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Archive for February, 2008

Speaking in tongues: Making more-professional-looking CraigsList HTML ads — even if you don’t know how to code in HTML

[I’ve amended this post somewhat based on our recent experiences with CraigsList, which are discussed in the comments. The point of this post is not CraigsList, but, rather, learning how to extract HTML from existing code, this as a means of learning to write HTML on your own. In the comments, a number of vendor solutions are discussed, and these my be worth exploring, if only as a prophylactic against censorious behavior by CraigsList users. But your need to produce professional-looking HTML can extend far beyond the major on-line services. As an example, Cathleen Collins pulled buyers out of an ad we were able to post on a church’s bulletin-board-like system. –GSS]

 
A couple-few weeks ago, I was on a conference call with Jerry Matthews. He’s a one-time grand poohbah in Realtor Association politics, but now he works as a consultant to the NAR and certain state-level Associations. I was the waxed-fruit-flavor-of-the-day in a series of calls with Association executives, so that they might take the pulse of market innovators. I think I might have been the Designated Radical. If so, I promise you I did not disappoint.

As one stage, I was talking about how new licensees might market themselves cheaply in what is, for now, a hard world to get a break in. I mentioned a lot of different ideas, including CraigsList.com, which may be the single most effective advertising medium available to Realtors or lenders right now.

I said, “Of course, most CraigsList ads stink, so, with just a little bit of HTML you can really make yourself stand out?”

“But how is a new agent supposed to know anything about HTML?” someone asked.

I didn’t say, “Young people know a lot more than you give them credit for.” Instead, I pointed out that weblogging software like WordPress creates HTML for you, even if you don’t know what it’s doing.

So you could do something like this:

  1. Create a weblog post about a house you’ve listed — or, with explicit permission, that another agent has listed
  2. Write a good, compelling headline about why buyers should want to see that house
  3. Write good, clean — error free — copy about the home
  4. Illustrate your copy with a few interesting, well-lit photos of the home and its features and amenities
  5. Close with a call to action to contact you to see the home

Publish that post. That’s good weblogging, y’all. Not just a regurgitation of the listing, but an information-rich blog entry about a home that is currently for sale.

(There’s a fine line between helping people find their dream homes and ramming your own financial dreams down their throats. How can you find that line? Think about how you would react to your tactics, if the tables were turned. When you’re shopping, very often you do want help. What you don’t want is to be pushed around. Let your own better angels guide your weblogging.)

But: How the heck are we going to get a professional-looking CraigsList ad out of a weblog post?

Like this:

  1. Open your post in its own window (which is usually done by clicking on the headline)
  2. From the View menu in your web browser, select Source (or View Source or Page Source)
  3. A new window will open, rife with all the HTML that makes up your post
  4. Search for your headline; not the version you might find in the “title” tag; it will be well down the page, in an “h1″, “h2″ or “h3″ tag
  5. Starting with that “h1″, “h2″ or “h3″ tag, copy your post all the way down to the last words you wrote; skip anything beneath the last of your text, but keep that last “/p” tag
  6. Paste the code you have copied into a new file in a text editor — like TextPad or WordPad — not into a word processor like MS-Word; word-processing software will clobber the HTML
  7. Save your file with the extension “htm” — so you will give it a name like “MyCraigsListAd.htm”
  8. Open that file with your web browser; you should see a vague replica of your weblog post; it won’t look as good, but it should look much better than the normal CraigsList ad
  9. You can edit your “htm” file if you want to, but, if you’re happy with it, you can copy and paste that code directly into your CraigsList ad
  10. Your ad should look very similar to what you saw in your web browser — not as slick as the weblogged version, but not bad for CraigsList

(Note that your photos will have to be referenced buy their absolute path — “http://www.MyServer.com/MyPhotos/ThisPhoto.jpg”, not just “ThisPhoto.jpg”. You may need to edit your HTML to include the absolute paths to photos, links or other resources.)

Here’s an example: Cathy wrote a post a couple of weeks ago on DistinctivePhoenix.com about a Usonian house we admire. Here’s that same HTML as it would appear on CraigsList — not great, not awful.

But still, it’s a way for Realtors or lenders who don’t know HTML to get a better looking ad onto CraigsList — or any other site that permits HTML coding.

But with not too much work, we can do better than this. The image at the right is an ad I built for Cathleen to be used on CraigsList. What you’re seeing is half-scale. Click here to see the full ad.

It’s not elaborate at all, about what you might get if you phoned in a pub-set display ad to the local newspaper. It’s possible to make a much prettier ad on CraigsList, but it’s also possible to be so flashy that the readers complain — and then your ad gets pulled. It makes sense to me, on CraigsList and other free classifieds sites, to build ads that are nice but not too nice. When in Rome…

And, in fact, this ad did get flagged for removal the first time Cathy posted it. At this point, we’re trying to figure out how much HTML we can get away with. This ad is pretty plain, but, even so, it is meeting with resistance.

But here’s the thing: If you understand HTML well enough to write an ad like this — steal this book. View the Source and copy it. Don’t swipe my copy — and don’t even think about stealing my photos — but the basic structure is easy to adapt to your needs.

Leave the “div” tags at the top and bottom alone. That’s what’s making the box. When you’ve got the copy the way you want it, change the value for “height” in the first line until the box looks right to you in your web browser.

Then copy and paste the HTML into your ad — whether that’s on CraigsList, BackPages.com or some other system that permits HTML coding. You will still look pretty plain-brown-wrapper, but compared to all the other ads, you’ll be slicker than Jimmy Olson’s hair gel.

Really, practically speaking, you should learn to hold your own hand in HTML. But just a little bit of knowledge, properly applied, can take you a long, long way.

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