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17 April 2020

How to Build a Classified Ads Website Like Craigslist from Scratch

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There are a huge variety of online ad platforms in the network and, judging by Statista, they are doing well: in 2019, the revenue of such sites exceeded $ 22 billion, which is 10% more than the previous one. The most popular site for online classifieds is Craigslist, the less popular ones are Gumtree (UK) and OLX (in several other countries).

What to sell and buy on online ad platforms. Source of the image

Next, we will explain why Craigslist is popular, despite the design flaws: lists, lists, lists again and a couple of photos. This is nonsense in our time, but it works - in the United States alone there are 60 million visits per month. Having understood the reason for the popularity of this “nonsense”, you will be able to create your own online classifieds site like Craigslist. We will also tell how to do this.

Reason for the popularity of craigslist

By most modern standards, Craigslist is an example of a bad site. No graphics, original design and color variations that highlight important information for users. In fact, this is the development straight from the 90s, when other sites simply did not know how to do it - minimalism in its pure form.

And one could say that Craigslist is still popular only because of inertia, but if you look at the design of, the most popular marketplace, you will see almost the same minimalism. Therefore, it's not just user loyalty.

Amazon minimal design

Sites such as Amazon and Craigslist are popular despite the rough design flaws, as they rely on functionality and sacrifice design for the sake of "the perfect flow of information" (or UX design).

Thanks to a well-organized flow of information, Craigslist users can very quickly achieve their goals, whether they be placing an advertisement for the sale of a great-grandmother’s rug or buying a spoon. And this is a huge plus in the world where the average user’s attention volume is approaching that of a goldfish (8 seconds).

Two approaches to development

There are two approaches to creating sites like Craigslist: using open source solutions or developing from scratch. Let’s consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option. This will help you understand which option is best for you.

Open source solution

WordPress Theme Classiads

When it comes to open source solutions, they usually mean using WordPress themes. They are simple and quite functional, while if a particular theme lacks a specific function, this can be fixed with the help of a plugin. To create a site on the type of Craigslist, suitable themes Classiads, Classifieds, Classify, ListingPro, FlatAds and others.

WordPress Benefits:

  1. Price. Starting a WordPress site is usually inexpensive. Of the mandatory costs only domain and hosting (up to $ 200). Many themes and WordPress itself can be used for free. True, if you need bright and multi-functional themes, you will have to pay from 200 to 1000 dollars. Plug-ins can also be both paid and free.

  2. Development time. WordPress can be compared with a designer, with which you can build a site like Quora. That is, technically speaking, there is no need to develop anything, so the launch of the site will take very little time - from a couple of hours to a couple of days, depending on the complexity of the project and the ideas of the designers.

  3. Simplicity. You will be able to create a website on the type of Craigslist by simply viewing the video instruction on YouTube. To do this, you do not need programming skills, web design or project management, perseverance and a few hours of free time are enough.

WordPress Disadvantages:

  1. The limited settings. Professional programmers have created a lot of topics for online ad platforms, as they are in demand. At the same time, almost all such topics can be slightly modified: customize the design, change the color scheme, slightly expand the functionality with the help of plug-ins. But in order to significantly change the design or functionality of the theme, you need the help of a developer.

  2. No support. Typically, creating a site on WordPress happens like this: you install the engine, download and install the necessary theme, and then add another 10-20 plug-ins. What happens next is also predictable: the number of plug-ins will grow, as well as the number of users, and this will lead to failures and the need to hire someone who will fix everything. In this case, rely on the support of plugin developers and themes are not worth it, since it is not their problem.

  3. Templates of functions. If you need uniqueness in design and / or functionality, WordPress is not your choice. This system offers sample solutions that should satisfy the needs of most potential customers. To create unique features and integrate them into a WordPress theme, you need a specialist, money and time.

  4. Scalability Problems. Platforms such as WordPress were created for blogs and small news sites. Everything else is an add-on that weakens the reliability of the underlying architecture. In this case, the architecture itself is not designed to work with multiple databases or distributed databases. Therefore, the more traffic on such sites, the more problems they have with stability.

  5. Security Problems. When the site is made of 20 modules that are created by different people, you will have a lot of problems (albeit not critical), and the biggest one is security. Each module is an opportunity for hacking and their "docking" too. Hundreds of thousands of simple instructions for hacking WordPress on Google and YouTube are proof of that.

Development from scratch

By creating a site like Craigslist from scratch, you will be sure that it has only those features that you need and the design you need. In this case, the final product will belong only to you.

The benefits of developing from scratch:

  1. Scalable architecture. By developing a website from scratch, you can create an architecture that will initially be sharpened for a large number of users, ads, transactions.

  2. Full customization. It's about the possibility of adapting functions, design and user experience to the needs of your target audience. By launching a website developed by you (or an outsourced company), it is much easier to configure any of its elements if you see that the audience does not respond to it in the way you expected.

  3. Safety. You can think over and implement all levels of protection, which is impossible in the case of using template solutions. Personal data, user bases, financial information and transactions will be protected at the highest level.

  4. MVP. You can start by developing a minimally viable product to test the concept with minimal risk, and then modify the site and add new features as needed.

Disadvantages of development from scratch:

  1. More expensive. The final cost will depend on the team (amount, salary), technology and complexity of the project. And it will obviously be more expensive than the most expensive WordPress theme. Usually, prices start at $ 5,000 and end with millions of dollars.

  2. Longer. Creating a site from scratch, you need to think over all the details and only then proceed to direct development. Some projects spend years developing concept and design and only a few months to implement them. But since you know what you need (your Craigslist), then in your case, developing from scratch can take from 6 to 18 months.

Which approach is better

The answer depends on the goal. If you need to quickly try out an idea or get a proof of concept to attract investors (or venture capital), it is better to choose an open source solution. And it can be either WordPress or any of its analogs.

If you need a reliable, secure and scalable site, it is better to spend time and money on developing a site from scratch. This approach will be the only option if you need to implement a unique function, design solution or technology.

Minimum feature set for MVP

The core of the online ad platform consists of these features:

  1. Registration. Required to create a personal profile with which users can manage ads, accounts, and relationships with other system members.

  2. Personal accounts. In Craigslist, this feature is required for US users and those who post paid ads. You can use a similar business model with earnings on advertising.

  3. Search filters. Help users find ads relevant to their needs. There are dozens of search criteria on Craigslist.

  4. Placing ads. Users should do this in a few clicks with the help of intuitive icons, interfaces, tips. If access to this function will be difficult (for example, due to various personal confirmations or actions), this will create a negative user experience.

  5. Moderation of ads. Users should be able to complain about ads if they advertise illegal products and services or do not comply with the rules of the site. And administrators should be able to moderate and delete such ads.

  6. Forum / blog for communities. Craigslist uses this feature to strengthen the community, increase engagement and help users.

  7. Calendar. Needed for planning and tracking events.

These features are required when creating an MVP for a site like Craigslist. But they are not enough to conquer the market. For this you need something unique or much better than the competition.

Key challenges for online ad platforms

Creating your Craigslist is not so difficult from a technical point of view. You can use a WordPress theme or clone an original that takes a couple of hours or days. It is much more difficult to attract users to the site and prove to them that it is a worthy alternative to Craigslist. Solving this problem, you will face three challenges.

# 1 How to attract users

Craigslist is in the top 50 most popular sites in the world

On April 12, 2019, Craigslist is the 42nd most popular in the world and 14th in the United States (according to the version of Similar Web). And since you intend to compete with it, you must somehow lure its users.

For this you need to offer users opportunities that are not on Craigslist. It can be:

  1. More features. If you have an idea, a new function or a proposal for a radical improvement of existing functions, you can quickly win the market. For example, Tinder gained popularity in the established market precisely because of the implementation of one new feature.

  2. Modern UX / UI design. Yes, many people like Craigslist because of the minimalistic and simple design, but this does not mean that the same users will not like modern design.

  3. Best user experience. It can be created with the help of a better mobile application, closer integration with social networks, a developed blogosphere and with the help of other things that increase the interest and involvement of your users.

  4. Cost advantage. All Craigslist publications are free, with the exception of a few categories (office supplies, daily rent apartments, concerts, etc.). In addition, there is advertising on Craigslist (from $ 5 for 30 days). Offer the best conditions and it will become a real value for users.

# 2 How to moderate ads

At the beginning of its journey, Craigslist suffered greatly from advertising illegal products, so the site established its own rules regarding what can and cannot be advertised (sold through ads), and the ability to "Report" to an ad was introduced. This greatly reduced the amount of illegal advertising. True, even now there are cases when users are looking for killers or drugs on Craigslist.

The problem of illegal ads is solved in such ways:

  1. Automatic check. Check ads for keywords and images that may correspond to prohibited content. Now for this connect the system with artificial intelligence.

  2. Custom check. It is implemented using the "Complaint" function. Pay for such complaints is not worth it (some sites have tried), as users can see in this an easy way to make money.

  3. Manual verification of all ads. A great option for sites with low and medium traffic, but will be a problematic solution for sites with a large number of users.

  4. Hybrid system. Regular ads will be moderated manually (takes time), but you can subscribe to a paid subscription and get the opportunity to create instant announcements (have priority in moderation or pass without moderation). Such a subscription will be of interest to large suppliers.

# 3 How to provide customer support

Craigslist employs only 50 people, so it’s not surprising that they don’t provide support to their users. In addition, the site has no rating system and the ability to leave feedback at the end of the transaction. And this can be a huge opportunity for Craigslist competitors.

How to provide support:

  1. Employ staff - the easiest and most obvious option.

  2. Create a rating system - you can use the Amazon example.

  3. Hire outsourcing support - faster and cheaper than state employees, but there may be problems with the quality of support.

  4. It is difficult to use artificial intelligence, but if it can be created, it will be much more profitable and more convenient than other options in the long term. There are working cases.

Monetizing sites like Craigslist

Craigslist was launched as a non-profit project. All his income goes to cover the technical costs and salaries of employees. However, this does not mean that your online ad platform should not be profitable. Here are some ways to monetize such sites:

  1. Listing fee. Users pay for each published ad (or each, starting, for example, from the 20th or 50th). Popular approach for job and real estate sites.

  2. Paid features. Monthly or one-time fee for access to additional functions: the ability to publish an unlimited number of ads, more vivid ad design, access to statistical data, promotion of ads or the removal of all advertising on the site.

  3. Google Ads and AdSense Ads. These are services that allow you to sell space on your platform through Google Ads and AdSense Ads. Quikr and OLX use this approach. If you follow this path, make sure that there are not too many advertisements on your site, as users will not like it.

  4. Banners / advertisements. You can sell space on your site directly to various companies for displaying ads / banners. Unlike using Google Ads and AdSense Ads, you have complete control over what advertising will be on your site and you do not need to share revenue with intermediaries.

  5. Monthly subscription. Users pay a small monthly fee for access to the platform. This approach is rarely used by sites like Craigslist, because users rarely agree to pay for what they can get for free.

  6. Selling data. Speech is about statistical non-personalized data. For example, about how many people are looking for socks, how people react to different types of advertising, what words are used to search for a particular category of goods. Such data is valued by marketers and scientists (data science). The latter usually have no money, but they can help advertise your site.

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