Craigslist and The Opposite of Online Marketing

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August 25, 2009 – The cover of Wired this month will feature an article all about the inexplicable rise of a website that didn’t follow any of the rules of website design, online marketing, or really any fundamental structure of an ecommerce company, and still came out on top — Craigslist. You can read a commentary by the author of the article on wired.com.

Naturally, the article got me thinking about many of the same issues that perplexed the author, including our mutual admiration for the site despite its lack of award-winning web design. I personally love Craigslist. Every job I’ve gotten over the past 7 years has been through Craigslist. When I lived in the Bay Area I found all my apartments and furniture through Craigslist and my partner even purchased his last several cars through the free classified ads site.

Fans love Craigslist because the service is free to use and cheap or free to post on. Spam posts get flagged fairly quickly, (unlike those on Careerbuilder), and while there are design features the website lacks that could in theory help with searching, the ease of use is pretty refreshing.

However, Craigslist is a site that never focused on branding, online marketing, stylish web design, or even profits, so how they did they get to be so damn profitable? There are a lot of possible answers to that question and I’ll leave it to the author of the Wired piece to go further into those issues, but on a base level the answer is really simplicity.

Craigslist is a simple website that performs a much needed service and achieves this goal in a simple, straightforward way. While not all businesses will lend themselves to the bare bones that is Craigslist (nor should they), that small, simple website has basically taken over classifieds from local newspapers and left many much fancier job search websites in the dust.

Perhaps this simplicity is a good reminder for all of us to really examine our websites, get back to the basics and discover what is really working and what is just fluff that’s getting in the way. It’s worked before.

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