Can you use classified advertising to market effectively?

Paid ads and classifieds are both great opportunities for marketing, but they each have their pros and cons. The right ad format for you depends greatly on your marketing needs.

Classified Advertising

In general, this refers to geographically specific ads that appear in newspapers, news blogs, local magazines, and on classified websites, such as craigslist. Between 2005 and 2009, the number of adults that use online classifieds more than doubled, and at that time, Pew reported 1 out of 10 internet users visited a classified site on any given day. In response to this proliferation of online classified ads, newspaper classified ad revenue has plummeted.

Classified advertising can be useful for certain types of marketing, but it also has some limitations.

Pros – Very effective for products and services that are local. Brick and mortar businesses or businesses that need to operate locally often use classified ads to promote their products, services, or job openings to a particular location.

In many cases, readers of a particular set of classified ads tend to fall into a certain demographic. Niche magazine’s classifieds, for instance, would clearly be ideal for anyone targeting that specific industry.

Cons – Though often cheap, classifieds are also often limited in scope and reach. Classifieds have lost much of their market share to newer ad formats, or been replaced by sites such as craigslist.

And while those types of classified sites can be useful for promoting certain types of products, they also have regulations and user-operated spam filters. There are rules against promoting, for instance, affiliate products or postings intended to drive traffic to a site.

Paid Advertising

In 2013, Google pulled in $8 billion in mobile search revenue alone. Statistics from around the internet universally report that paid advertising continues to explode, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Whether you are sponsoring search results, sponsoring Facebook posts, or displaying ads on a blog, every marketing campaign should incorporate some form of paid advertising.

Paid advertising tends to be more expensive than classified advertising – which can even be free – but it also has some significant benefits that classifieds don’t.

Pros – Paid advertising gives you much more control over targeting. For instance, you can target specific demographics, specific industries, specific platforms, and specific regions.

Display advertising, text ads, video ads, and other formats can appear on blogs, in apps, in software, and so on. This gives you the ability to reach customers who aren’t necessarily searching for a product or service.

You’ll also be able to bypass regulations that are often imposed on classifieds.

Cons – It can be more expensive than classified advertising which, as mentioned, can be free.

You may also have to learn a bit of marketing and advertising in the process, since most paid advertising is online and even multi-channel. This learning curve can be steep for those who aren’t familiar with marketing or advertising.

While algorithm-controlled optimization can benefit your conversion rates, it can also take you out of the driver’s seat. Google AdSense, for instance, presents the ads it feels will convert the best, but you have no control over the output, so it could present ads that conflict with your ethics or your site’s business.

Choosing the Right Ads for Your Business

While every business should be constantly utilizing and testing some form of paid advertising, the same isn’t necessarily true of classified advertising. Here are a few tips for choosing the right ad format:

Choose an approach based on your budget. Your budget is often a reflection of the size and reach of your business. The bigger your budget, the bigger the ad campaign you can undertake. In general, classified ads are ideal for smaller budgets confined to specific locations.

Base your advertising on your audience’s budget. Craigslist and other classified sites tend to attract “thrifty” customers who are on the lookout for deals and discounts. If your target audience is affluent and avoids low-budget purchases, used items, and so forth, then you may want to avoid classifieds.

Where is your audience located? Online paid advertising can target locally, regionally, or nationally. Classifieds, for the most part, are location-based. Spreading your ads over multiple geographic regions often requires more time and effort, but systems such as craigslist have systems set in place to prevent multiple postings.


In some cases, one type of advertising is obviously more beneficial. In other cases, both could be useful. Classifieds are clearly better suited to local, lower budget customers and companies, while paid advertising could go either way. Picking the right type of ad for marketing, though, can help you save costs and find the right people who want to buy your products.