Get people interested: 8 steps to writing a successful Gumtree ad

Thanks to its global accessibility and appealing ease of use — aside from those fucking annoying Captcha word puzzle things that seem solely designed to destroy human patience, optimism and spirit — Gumtree has become arguably the number 1 place to advertise your services for free, or find a new job or apartment. Find anything, for that matter (often precisely what you don’t want and would never ever need, but still). Unfortunately, also thanks to its ease of use and global accessibility, it’s also a magnet for people who can’t spell, will never be able to spell, and apparently have never heard of spell-check, but have heard of words that I’ve never come across, let alone understand. That may sound more than a little harsh, but read more than a few ads like I have, and you’ll find it’s 100% true. If I see the phrase i hav diplomat in Enlish litrature one more time I may well think about screaming, then not bother, then go and smash something up instead. Only after all that might I actually have a good long scream. It’d depend on my mood and how many awful ads I’d seen that day.

If you’re new to this blog, you may now be wondering who the hell I am to be making such a bold claim. That all my ads have been successful. Well, to hell with it, I am actually making that claim. How very bold of me. I’m not saying that each and every one of my Gumtree ads over the years has been exceptional, but what I can say is that each one has been at least moderately successful (using the reasoning that success equates to receiving more than a couple of good replies which have, on the whole, led to the whole thing being worthwhile).

Now, let us begin…

Number 0: submit your ad to the right category

In many instances, Gumtree makes it simple and easy to select the right category for your ad. If you’re a self-employed computer technician, then you’ll find doing this simple, just as you will if you have a flat to rent and you live in London. But it’s not always this straightforward — eg I’m a self-employed cross-dressing consultant for Russian businessmen — and inevitably this means that some people end up putting their ad in the wrong category. This is a slightly different scenario from people who mis-post deliberately, spamming the system just to try and attract attention — which they do, for all the wrong reasons — but it has a similar effect: people don’t click on the ad, and all that time spent creating it proves to be for nothing.

Number 1: write a good title which isn’t identical to every other advert in your category

This one is universal, no matter what you’re trying to sell, or what kind of attention you’re attempting to get. Writing a good title is crucial, obviously, as it’s the very first thing that a would-be interested reader is going to see. So include all the relevant information and don’t make it overly long. Additionally, don’t go over-board with those capital letters. Humour, when used properly, can also be good. Just don’t use the title to crack jokes, and if you’re going to do a play-on-words, make sure it doesn’t sound like total shit.

Lastly, check and double-check your title for spelling mistakes and grammar issues, as well as problems with flow and overall cohesiveness. When I’m scanning ads, I often find the contrast between terrible ads and good ads very telling. Also bear in mind that even if you do write a good ad, the category you’re posting in may be saturated with similarly-sounding ads. In other words, be different and use the title to stand out, because doing so is the best chance you have.

Number 2: writing your ad — the first draft

It seems to me that the reason why so many Gumtree ads are horrendous is really quite simple: for the most part, people who post on Gumtree — as with those who reply on Gumtree — are not, with the exception of just a handful of people, writers. That’s to say they may consider themselves writers, but they may only write creatively now and again, or write emails at work. There’s nothing wrong with either of these people, of course — many people who write lots of work emails write very well indeed — but the fact of the matter is that people who only write once every so often probably don’t show their work to too many people. This means that they likely receive — and have received — limited feedback on their work. The result of this is a few hundred-thousand people who write an ad, think it’s good, then submit it without a second-thought. They then wonder why they get limited replies, or why the replies they do get are a waste of time.

How to avoid this? Write a first draft and give it to someone — ask for their opinion. They don’t have to read a lot, they just have to be human and be able to communicate what they do and do not like about the ad. If they do read a lot, however, then all the better. And don’t be afraid: if someone hates your ad, or has l0ts of constructive criticism for you, it doesn’t mean you’re hopeless (usually). Even people who write all day and all night need feedback every once in a while.

Number 3: make sure you include all the relevant information

I won’t — and more to the point I can’t, because the list is endless and my memory is limited — tell you about all the terrible ads I’ve seen and specifically why they were terrible. But what I can say is that aside from horrific spelling — actually, borderline offensive is more accurate — a lack of relevant information is one of the major things I’ve noticed. From a job hunter’s perspective, when I search through the dozens of Gumtree ads out there, I’m looking for an ad that looks like it’s actually been considered by a real human being. It doesn’t have to be beautiful poetry, or even amusing, but it does have to tell me more or less everything I need to know in a relatively short period of time. If the ad is for a full-time worker, your readers are going to want to know how much the wage is per annum, or the specific skill-sets which you’re looking for, aside from the obvious things (like personality traits which you’d find appealing). If you’re advertising a new creative writing group, don’t forget to include what kind of writing you’ll be focussing on. If you’re advertising a graphic designer position in the heart of London, what about the kind of expectations you have? Is the role freelance or full-time? Will the job be a mainly solo one, or will it involve working as part of a team with a copywriter? If you’re asking for job seekers to apply with a CV, take the time to ask for references as well.

These are just a few things which you might need to include. If you’re not sure what needs including, organise a meeting with your co-workers or ask your friends what they think before you even think about writing the ad.

Number 4: the curse of you will…

I know that human resources departments, since the dawn of the fax machine, have favoured the You will be an astute, diligent worker with 5 grades A to C… approach, but let’s be honest: it sounds dull, vaguely regimental and, at worst, aggressive. The second I see an ad like this, I (often, but not always) feel talked-down-to, and as if the winning candidate would need to have been genetically engineered under strict scientific circumstances to even stand a chance. While we can’t rid the world of these ads, you can avoid creating yet another ad that seems a little too overpowering. There may be hundreds of people out there who could be suitable, so don’t rule 90% of them out by suggesting that they be perfect people with absolutely no flaws — that’s probably being more than  little unrealistic. Mainly because lots of not-perfect people make terrific employees.

Number 5: there’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance

Let’s say you’re an electrician, setting up on your own, and let’s, for a moment, forget what I just said about the You will thing.

So: you feel that you’re a skilled individual with a lot to offer. You’ve spent years working for an employer, and now you’re ready to go it alone. Gumtree is the ideal place to start advertising your services, what with it being either free or relatively inexpensive and with a large captive audience. How do you ensure you come across as an authority but don’t sound arrogant or full of yourself? State your skills with confidence, but don’t bend the truth — that’s always a good start. If you’re not sure what constitutes bending the truth, consider what you’re confident talking about with someone face-to-face. If you find yourself squirming in your seat, thinking No, that’s an outragous lie, that probably means you’re pushing it too far.

Number 6: nobody can see inside your head but you

Remember, as you write, or re-write your ad, that only you know how capable you are. With few exceptions, when a reader views your ad, he or she doesn’t know who you are, or why they should go with you and not someone else. Often, I find myself writing something, thinking that everything I need to include is already there. Then — and this is a familiar pattern I have come to both expect and predict — I read the ad a day or two later and discover that there are gaps. Facts missing, tiny question-marks everywhere, creating a general feeling of incompleteness. This is what you really don’t want. If a reader views your ad and is confused or wants to ask a question, they’re not going to email you and do so. Instead, thanks to this heaving and highly competitive job-market we’re all strangulated by, they’re going to be thinking I need to get that ad sent off as soon as possible! That’s not the frame-of-mind you want your job seeker to be in.

It’s frustrating when people reply to ads and they’re either the wrong people or not specifically skilled enough. Cut down on this by making sure that they have a good idea of who you are and what makes you different as a company/service.

Number 7: do upload images, but make sure they’re worthy of your viewer’s eyes

When you stop to think about it, Gumtree offer an impressive amount of creative freedom to everyone who wants to advertise on their platform. Despite this, and the fact that photographs can be uploaded with the minimum of hassle, a large percentage of people still don’t take advantage. You should. Ads with photos are intriguing, especially if they’re good photos, balancing nice composition with good lighting. The photo-thing can be a trap, of course: while the mysterious Gumtree staff do apparently vet images to ensure they’re not breaking the rules, they won’t suggest that you upload a better quality image, or tell you that a photo of you standing in front of that shelf — the one that your flat-mate vomited on a few weeks ago after a stag-do… — looks awfully off-putting. When in doubt, don’t add a mug-shot — they so often look frightening, as if you genuinely are a serial killer. Otherwise, always, always upload good photographs which have something to do with the context of your ad. Try to avoid photos that look childish, too, unless that is your intention.

Number 8: check and re-check your ad

For some people, spelling and grammar are everything. Conversely, spelling and grammar may not matter much to you. Either way, an ad that’s littered with typos is a bad ad. Not only does it make you look deeply illiterate, but it also makes you look untrustworthy. If you can’t spell, use spell-check. If you don’t know how words should be spelt, and spell-check confuses you, get someone else to help you out. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

Finally, submit your ad, but check it when it goes live to ensure that Gumtree hasn’t mangled the title and added unnecessary code. Check the ad, too, and if there are any obvious problems, go back into your account and edit it again.

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