Craigslist limits use of HTML, chaos ensues.

I heard via an Inman Community posting that the popular classifieds-style site Craigslist has announced its intention to limit the use of HTML. An exceptionally heated forum resulted (warning, much of the language used in the posts lacks sophistication and subtlety).

I, personally, don’t have a problem with HTML in Craigslist, but some folks clearly do.

Wading through those forum posts yields some insight into the thinking of Craigslist’s social marketplace. I’ve filtered through a few, provided here to be used as a direction of Voice of the Customer research for anyone using Craigslist for marketing (I have added the emphasis and corrected spelling). Notice in particular which needs are being met or not met by HTML in Craigslist.

“I agree, if you guys need to limit the HTML to get a handle on these high strung crazies, DO IT, it won’t effect me and it will just make my browsing easier and less annoying.”

“I am completely OVER finding all this ridiculous garbage about national get rich quick or real estate or any of the other trash nobody really wants to see.”

“It is getting ridiculous. It is all car dealers and realtors. Plus the car dealers pretend to be “by owner.” Can we please crack down on these low lifes. Even they know what losers they are because they hide the fact that they are dealers and deceive people right of the bat.”

“Plus, the real estate section is turning into huge corporate ads.”

“This site is becoming too corporate! Please, no HTML is necessary. That is not the idea of this web site. It started as a simple bulletin board, and that is why people love it.

“Is there a way that you can allow still POSTLETS if the change goes thru? It makes posting Real Estate ads sooooo much faster and easier without having to upload pictures every time.”

“Please do not limit the HTML codes generated by Postlets for advertising individual houses….these are very helpful to all of us in the real estate section!”

“Postlets, Vflyer and other ad generating sites like them are the problem. There are currently over 5,100 ads with the url posted currently in the Austin apartments for rent forum alone. Not to mention the other parts of the site. Craigslist software doesn’t recognize ads that have been posted over and over as similar ad postings when generated by these sites.”

Do you use Craigslist as part of your online marketing? Anyone tested the results on using simple HTML coding like Craigslist is moving towards vs full HTML or ads generated by services?

22 thoughts on “Craigslist limits use of HTML, chaos ensues.

  1. I appreciate the effort you have made to wade through the muck to determine the true nature of the problem. It’s obvious that the initial idea of Craigslits – one of a simple bulletin board, grew in two ways. At first, there was nothing allowed but simple text. Consumer demand and feedback indicated that pictures would be helpful. Then to boost the website, cooperative html language was allowed. Change occured to satisfy both users and searchers.

    Marketers, of which I am one, will do what ever it takes to get their product noticed. It is a very competitive environment. Spammers will go the extra mile to get noticed and take advantage of every opportunity they can identify. No good deed goes unpunished.

    My html ads source from Point2NLS – a national listing service that is growing by leaps and bounds and is an absolutely wonderful, free way to share listings around the country. But that is another story to tell – my dissatisfaction with REALTOR associations and, so I will not take up your time here. Suffice it to say that my ads sourced from Point2NLS have garnered me more inquiries and lookers on Craigslist, than the text ads with four pictures.

    Just my opinion – and my sellers are looking for me to get their properties noticed. As a society we are always restricted in freedom because of the actions of a few. What else is new?

  2. Thanks for the insight Laura.

    I’ve been wanting some data on how plain Craigslist listings perform against professionally styled listings such as Point2 and VFlyer. Thanks for letting me know your experience with it.

    What was interesting for me, as I waded through the pages, was how often those who wish to see the HTML limited would respond to anything at all with HTML as “spammers.” There was rarely a differentiation between those who were using HTML to bypass the number of postings rules and those who just made decent looking HTML ads (that didn’t break the rules).

    My guess is the issue is an exciting mix of “indie cred/keep it community focused” vs “serious marketers.” Both of which have reasonable goals.

    It appears that Craig is siding with the “keep it community focused” by limiting the HTML. The serious marketers will be able to find a way to make their ads the best in whatever environment available.

  3. I understand why craigslist is rethinking its HTML use. Personally, as the owner of a for sale by owner service, we often suggest to private homesellers to try craigslist as an additional way to market their homes. Unfortunately, the site has become overrun with real estate agents who continually repost ads and use vflyers, etc. to promote their listings. Hey, it’s free in Massachusetts. Perhaps if craigslist would charge agents as NY does, the bottom feeders would go back to the local newspaper classifieds to show their clients how they are spending their advertising dollars. Buyers don’t want to wade through the same ads every day and soon will turn away from craigslist altogether. A real estate agent should be able to spend 10 minutes to upload an ad, right? After all, what are the sellers paying them 6% of their equity for???

  4. Liz,

    Your sentiment about people not wanting to wade through the same ads every day was reflected in many of the forum posts that I waded through.

    Ultimately, Craig has to serve the people who come to the site to look for things, they are his market. Not the people posting things.

    It’s like Google. Back in the day the search engines had banner ads, paid listings and all sorts of annoying junk that go in the way of accomplishing the task of searching.

    The Goog put that on end, focused on developing a great experience for the searchers, ignoring the pleas and whines of the paying advertisers. End result: people use Google. Google _is_ the marketplace.

    Craig is likely keeping this in mind. Especially given his focus on customer service. When I heard him at ConnectNYC I don’t think he ever opened his mouth without inserting the phrase “customer service” somewhere in his response.

  5. NOOO dont take the cool HTML stuff away!

    To all the babies that dont like looking at Realtors attempts to help sell their clients homes in nice HTML formats…what are you doing browsing around the housing section of craigslist for??

    I think HTML makes some of the postings more interesting!

  6. Hi Warren,

    You’re probably better off taking your arguments to Craigslist than here. But fwiw, there appears to be a community-based sentiment at Craigslist that prefers to deal directly with sellers rather than established businesses.

    Also, the heavy use of HTML is also apparently synonymous with scammers and spammers. So using HTML may hurt the image as well as help it. But that’s just what I gathered from trolling the forum.

    Also, take a look at my other post about HTML and Craigslist. I think they’re leaving enough tags to do some nice work for your clients.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  7. I wrote the last quote posted on your site’s homepage originally in the Craigslist HTML forum. That states postlets and Vflyer are the spam problem on craigslist. I have statistical info to prove it. I can also show how , since their tables, images and other attributes used to form an ad using these sites are simply images embedded into the ad using generic URL’s. It is simply impossible for craigslist to recognize similar ad postings etc. related to ads generated by Vflyer and Postlets. These ads are the spam problem. The spammers on craigslist arent using CSS formats to spam people they are simply creating images then drawing them into their spam ads using They didnt solve anything by changing the format. Half of the spam ads on there simply just have links out to other sites. The only people harmed by these recent changes are those of us that are creative enough to format beautiful ads using advanced forms of HTML.

    Thanks for posting my original rant on your home page
    Michael Humphreys
    Austin Tx.

  8. Thanks for stopping by Michael. Would you mind elaborating more on your perspective or post a link to a blog post about it? This is a fairly popular topic.

    While I am most interested in the human-issues of what is considered spam and what isn’t, it sounds like you might be able to shed more light on what techniques are spammy and what aren’t.

  9. Sure, let’s disect a postlet ad together I will provide links but am not sure that they will appear in these reply boxes. As far as elaborating on my perspective.. CL’s biggest problem with spam in my opinion is OVERPOSTING. People who otherwise couldnt or wouldnt sit down and write out html in order to make their ads look neat are instead filling in the blanks on postlets and having the ad generated for them. Postlets in return gives a nice neat code back to the user that they can simply post into craigslist and have an ad appear. However, if you view the source code from a postlet ad you will see that postlets has not revealed the coding used to generate the ad. It would put them out of business. Instead they take the table, background, border, images etc. and create images. These images are formatted in postlets using generic URL’s and put back into the ad as images brought in using img src code. Effectively eliminating all blockable or recognizeable features that craigslist uses to identify a similar ad posting. The fact that craigslist allows a url is enabling people to generate and post hundreds even thousands of ads. This is creating a mass congestion on the site. A regular person who posts one ad simply does not exist anymore. Within 5 minutes of posting the ad it is buried by 300 more. The other problem I have with limiting HTML but allowing postlets etc. Is that one of craigslist’s goals was to block CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) formatted ads. If you look at the code used to format a postlet ad you will see a css in the url for ex; . That upsets me. The fact that postlets is allowed to create ads using CSS and other NOW BANNED forms of HTML and then turn it into an image and give it right back to the consumer to be posted on craigslist. But if I wanted to sit down and write out an ad using CSS etc. it would not be allowed. I also have a problem with the entire site having this postlet uniform appearance. From a consumer standpoint how is one to distinguish differences in the ads one views when they all look the same? Advanced forms of HTML allow for individuality and creativity. Craigslist says that they have limited HTML to prevent spam. That is a ridiculous notion. If Yahoo, Google, MSN etc. cant stop spam what makes craigslist think they can? Spam is Spam. A spammer will use any and every method possible to get their crap advertisements seen. Again the majority are punished for the acts of few spammers. It’s a real shame. But folks if you would like to create ads using the most advanced forms of html available then turn it into and image it will be just fine…?? Just read into the forum on craigslist regarding here is the link

    Another thing we could all do instead of wondering if is a real spam problem or not is to seee it for ourselves. Please I would invite everyone to go into their favorite subject on craigslist and type into the search bar and look for yourself how many thousands of ads appear with that URL embedded in them. Another thing I would like to say is that spam is in the eye of the beholder. Granted I have no use for Viagra, Levitra, Penis pumps, Watches or any of the other crap that fills my inbox daily, but somewhere out there, there are some who do use those things and have some use for these “spam” adverts. For God’s sakes people if you click on an ad for an apartment and some giant image stating that you can have your credit repaired pops up then flag the ad and move on. Craig. Let’s get real here buddy. If you want to block HTML then I think it only fair that in return you Block and

  10. Hi, glad I found this site! I have created some ads with advanced HTML you can say.

    I am in Miami, Florida and I was able to sell one of my items to a person in San Jose. Below are some links to said Ads.

    The person from San Jose found me thru Google one day after the ad was posted. I was shocked to see how fast that got listed. He loved the HTML and said my ad looked professional.

    Looking at my ad though, do you have any problems with it? I am not spamming, just creating a nice ad for the item I am trying to sell.

    I also use to host my images and then I use HTML code to link to them directly so you can see them in full size. I appreciate the 4 images Craigslist lets you use but they are to small and compressed.

    I want to give potential buyers a good look at what they are getting from me.

    Did they limit the HTML yet? What about CSS? Is it true that they don’t like having one account post to many ads? I have several items I wish to sell. Any advice on how long to wait after posting an Ad to post another?

    I also read it is best to create several accounts under different emails so that you can get by with the posting limit?

    This is stupid though. I am just an individual who has several items to sell and would like to post Ad’s showing each one..

    Thanks and nice site,


  11. I’m not an authority on what Craig likes or doesn’t like. Best to ask in that forum Victor. The purpose of this post is to focus on how other users of Craigslist perceive HTML ads.

  12. OK, then I would say yes. Yes if it is done to what I feel is appropriate. Of course that is my opinion.

    Still, a nice looking ad that can attract a buyer is always OK in my book. I just don’t see anything wrong with using some HTML for your needs in posting an add. HTML was one of the founding tools for the WWW. Why not use it?

    I totally understand though Spammers and the like. Believe me, we do not like those.

    Thanks for responding and best of luck to you always 🙂

  13. Actually, Now it seems that craigslist has created an IP based tracking system that will automatically delete your ads should you post too many regardless of how many different accounts you create. I rememeber writing to Aristotle at Craigslist a few years ago when the malitious flagging began and he suggested 20 ads per day should be fine. As far as I can tell the limit is around fifty per day before they get deleted. To answer the guy’s question above; If you read CL’s TOU it says clearly that the same ad should not be posted twice within a 48hr period then you “it says” should never post ads in two different categiries or more at once. But as far as the forum subject goes it appears that CL has taken care of the overposting problem for now. It also looks like after they auto delete your account after about three or four times the account will be “Placed on hold” whatever that means I guess it’s like a time out that seems to wear off after about 30-60 days. But it still looks like spam and fake scam ads will ultimately be the demise of Craigslist. People just dont want to see that crap.

  14. Craigslist- On the Warpath to STOP Spammers!!

    Craigslist has now started to implement a phone verification for every account thought to be abusing the forum. Now spammers that have grown used too opening new accounts and using other deceptive practices to post ads will have to punch in their phone numbers when they open a new account, then craigslist has an automated system that will call you with a verification code. They have also posted a New Warning page that states if the forum is abused using accounts associated with that phone number then the number will be “Blacklisted” which I am assuming that that means you may no longer post using that number. This should take care of most of the corporate entities out there who abuse craigslist daily.

  15. So, if that craigslist were my business, I’d setup a fake email account and a fake resume. a fake phone and then send it to all the job postings and selective ads on a rotating basis, to see which IP addresses send me spam within 24 hours and block them all immediately. There are more fake jobs now than any other time in my 5 year’s of use of craisglist. Someone needs to be trawling for predators. seriously.

    Considering spammers can get your address, phone and anything else they want with a resume attached, you’d think they would focus on killing predators rather than killing style and fashionable looking content. but hey, maybe MY priorities are all bass ackwards and they are perfectly right to target people trying to polish-the-turd of craigslist unstyled text. I just hope I don’t get my IP blocked for goofing off on their serious forums… =)

  16. Spindlebot, I think that the “spammers” that the code change is meant to deter are the folks who consistently post and repost their ads to Craigslist. So folks who are spaming the Craigslist system and not so much the spammers/scammers who are abusing Craigslist customers.

    I think your idea is probably very sound anyway. Just that it tackles a different problem. Also, keep in mind that I’m not Craig. This post is mainly here to provide feedback on the thinking of people who use Craigslist and how they feel about it.

  17. I’m an individual user of Craigslist, both buying and selling items. I’ve used both Vflyer and manually generated HTML tags to format nice ads to sell things. As the value of the item goes up, the effort invested increases so that I can maximize what I get for my stuff.

    Personally, I like to see nicely formatted ads and appreciate clear, larger photos. I used Vflyer to sell my car and got great response from Craigslist and never got flagged.

    The specific type of ad that bothers me in Craigslist real-estate section is an ad posted by a “buyer’s agent” that shows a specific house and generally has very limited information about the house. The house is NOT their listing, but is being used to bait people to call them. Yes, they can show that house to you, as a buyer’s agent, but that fact that they’re attaching their name to the property in a “for sale” ad seems to be a misappropriation of the listing agent’s or the MLS system’s copyrighted material (e.g. the photo or listing text).

  18. Very interesting website…thanks! I have to comment on John that YES, I completely agree with you. But blame the listing agent. In California at least, these buyer’s agents can’t create their (slimey) ads, HTML or otherwise, on other agent’s listings without the agent’s permission. I am primarily a listing agent and always deny permission to these buyer agents who come out of the woodwork to feed off my listings. They have ways to deceive the public and that alone is enough to make me say no for the next hundred years.

    If you want to see a home, ask an agent you are comfortable with to show it to you. Choose someone you can work with because if you buy the home they showed you through another agent, they can successfully take all agents in the deal to mediation to get paid. They have a good cause for procurement so it’s important to choose someone you like to show you any home.

    That said, I am actually here because I use Postlets but some agents are using fantastic cascading HTML Craigslist flyers and they won’t specify how it’s done. Here’s one:

    Does anyone know how she does this? She says her marketing person does it and won’t reveal anymore than that.

    I love seeing the bright colors and large photos. As long as it’s the listing agent’s posting I am fine with HTML.

  19. John:
    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience. I think that you are not alone in your perception that there are shady operators using Craigslist. Many of the thoughts from the original post suggest this as well.

    The larger issue for the real estate profession is that regular consumers easily equate the shady operators with the good ones. Figuring out a good solution to this problem will not be easy, I fear.

    Glad you like the site! The listing you link to is no longer on craigslist. But I would gather that it’s a simple HTML template of some sort that is perhaps customized for the agent. There seems to be a lot of interest in this area (if my analytics on this specific post are any indication) so maybe Union Street will offer a simple solution sometime.

    For now, I would bet that what you have seen is just some nice, simple and creative use of HTML that fits within the Craigslist guidelines.

  20. Austin Apartment Guy? Humpheys?

    Currently one of the worst overposter/spammers in the Austin apts for rent category – upwards of 1000 postings per day using a dozen different contact email addresses and various formats to attempt to evade detection. Gmail addresses, hotmail addresses, comcast addresses, etc.

  21. Pingback: Blog Year in Review: 2008 | Real Estate Internet Marketing by Union Street Media

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