Cheap Alternative

Pipeline! All of my leads are automatically inserted into Pipeline, which I can access from my phone or desktop computer. It manages my follow up and tells me exactly when each lead needs to be followed up with. It prevents me from being overbearing, but also stops me from being lazy.

We also offer a free version of our CRM software. You would have to load in the leads manually, but the peace of mind that comes with making sure you don’t miss calling your leads is well worth it.

Get it free at pipelinedatabase.com.

One Final Word

My goal in sharing these strategies is to help agents solve some of the same problems that I face. I understand the typical agent response is to keep business generating ideas to themselves for fear of developing competitors. In this case, resist the urge to keep this idea to yourself. If we can raise the bar on real estate ads in Craigslist, it will make the site better and ultimately attract more customers. Have you looked at your local Craigslist real estate section recently? The ad quality leaves a lot to be desired.

Craigslist the company being successful is not something I am in invested in. But I would like to live in a world where customers are looking in places other than Zillow or Realtor.com for home shopping. So do me a favor and spread the word. Let other agents know how to write great ads and ultimately generate business for free.

Give it a share on your favorite social media. It means a lot to me.

What’s the Deal with Pipeline Pro Tools?

I’m not sharing a link to buy Pipeline Pro Tools here because that is not the purpose of this guide. However, if you’re interested in Pipeline Pro Tools you can check availability or get a demo.

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