New approach can turn classifieds back into gold

'Native' approach to classifieds adds 6-8 pages of new print advertising per week in mid-sized market


Newspapers have to look at classifieds in a new way.

Let's imagine that classifieds were a brand new ad type – a hot new trend, a bandwagon to jump on.

How can this be?

Well, classifieds work well in print and online. They are cheap to produce and highly profitable. They're flexible and can include enhancements like headlines, photos and graphics. They can provide a quick turnaround. They can be created using self service tools. They aren't complicated to explain or sell.

Gee, sounds like a pretty good new ad type to me!

If you can clear your mind of all the old ways we think about classifieds and think of them as one of the best ways for small business advertisers to get their message out, suddenly a whole new world of possibilities appears.

Instead of focusing on the demise of cars, homes and jobs, think of the potential of vast underserved categories. Think food, help, home, kids, pets and health.

Each of these is a huge category that is ripe for a fresh approach. Like classifieds! And none of these categories are going to Craigslist (although if we don't hurry, they are already moving to Google and Facebook).

We launched what we originally called "lifestyle" classifieds at the Times-Herald Record in 2012 and the paper experienced a recurring, 6-8 page jump in print classified advertising which was mostly new business. Combined with a redesign and a series of content upgrades, our multifaceted repositioning of classifieds generated lots of new revenue and even saved newsprint.

There are seven secrets to turning these "new" classifieds into an SMB success:

1. Think "native" meets classifieds! These new classifieds don't run in the classified pages. They run in the food, business or health sections, adjacent to relevant editorial content.

Many papers already have great niche products right inside the newspaper. These sections are called home, health, food, fitness, business, pets and more. Just as you would for any niche, target small businesses that want that audience. Food, health and home are huge potential categories. People eat three times a day and spend more on food than anything else, except perhaps housing. Don't you want a piece of that market?

2. Don't call them classifieds!

Classifieds have a bad rap. Young people and wealthy people in particular see them as old fashioned or a marketplace for used and cheap things. Not a good environment for a small business at all. Marketplace is okay. In Middletown, we used "Matters" to get the broadest appeal: Food Matters, Health Matters, Home Matters. But the best way to describe them is probably "targeted text ads."

3. Simplify the pricing and upsells. Really simplify.

One thing that has killed classifieds is our brain-dead, complex pricing. The offer has to be super simple and affordable. Include a solid word limit like 30 or 50 words and a headline. Skip the concept of upsells or offer only two or three upsells: an image, a border, maybe color. Better yet, include color so all the images are bright and engaging. (While you are at it, this is what your classified pricing should look like, too.)

4. Make them clean and classy.

If we were inventing a modern new ad type, would we make the type tiny and ugly? I hope not. Make these ads look nice and businesslike, not junky. Don't skimp on the type size, spacing or quality formatting. This is about making small businesses look good. (Again, these are answers you should be applying to classifieds, too!)

5. Lock them into contracts.

Since these are weekly ads, you need to lock advertisers in for 4, 12, 24 or 48 week contracts, if possible. Ideally, you can apply a technology (yes, we have a perfect fit for this in QuickAds) that would allow these advertisers to create and change their ads each week with ease. While you will have to sell and build most of these, having a really good, modern, easy-to-use self service platform like QuickAds to collect them and display them online greatly improves your odds.

6. Give them a high profile.

Don't bury this new block of growing classified ads. Put them on page 2 or 3 of the appropriate section, give them their own space online and highlight featured business in house ads, in the index or on the section front. It's a new idea, so you've got to sell it. Positioning them with a high profile in print works!

7. Get them online!

Using our QuickAds platform, you can also put these ads online so they look and perform like Google, LinkedIn or Facebook ads, only better! The online versions can link to web sites or spawn customized popup pages featuring video, photo galleries, stores and more. They can be placed anywhere on your site using common ad sizes or one custom pages we build for you. You can market them as "targeted text ads" that are a lot like Google, Facebook or LinkedIn ads except they are local, offer flat rate pricing and they get published in print, too! That is a winning combination!

Portions of this article originally appeared on Update: GateHouse purchased the Dow Jones Local Media Group, including the Times-Herald Record and the native classified program was discontinued.

Native, classifieds, new revenue, growth, print, Creative Circle Media Solutions, Bill Ostendorf, redesign, QuickAds