I kept getting asked about an advertising campaign that I ran that generated 69 leads in a month so I did a little write-up that you guys might find inspiring.
Now 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 forspam. But whatever the case, you need to forget about what you’ve heard and try it yourself. The truth is, it is relatively easy to capture 2-3 inbound buyer or seller leads from Craigslist every day, if you know what you’re doing.
At the risk of a big build up–I am genuinely surprised at the amount of interest in my campaign– here we go. Of course it would be cumbersome to share every single ad I posted, but here’s the general gist of the campaign:
I used borrowed listings–more on this later–as bait to generate traffic to my capture tools.
Having used this exact method for awhile, I expect to generate 1-2 leads per ad posting when I use online classified ads like Craigslist. Any online classifieds with significant traffic will work–Facebook Marketplace, OLX, backpage, Kijiji.
I plugged borrowed listings into Craigslist with very specific calls-to-action pointing customers to my 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:
I calculated my lead needs at around 90 for the month (I slightly undershot on this campaign) so I was posting 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 and then he would just renew on alternating days until renews weren’t available.
Consistency is key.
Then I would start fresh with a handful of new ads and renew those. To be fair, we have a ad generator that make the ad writing a little easier. But really it just took being committed to getting ads up every single day.
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.
❗❗Full disclosure: We make website, phone, and text capture tools (as well as a host of other stuff). That said, the campaign that I am sharing here doesn’t rely on those tools specifically. If you have a website that converts leads effectively (mine converts around 20-30% of uniques) and a solid phone or text service (there are lots out there), you could duplicate my results pretty easily without buying my stuff.
Choosing Your Bait (Find great listings)
Step One is procuring the perfect listing for your ad. What!? Yes, you heard me right. The first step to fully exploiting Craigslist for lots of buyer leads 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 my Craigslist formula. In fact my formula is exactly the same for agents who have lots of listings and agents who have none. You are going to borrow a listing.
What do I mean by “borrowing” a listing? The best way to explain this concept is to describe exactly what I do when creating a new Craigslist ad from scratch. Again, all of this can be done for free and in a single afternoon. I recommend that you start today. Start by picking up a recent copy of the local Homes magazine or Real Estate Book, or browse your MLS. F lip 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 my market’s average price range.
A New Definition of Curb Appeal.
Here’s why. Curb appeal ensures that my listing on Craigslist will generate lots of clicks. Buyers are attracted to beautiful homes far more than ugly ones. Duh. But you can’t simply pick the most beautiful home in the MLS, because chances are, for the majority of buyers, it’s out of their price range. The average home price in my market is $152,000. I usually choose an attractive but modest listing that is approximately 20-30% above average because I’ll attract a higher end customer and earn a higher commission. But this home price is still affordable for a large percentage of home shoppers. I don’t pick the million dollar mansions just because they are nice. Very few people are in the market for such a property, so I would capture few if any customers.
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:
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.
Just like in fishing, 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.
The Quality of Your Listings Matter
Low income shoppers don’t come from Craigslist. They come from low end listings.
For that reason, I recommend my “borrowed listings” strategy even to listing agents. Look, we wrote The Ultimate Listing Presentation, we’ve never had a shortage of solid listings to advertise. 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
Note: 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.
Wait, what if they say no? When I teach this practice, 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 to your client. 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?
Putting Out Your Lines (Writing Great Ads)
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.
I included my ad below again since I already had a screenshot handy, but you will notice it hits on all the main points.
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 your website so you can capture them. For someone to make the leap, you are going to have to
Have a clear and simple call(s)-to-action.
Answer the questions of “What are they going to get on your site/by phone/by texting?” and “How do they get that information?” Clarity and simplicity are the key here. You will also want to withhold some information like price and full photos on the ad so they have a reason to continue on past the ad.
You can see that I use three separate “traps” for my customers as I have found that giving different customers different options to get the information they want works best in getting them to make the jump from Craigslist to my systems.
I do want to make an important distinction between the phone hotline which is passive 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.
Setting the hook (capturing the lead)
The final piece of the puzzle when it comes to generating leads on Craigslist is effective capture tools.
You will see on my ad that I am directing customers to three different ways they can get current pricing and more information. What you don’t know is that with each of those options (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 ads with hundreds 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?”
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 stink 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.
Along with a website designed for lead capture, you will need the phone and text systems as well. There are dozens of companies that provide phone and text capture services. Most range from $20-60 per month with all sorts of plans and packages that are tiered based on your minutes, texts, etc. I won’t endorse one here, but there are many out there.
Not All Websites Are Created Equal.
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 that’s not what most real estate websites are designed to do. For your website to capture leads, you will need to build a website page (sometimes called a landing page, or squeeze page) that is designed exclusively to get lead information and that is where we are going to direct our customers.
Do it yourself.
You don’t have to be a geek to build a landing page. You can start as simply as a google form. The important components of a good landing page are very similar to the components of a great ad. It must be simple and uncluttered, have one clear call-to-action, and offer something of value in return for their contact information. I would also recommend it be used as a gateway for your site rather than an ad-on later.
We have had good luck offering home searches as the “value” and using an extremely simple form asking for their name phone number and email address. Requiring a phone number will be key for good follow-up later. I included our capture page here.
Good Capture is a Science
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, Testing and More 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. Our pages regularly capture 20-30%. Because the average Craigslist ad will only generate 5-7 clicks on average, anything below 15% is going to result in frustration for most agents as that means less than 1 lead per ad.
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. Like I said, you can easily start with a simple Google form (https://www.google.com/forms/about/) or you can potentially modify your existing website. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of building your own stuff or finding phone vendors. Jump in on the deep end with ready-made landing pages that have been tested with phone and text capture included.
One Last Thing
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.