Psychology

Studies in Weird Human Behavior: How to Create a Better Craigslist Ad

The fun preparation of moving.
The fun preparation of moving.

Moving is always a hassle.  When the summer heat comes to the northeast, so do the increased rent prices (which makes renting out an apartment a pain!).

But, as with most things, there’s a way to beat the system.  After reading Nudge, I was inspired by the examples of little changes that produce huge results.

Thankfully, the perfect opportunity arose. Recently, I decided I wanted to move from my apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to an apartment in a different area with a good friend.  In order to move from this apartment, though, I needed to find someone to take my place.  Anyone who lives in a large city knows what a pain getting rid of an apartment can be. However, in order to separate myself from the million other people trying to leave their place, I decided to test some ad variations. Below, you’ll see the four different advertisements I ran, the results, and the funny unexpected result to this process.

Before placing any advertisement on Craigslist, I had an idea about the perfect person I’d like to take my place:

  • Male
  • Between the age of 18 and 28
  • No shares (i.e. their girlfriend can’t live in the place with them)
  • Clean, well-mannered, respectful of the other two people living in the apartment
  • Could pay his share of the rent on-time for June, July, and August

Requirements that, while I thought would be easy to fill, ended up being more difficult than I imagined.

So, shooting in the dark to describe my aforementioned wants in a listing, I made the first advertisement.

Details for ad numero uno:

Title: LES/East Village – Great Partially Furnished Room Available
Published: On a Tuesday, 28 total responses, 3 day run time
Notes: Made no reference to start date
Result? No one matched my criteria.

As noted, I made no mention of the start date. Because this ad was published in late April, roughly 90% of the people that contacted me asked to move in immediately.  It also took a considerable amount of time to respond to everyone and ask if they’d be interested in renting the place for the summer–and it was especially defeating when no one was!  So, what I learned from ad one shaped how I created the copy for the second advertisement.

Details for the second listing:

Title: LES/EVillage: Summer Interns, Perfect Apartment (Incl. ALL Utilities)
Published: On a Thursday, 9 total responses, 1 day run time
Note: All responses were qualified date-wise, ad ran for less than 24 hours
Result? A kid named Ryan gave me an offer to live at the apartment.

A screenshot of the advertisement:

The first advertisement--testing without direction!
The first advertisement--testing without direction!

Mentioning the start date and leveraging bullet points (while keeping the listing concise) held the user’s attention.  Additionally, noting that all utilities were included in the title attracted users who were just scrolling through the housing listings. Presenting relevant information cleanly is especially important on Craigslist because a user is probably looking at 10-20 ads for a very short amount of time whenever they log on.

Despite the success, I wanted to err on the side of caution and garner more interest in case the agreement with Ryan fell through.

So, I posted a third listing:

Title: LES/EVillage: Summer Interns, Relaxed Apartment (Incl. ALL Utilities)
Published: On a Thursday, 25 total responses, 5 day run time
Note: 50% of requests for more apartment information were from women
Result? No one matched my criteria

Perhaps it was the mention of a “relaxed apartment” that grabbed the high percentage of women? Typically, women associate with emotional words more than men do, which may have been why we saw an increase in female interest.

Third advertisment. Lots of female interest.
Third advertisment. Lots of female interest.

While I was receiving more valuable interest than the earlier ads, roughly 50% of my emails asked if males or females lived in the apartment. Since my roommates were only interested in living with another male, I decided to make one last adjustment…

The final advertisement:

Title: Summer Interns, Laid-Back Apartment (Incl. ALL Utilities)
Published: On a Wednesday, 13 total responses, 7 day run time
Result? Received an offer from a second candidate, Christian

The final advertisement!
The final advertisement!

By making mention of two other males living in the apartment and slightly tweaking the adjective in the title I cut down on female responses by about 30%. Additionally, I received an offer from a second candidate who fit the description I was looking for.

So, what was the end result?

Although I learned about the psychology behind posting an effective Craigslist ad, ironically, we went with none of the candidates.  It turned out that one of my current roommates has a cousin who’s moving to the city for an internship, so the void was filled!

QoD: What other ads would you like to have seen me try?

5 thoughts on “Studies in Weird Human Behavior: How to Create a Better Craigslist Ad

  1. Hi David; I learn more from your blogs than from calling you! I didn’t realize you were officially moving out in June. Glad the roommate situation is figured out. Hope you find a new place as easily. Love, Mom

  2. Hi David – awesome experiment. Helpful too, if I ever need to use craiglist :). I didn’t realize you were at NYC! I’m moving to NYC this fall to study at Teacher’s College. Any tips on housing in NYC?

    1. Hey Christine!

      Thanks for the note, and congratulations on the upcoming move! I have a few suggestions for you: check out the no-fee apartments on Craigslist. The Upper East Side and Upper West Side of Manhattan are great areas. Additionally, padmapper.com allows you to set alerts and searches a host of housing websites. streeteasy.com is another great site too.

      Overall, a lot of patience and persistence is necessary, but it will work out. 🙂

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