With physical newspapers slowly declining, classified ads have transitioned from the back pages to websites. The concept is simple: online classifieds are advertisements for goods or services available for sale. Everything from housecleaning to used cars can be solicited via online classified ads.

Online classifieds benefit both buyers and sellers by operating on a marketplace model. Those selling services can ensure a high number of eyeballs on their ads, while those in the market to buy can evaluate a wide range of options in one location. Classified sites are essentially facilitating transactions without playing a role in the actual sales process.

Classifieds can be a great resource for advertisers, but understanding what they are and how they work is key to maximizing their advantages.

The Digital Transformation of Online Classifieds

For hundreds of years, classified ads existed solely in print media. In fact, they were a significant driver of ad revenue; prior to the decline of traditional newspapers, classifieds drove around 40% of newspaper ad revenue. And then came the internet. Starting in the early 2000s, when internet access became increasingly common in homes, the prominence of newspaper placements fell. And while physical classified ads do still exist in some markets, most readers are no longer looking for services in the paper.

With readers of news media largely moving to the web, classified ads followed. Today, ads can be lumped into two categories: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal platforms are general and widespread, like Craigslist or Groupon, and can meet the needs of a broad range of buyers. Vertical platforms are more specialized, focusing on a specific niche of the market, like Zillow or Cars.com.

The internet has been able to do more for classified ads than a newspaper ever could. Take social selling avenues, like Facebook marketplace. Buyers no longer need to leave their favorite social media platforms to browse ads in their area. That said, there’s less regulation on these sites, which makes third-party platforms a more popular choice. Mobile has also played a role in the progression of online classified ads. This has led to mobile apps specializing in classifieds, driving a new avenue in the market. In fact, experts estimate that by 2026, around half of the total ad spend will be targeted at mobile devices.

The Challenges Facing Online Classifieds

The move from newspaper to digital opened many doors for classified ads but also raised some new hurdles to overcome. Some of the main challenges advertisers can face include:

  • Building a Customer Overview: While not a concern from a paper ad perspective, digital advertising allows for some level of data collection, providing more insight into who is making purchases. However, as the first-party information available is often limited, there’s no good way to follow the entire customer journey.
  • Inventory Management: Managing inventory across numerous different platforms can be a challenge, leading to complications with booking efficiently. Automated tools and self-service portals can alleviate the burden, but this means putting the right solutions into place in advance.
  • Diversification Across Many Platforms: When data is spread across numerous platforms, like multiple classified sites, manual data collection can be both a crucial part of the process – but it can also lead to errors and issues with creating a full picture of target customer behavior.
  • Streamlining Ad Sales: Adding a new advertising approach can benefit your business, but it can also add a new layer of complexity to your process. To avoid extra work, finding a way to streamline ad sales is key, and that usually means leveraging new resources.
  • Managing Buying and Selling Activities: Without the right approach to buying and selling activities, it’s easy for key data to get lost in the fray. Adding a new strategy means more management responsibilities.

Online Classified Trends

Old school classifieds didn’t leave much room for innovation, but a digital format does. Today’s online ads are completely different than the short snippets on a back page, taking advantage of new opportunities to attract attention and drive sales. For companies new to this space, understanding what’s working and the best ways to gain sales is vital.

  • Mobile Advertisements: The evolution of mobile, including mobile wallets for payment, has had a big impact on the direction of online classifieds. With smartphones on the rise – an estimated 7.7 billion smartphones will be in use by 2022 – and the evolution of mobile display advertising, there’s a lot of opportunity in the mobile device space.
  • Enhanced Videos and Images: Photos and videos are a compelling way to encourage a sale. Many consumers are hesitant to make any kind of purchase without examining what they’re going to be buying, even minor ones. To drive a sale like a car or a home, images will help close the deal in a way that words alone can’t.
  • First-Party Data: With the end of third-party cookies on the horizon, brands are working to leverage first-party data in new and innovative ways. Using classified ads to capture customer information will allow for brands to more effectively target the right buyers at the right time in the right place.
  • Artificial Intelligence: AI is changing the landscape of digital advertising in general, so it’s not surprising this extends to classifieds. From collecting customer data to reducing the likelihood of spam and scammers, AI has the potential to improve revenues and cut down on waste.

The Benefits of Self-Serve Advertising Platforms

Self-serve advertising platforms have been in play for many years in many different forms, but online classified ads are able to take advantage of these opportunities, too. And it’s not just one-sided, either; both publishers and advertisers can benefit in this space.

Benefits for Publishers

There are quite a few advantages for publishers regarding self-service advertising platforms, including:

  • Less Involvement: With advertisers doing their part independently, publishers have far fewer responsibilities to manage.
  • Streamlined Process: Self-serve platforms are designed to minimize the hassle in placing ads, streamlining the process in a way that reduces manual steps for publishers.
  • Increased Sales: When publishers aren’t busy doing the heavy lifting of facilitating ad placement, they have more available resources to dedicate to other areas, leading to increased sales overall.
  • Standing Out from the Crowd: When one publisher has an easy-to-use self-service platform, advertisers are far more likely to bite. They want an easy process, too, and handling things solo versus working with a person can be very appealing.

Benefits for Advertisers

Publishers aren’t the only party who can benefit from a self-service model. Advantages in this space for advertisers include:

  • More Control: When the publisher isn’t holding the reins, advertisers automatically have more control. All available options are clear from the start without needing to talk things through with a publisher or working around a publisher’s schedule.
  • Quicker Turnarounds: With no one else involved in the placement process, ads can be placed quickly and easily at whatever time works best for an advertiser.
  • Self-Sufficiency: Self-sufficient platforms mean that advertisers can drive every element of their campaigns without requiring a publisher to adjust or push certain solutions. Data is available in real time, and changes can be made without going through another person.
  • User-Friendly Approach: Self-serve platforms are designed to be user-friendly, giving advertisers access to the features they need in a way that is easy to manage without any confusion.

Online classifieds won’t be the right fit for every business, but for those that have a business model that could benefit from this kind of advertising, there are many advantages to consider. With the ability to target new customers in a lower-cost space in a way that leverages emerging technologies, understanding the opportunities available could provide a new direction for publishers and advertisers alike.