DIY Rental Advertising: The Painful Realities of Craigslist

“There is the mistaken thought that ‘fair’ or ‘consistent’ are intended goals of the system. Fair doesn’t and won’t enter into it. People who insist on working with a system that is intended to be fair and consistent should take up a team sport, or maybe get arrested.” — Craiglist Employee

 

The Detroit Metro Craiglist front page.Craiglist is, despite what a number of other websites might try to tell you, absolutely mandatory for success if you’re trying to fill vacancies. Rent.com, Oodle, Fijiji…none of the alternatives are names that people instinctively come up with when it comes time to look for something online. Ebay and Amazon don’t list rental houses, and the next name in line is always Craigslist. So get used to the idea that Craiglist is going to be part of your advertising system for the foreseeable future.

Why is that a problem? Well, for some people, it’s not — Craigslist is full of advertisers whose ads function flawlessly for years on end. For others, it’s the exact opposite: their ads consistently get taken down within minutes, with no explanation and no recourse. So what’s the deal?

Painful Reality #1: Craigslist is Deliberately Impossible to Understand
The simple fact of the matter is that Craigslist deliberately makes it all-but-impossible to understand the mechanics behind the processes of getting flagged, getting ‘ghosted,’ getting banned, and so on. The only thing you’ll ever hear is that a certain number of flags will get a post taken down — but you’ll never hear what that number is, and groups who have done large-scale studies of Craigslist have proven that the numbers actually vary not just from one geographical region to another, but from one category and even subcategory within a given geographical region.

The one thing that seems consistent is this: the relevant number isn’t ‘total number of flags’ — it’s ‘flags per view.’ If you get 400 views and 10 flags, you’re probably fine. If you get 40 views and 10 flags, you’re probably not fine.

Painful Reality #2: People Can and Will Flag You for No Reason At All
There is no one out there double-checking the veracity of the flags that are thrown. If someone just plain doesn’t like you, they’ll flag you. If they’re a competitor and they think they’ll get some advantage over you in the marketplace, they’ll flag you. Heck, there are several competing bots out there that will literally go through and auto-flag everything in a given category just because.

What’s worse, Craigslist has ridiculously simple tracking to make sure that the same person doesn’t flag the same ad again and again. So, one upset individual or overly competitive competitor can simply click the ‘flag’ button over and over again…and all they have to do is delete one Craiglist tracking cookie between each flag.

Painful Reality #3: There Is Absolutely No Recourse Except to Try Again
Because Craiglist is unavoidable (see the opening paragraph), there’s nothing you can do if someone maliciously flags an ad of yours, except wait a few days and put it back up. There’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo on the Internet about changing your IP address and other shenanigans, but it’s silly — if Craigslist is cheap enough to rely on simple tracking cookies for flag validation, they’re certainly not going to spend a lot of time and energy on tracking every detail of our activity on the site.

The One Thing You Can Do
Fortunately, there is a single, simple trick that works in most circumstances: when you first post an ad, right-click on the “You can see your ad at…” link, and open it up in about a dozen windows. That gives the ‘views vs. flags’ meter enough of a head start that only the most dedicated of flaggers will take your ad down. That’s all it takes…but if it doesn’t work, well… happy reposting and good luck!

Posted in: 1. Property Owner Blog Posts, Managing Rentals

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