Multifamily advertising experts say San Francisco-based Craigslist will likely move to a pay-per-post model for apartment listings in major U.S. metros, possibly within the year.

While apartment marketers have speculated a broad move to a pay-per-post model since Craigslist’s 2006 decision to begin charging $10 for brokered New York City listings, the move is more likely now, as the company has seen the pay model help significantly reduce illegitimate listings in high-volume, growth categories such as apartment and housing listings in large urban markets.

“In general, it seems to be when the volume hits a certain number, Craigslist will move to a pay model,” says Steven Pollock, vice president of product management for San Francisco-based apartment ILS, which offers Craigslist posting and reporting tools via its RentEngine integration service. “One of the reasons they do that is because the category becomes extremely overcrowded with postings."

What does it take in terms of volume to make a category so crowded with posts that it becomes ineffective from a consumer standpoint? It’s difficult to say, but look at Los Angeles, where there are 1,000 to 1,200 postings a day. “You're talking 30,000-plus listings coming up per month," Pollock says. "From a consumer standpoint, to try and browse that and make it work per the Craigslist model becomes challenging.”

Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment on whether the company plans to roll out a pay-per-post model for apartments. According to its website, Craigslist generates the entirety of its revenue from charges for job listings in 19 major metro markets, from brokered apartment listing fees in New York City, and from ads in the therapeutic services category, regardless of market.

Secaucus, N.J.-based Axiom Marketing president Ron Simoncini expects Craigslist to begin charging on a market-to-market basis, with metros that have a larger volume of apartment listings (or those beset with spamming issues) falling first. “That helps them from a cultural standpoint to say, ‘We don’t want to do this at all; we are only doing it where we have to,’" says Simoncini. “But ultimately, I don’t think it will take more than three years to have nationwide pay-for-listing status for apartments. I think you’ll see them add the entire top 25 MSAs within the next 18 months.”

Despite any move Craigslist might make to a pay model, multifamily marketing mavens expect the firms’ classified listings to continue to offer comparatively low costs in terms of lead generation and consequently an immensely popular advertising arena for apartments. “If they simply turned on the pay-per-post model today, most people would pay it because Craigslist has generally established itself as a good source for leads,” Pollock says.

High-volume Craigslist posters looking to save a buck should stay tuned in as pricing models evolve: When the website moved to paid brokerage listings in New York City, it offered discounts of up to 20 percent for the purchase of pre-paid blocks of listings.

Here are five other strategies for invigorating your apartment listing experience on Craigslist, especially if a pay model emerges.

1. Find Your Sweet Spot. All markets have specific “hot times” when ad response reaches critical mass. If you’re posting every week on Thursday morning, try mixing it up with posts in the evening or on a weekend to pinpoint higher response periods and optimize your listings. “Until you have posted a couple of times in every time slot, you won’t know what is going to work well for particular communities,” Pollock advises. “Break the week into days, and break the day up into four time periods... morning, mid-day, afternoon, and evening.”

2. Be Entitled. Use posting titles to your advantage. Descriptive and informative headlines tend to carry the day versus pithy marketing copy. According to performance analyses conducted by MyNewPlace, “Large 3 Bedroom Upscale Living” performed five times better than “The Place to Live” for one property, while “Luxury 3 Bedroom Alternative for Less” performed four times better than “See It Today and Move In Tomorrow!” 

3. Design for the Times. No one doubts that descriptive listings with photography and floor plans offer more marketing sizzle, but be wary of component overload on Craigslist, which is known for a stripped down, no-nonsense architecture and user experience. “In some markets, an ‘organic’ listing that is short and simple, text only, with maybe one photo or two will outperform a slickly designed post,” Pollock says. “Try both and see what works best.”

4. Tune in Your Frequency. Larger markets often require more frequent postings to stay at the top of Craigslist search results. Communities such as Greeley, Colo.; New Haven, Conn.; and Des Moines, Iowa usually get at least two leads from every one post, according to MyNewPlace analytics. Meanwhile, in Seattle or Philadelphia, properties have to post twice just to get one lead. And Dallas and Atlanta properties have to post an average of four times to get one lead. Watch listing volumes carefully, though, as the more times you post, the more likely you will get caught up in the Craigslist “Terms of Use” spam filters.

5. Beware the Ghost in the Machine. If response volume seems to be dropping dramatically, search for your listing from a computer using a different IP address. For many “Terms of Use” violations, Craigslist employs a “ghosting” strategy, which makes it seem to a user that a listing has been posted, when in actuality the only one who can see or search the listing is the poster in question. MyNewPlace analytics have shown that ghosting can haunt up to 90 percent of a community’s listings. Follow the rules, and determine your volume thresholds to avoid getting ghosted.