Classified ads are a major source of customers for small businesses, even in today's digital world. If you need to find someone to repair your computer, write a resume, fix your dishwasher, or take down that huge tree that looks like it's splitting, what do you do?
Chances are you'll look at classified ads in one form or another to find a service provider to get the work done. You may look at the ads in your weekly shopper-type publication or weekly town newspaper. And, you'll probably search online. (The short, listings you see to the right of search results and often on the top and/or the bottom of results are pay-per-click [PPC] ads, which are really just another form of classified ad.).
No matter what media classified ads are viewed through, these small text ads are a significant source of customers for many home-based and small businesses. An inexpensive three-line ad placed in print, in an online yellow pages ad, or through search engines can deliver customers who need your product or service now. More importantly, if the ad is run regularly, it builds future business by making your name familiar and establishing your credibility.
Although classified ads are brief, getting good results from them takes some thought. A well-written ad placed in the wrong publication or displayed online to the entire country won’t bring in much business. A poor headline or a poorly written ad, no matter how carefully placed, is a waste of money.
To get the most mileage out of your classified advertising dollars, keep these suggestions in mind when you write and place your ad.
Understand your customer
Many products and services can be sold to different types of customers. But each type may have different needs. Your ad should stress your ability to meet those specific needs. For instance a job seeker may need your help not only writing their resume, but also distributing it to online sites where it will get found. The owner of a small business may not know they want a "virtual assistant." They may only know they need a freelancer to do their bookkeeping and/or help them build a social presence online. To work, your classified ads need to speak directly to what the customer is looking for.
Choose the right media outreach
An ad for pool maintenance services is likely to attract more responses in publications that circulate in upper-class communities than in a weekly shopper that gets distributed in a blue-collar neighborhood. Similarly, you'll waste a lot of money on your ad for your landscaping service if you advertise on search engines and don't geo-target the ad (I.e., have the search engines only show your ad to people from the geographic area you're able to serve.)
Be aware that individuals often read the classified sections of several different publications, but read each with a different mindset. A business executive might look in the local newspaper for someone to paint her house, but turn to a regional business publication to find a contractor to perform similar services for her business property.
Do some homework
Study ads that appear consistently week after week. Determine what makes such ads catch your attention. Do they mention a benefit? Are they set off in some way from other classified ads on the page? Are they easy to spot because they fall immediately under a category heading in the classified section or near the top of the ads on an online search?
Make the first few words count
The first couple of ads in your classified ad work like a headline does on a display ad. They must stop the reader's eye from moving down or across the page and make them want to read the rest of the ad. To do that, those first couple of words must tell readers the most important benefit your product or service offers. In online pay-per-click ads the ad should reflect as closely as possible the terms the searcher typed into the search engine.
Keep the ad brief and explicit
A good classified ad is like a telegram: short, clear and commanding. In as few words as possible, tell what you sell, who should buy it, why they should buy it from you today, and how to contact you.
Be careful, though, not to cut too many words out of an ad that will appear in print. The reader won 't be able to click to get more information in a print ad.
Get someone else's opinion about the ad.
Whether you're creating an ad for a newspaper or for online use, ask several people who will be honest with you to read the ad. After they've read it ask them to tell you what you are selling, whether the ad would make them want to contact you. If they have difficulty answering those questions, rewrite the ad.
Make it believable and appropriate
Today's consumers are more educated and more skeptical than consumers ever were in the past. If your ad sounds like you are offering something too good to be true, most people will skip right over your ad. Furthermore if you make unfounded income claims or health claims that are not substantiated by scientific evidence, you could get yourself in trouble with the law. To win customers and avoid trouble, sell with facts, not hype.
Look for your competitors
Advertise in the same publications and same online media that your competitors do. Look through a year's worth of back issues of a publication. If competitors have been advertising consistently in that publication for a year, it's likely to be a good place to put your ad, too. Try to determine what keywords your competitors are using to promote their business online. Use similar keywords in your own ads.
Test your ad in several publications
Two publications that seem to be aimed at the same readers won't necessarily produce the same results. A Long Island painter who got no response from ads placed in one weekly newspaper, for instance, got numerous responses from ads in a competing publication in the same community. The only way to tell which publications are the best for you is to test your ad in several. Test your ads in several places online, too. An ad that works on Google may or may not work on FaceBook, Bing, or LinkedIn.
Don't plan to make a killing with one ad
Run each ad long enough to give it a fair try. Having your business ad appear on a regular basis builds name recognition and convinces prospects your business is not a fly-by-night firm.
Be sure you include a phone number or other contact information in the ad. Have someone other than yourself proofread your final version for typos and misspellings.