How can the software industry help online publishers grow classified revenues?

Online classified advertising should be a rich source of revenue for niche online publishers – whether or not they have a print publication.  Yet many struggle to build a critical mass of ads, and experience high churn.  Most online directories are targeting SMEs who don’t have the budget to create a bespoke online ad campaign.  They are highly focussed on response, and wary of an upfront investment in an unknown site.  It’s easier just to buy google adwords.  I think that publishers could learn from the way that software providers target SMEs: here’s some tips to encourage new advertisers to test your classi section that were inspired by my own experience with Constant contact, an email service provider:

1. Free trial

Most business software providers offer free trial periods – for 30 or 60 days – long enough to get used to the interface, upload some of your own data and test out how it works.  At the end of the trial there is an obvious inertia, having invested time in becoming familiar with the software.  Why don’t online publishers offer new advertisers a chance to test their directory for free for a period of time?  Unlike print, there is no fixed cost in running an extra ad.

2. Self-service

Software providers like Constant contact keep costs down by making their software easy for new users to learn, offering guided tours, animated presentations, and helping their prospective customers serve themselves.  A classified service needs to be similarly easy to use, so new clients can test it out without intervention from the publisher.

3. Usage tips

Software providers email hints and tips on getting the most out of their service, as if it works for the client, they are more likely to stay – and pay.  Publishers should show their advertisers how to write compelling copy and include calls to action.

4. Welcome call

After downloading constant contact, I was taken aback to receive a personal welcome call from a customer rep to ask if I had any queries, and to offer a personal email address for any other questions as I used the service.  Pretty impressive when I hadn’t handed over any cash yet!  A call may be beyond the reach of many publishers, but it should be possible to track the clients who are on the free trial and send them email tips on making their ad work harder.

5. Tiered pricing

For SME’s the transition from free to paid needs to be made as easy as possible.  Offer a range of pricing options, maybe driven by response levels, so that clients feel they are only paying according to the value they receive.  The old print classified model was based on a fixed price as fixed costs were high; on the web, there is room for more flexibility.

I’m keen to hear about your experiences with online classified and directories, just use the comment link.

Carolyn Morgan’s consultancy business, Penmaen Media, creates practical digital media and marketing strategies, contact us if you’d like to discuss ideas for how to grow your online classified or directory revenues.