- Free advertising websites include classified ad sites, online business platforms, and social media platforms
- Choose your advertising platforms wisely to ensure you reach your target audience and maintain a consistent brand identity
- Supplement your free online ads with paid ads to increase your reach or have more control over your web presence
Whether you’re a new business or an established one, online advertising can make up a big part of your total marketing budget. Posting free ads online can be an effective way to reach more potential customers without increasing your advertising expenses.
But with so many advertising opportunities to choose from, it can be hard to determine where to post your free ad online to reach your target market.
Learn more about free online advertising and how to choose the best free advertising site for your business or industry.
Free vs. paid advertising
Many business owners assume that you need to pay money to get your ads seen by a wide audience. And while paid advertising can be a faster way to generate new leads, posting free ads online also has its advantages.
By posting free ads, you can expand to more advertising platforms and experiment with more ad formats since you don’t have to use your advertising budget on these additional placements. You can also use free ads to maintain a web presence between paid ad campaigns or during the off-season.
Free advertising websites include classified ad websites (like Craigslist and Classifiedads.com), social media sites, and online business platforms like Yelp. Many of these sites offer both free and paid advertising opportunities. On some sites, business owners can post ads for free and pay to “boost” their ads or show them to targeted demographics.
If you only post free ads, you may run into some limitations, such as fewer targeting options, or limits on how many ads you can post at a time.
But it isn’t an either-or scenario: Both free and paid ads online can be a key tool in your digital marketing strategy. Free ads allow you to cast a wide net without spending much money while paid ads make it easier to target specific demographics and focus on increasing conversions.
Types of free ads online
The best free advertising platform for your business will depend on your brand, industry, and target audience. Certain platforms cater to certain business types as well; some may offer more tools for local businesses while others are best for ecommerce brands. And remember that even though you aren’t paying, free online advertising still requires time, effort, and an investment in marketing materials—so be sure to do your research to ensure the platform is the best fit for your business.
Before you start posting free ads online, think about how much time you want to spend on your ad campaign and what impression you want to give to new customers. Some free advertising sites have a loyal user base and a verification process for new businesses while others have minimal advertising standards. Appearing alongside other ads that look cheap or spammy won’t do your business any favors.
Most sites that you can advertise on without spending any money fall into one of these three categories:
Classified ad websites are the digital version of classified ads in the newspaper. They’re “classified” meaning they’re organized by type. Classified ad sites often include items for sale, real estate listings, job advertisements, services, and more.
Classified advertising can be useful for people posting free ads online for one-time sales—such as a homeowner selling used furniture—but it can also be a cost-effective marketing tool for small business owners. One benefit to free classified sites is that they sort ads by location so your ad will only be shown to customers in your geographical area.
Social media platforms
Social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Instagram usually offer free and paid advertising opportunities. Business owners can create a free account and share content on their social media profiles, which is similar to posting a free ad online.
If you want to reach a wider audience, you can use paid ads to boost your business profile or post in classified ad sections such as Facebook Marketplace.
Not all social media channels have this option so do your research before choosing a social media platform to start your marketing campaign.
Online business platforms
Online business platforms and online directories are free advertising websites that cater primarily to local businesses. By creating a business profile on these sites, you can get more eyes on your business, acquire customer reviews to build your online reputation, and more.
Online business platforms include Yelp and Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business), as well as niche sites focusing on specific industries or geographic areas.
Online business platforms are similar to search engines in that potential customers use them to find information and compare their options. And oftentimes, they know what they need but aren’t sure who they’re going to do business with yet. In fact, according to a recent study, eight out of 10 searches on Yelp don’t include a specific business name; instead, customers are searching for a product or service, like plumbing repair or a pediatric dentist. This means you have an opportunity to capture their attention for free, just by having a business page on the site.
When building your business pages on these sites, it’s important that your business page is accurate and filled out: Businesses with a photo, website, phone number, and business hours listed on their Yelp Business Page averaged 7.6x more page views per month than businesses without that content.
Online business platforms also often have paid advertising options—such as Yelp Ads. Your business page is placed in key places on Yelp.com and the Yelp mobile app, such as above or below relevant search results in the “Sponsored Results” sections and on your competitors’ pages. You can target users by location and keyword, helping you get found even more often: Businesses who use Yelp Ads get 2.5x more leads on average than businesses that don’t.
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11 free advertising websites for small businesses
Free online ads can help you build brand awareness and reach more customers. For the best results, post on multiple marketing channels to expand your reach. Here are the best free advertising sites for businesses to get started with.
Craigslist is a popular classified ad website that’s been around since 1996. It’s organized into categories and subcategories for almost every type of product or service out there, from cars for sale to writing and translation services.
One notable feature of Craigslist is that there’s a different version of the website for each city or geographic region: boston.craiglist.org contains an entirely different set of ads than miami.craigslist.org. This makes it easy for local businesses to target nearby customers, but if you have an online business or are available in multiple cities, you’ll have to post a new ad for each city or region you operate in.
Free ads stay on Craigslist for 30-45 days, and users can only post their ad once per category every 48 hours. Duplicate postings can be flagged for removal.
If posting an ad is free, how does Craigslist make money? Some ad categories incur a fee, specifically job ads ($10–75), commercial real estate ($5), and some products for sale by dealers. Business owners can buy blocks of postings up front.
Yelp is an online business platform that was founded in 2004. More than 80 million people visit Yelp each month looking for businesses of all types, and 57% of users contact a business they found on Yelp within a day. Yelp is great for a local business of any kind, from gyms and restaurants to plumbers and lawn care services.
It’s free to add or claim your Yelp Business Page. Once you do, make sure that your business hours, location, and contact details are accurate and up to date. You can also enable messages so that customers can reach out to you directly to request a quote, consultation, etc.—all for free to both you and the customer. And the faster you respond, the more outreach you’ll get: Businesses that respond to messages and requests within 24 hours get 3x more messages and requests than those that don’t.
Since Yelp allows users to leave feedback, be sure to respond to those customer reviews—both positive and critical. This allows you to put your customer service on display, and it shows new and existing customers that you value their feedback.
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eBay launched as an online auction website in 1995. Now, it’s one of the most popular places to buy and sell goods online, alongside sites like Amazon and Etsy.
eBay features everything from clothing and electronics to jewelry and collectors’ items. Since sellers usually ship their products to customers, it’s best for ecommerce brands. However, eBay does offer in-store pickup at some brick-and-mortar businesses.
Pricing on eBay can be a little complicated. Although eBay does offer free classified ads to casual sellers, you’ll be limited to 250 listings per month, and you’ll have to pay a fee of up to 15% of the price if your item sells.
Small business owners may be better off with a subscription, which starts at $4.95 per month and offers more tools for promoting your business.
4. Social media marketplaces
Social media marketplaces, like Facebook Marketplace, help you reach your target audience where they spend time online. You can think of it as the online classifieds section of the social network. There are no advertising costs on Facebook Marketplace, but you’ll pay a seller fee if you complete the transaction via Facebook’s online payment system.
Facebook Marketplace is for everything from cars to clothing. It’s most often used for local, in-person transactions and you can complete the sale offline to avoid paying a seller fee. Like on Yelp and eBay, buyers can leave reviews and ratings, but fewer opportunities exist to show off or highlight your brand. Marketplace is more for one-time transactions rather than a place to build an online presence.
Still, Facebook does offer paid options—such as Facebook Ads and Facebook Shops— for businesses that want more visibility or features.
5. Search engines
Advertising on search engines can get your business in front of potential customers who are looking for your services. Platforms like Google Business Profile offer a free way to advertise your business to users.
As with other business listing sites, you can update your hours, upload photos, and customize your business profile with information like “LGBTQ-friendly” or “women-owned.” You can also respond to reviews and highlight products and services with the option to accept reservations or food orders directly through the platform.
Although it’s free to create a Google Business Profile and appear on Google Maps, you’ll need to pay to display ads on Google search results pages or elsewhere across the web. Google Ads are available on a cost-per-click basis, with an average cost of around $1 to $2 per click.
LinkedIn is a social media site that’s popular with professionals and may be a good free advertising site for B2B businesses. But can you really advertise on LinkedIn for free?
Like many business directories, it’s free to create a business listing on LinkedIn Pages. From there, you can also create LinkedIn Groups or LinkedIn Events to engage with prospective customers and generate new leads.
If you want to post ads on LinkedIn, you have a few options. Businesses can post one free job ad at a time or pay for a Promoted Job Post on a cost-per-click basis.
LinkedIn also offers a self-service advertising tool for other types of paid job ads. You can choose from Sponsored Content, which shows up in the LinkedIn feed, Sponsored Messaging, which goes directly to your lead’s inbox, and standard pay-per-click (PPC) ads.
Locanto is a free classified ad site that works a lot like Craigslist. Users can choose to search ads in popular locations, like Houston or Chicago, or search by ZIP code.
Advertising categories include Fashion & Beauty, Home & Garden, and Multimedia & Electronics. Locanto also advertises jobs, classes, events, and real estate, making it one of the best free advertising sites for cooking classes or concert tickets.
Although it’s usually free to post on Locanto, business owners can upgrade for a few extra features. Top Ads get higher placement, Premium Ads don’t contain third-party ads or other distractions, and Gallery Ads get placed in a special sidebar. Business owners can also pay extra to notify followers by email when they place an ad.
Oodle is a free classified ads site available in several countries, including the U.S., Canada, India, the U.K., and Australia. In addition to general merchandise, Oodle also has subcategories for vehicle sales, office space, pets, and vacation rentals.
Users can sign up for Oodle using their Facebook accounts and cross-post between Oodle and other classified ad sites.
Oodle’s demographics are slightly older than some other platforms, with the majority of users over the age of 45. Vehicles make up the most popular sales category.
Geebo is a classified ad site founded in 2000 that features many of the same categories as other classified ad sites, including merchandise, vehicles, services, and jobs as well as listings for real estate and roommates.
One thing that sets it apart is its focus on user safety. Geebo claims to review every ad before it’s posted for signs of scam or fraud.
Business owners can use Geebo to post free ads online, although some ad categories (like job posts) cost money.
OLX is an online marketplace that caters to markets outside of the U.S., including India, Brazil, South Africa, and more than 30 other countries. Popular categories include cars, mobile phones, and scooters, as well as houses and apartments for rent.
Although local U.S. businesses may not find their target audience here, ecommerce companies with an international presence could benefit from it.
OLX has a mobile app that sellers can use to post ads. OLX actively monitors ads for prohibited goods, inadequate photos and descriptions, and unreasonable pricing.
Gumtree is a classified ads site that originally launched in the U.K. but has expanded to several other countries. Popular categories include cars, property, and pets. There are also services such as Health & Beauty, Transport, and Finance & Legal.
Gumtree welcomes ads from hairdressers, massage therapists, and dog walkers, but as with any free classified ad site, users should be on the lookout for scams.
One way that Gumtree protects its users is with its built-in rating system and messaging features. Buyers and sellers can rate each other after a transaction and use the built-in messaging tools to avoid giving out their contact details.
Pros and cons of free advertising websites
Free advertising websites have their place, but they may not offer all of the tools you need for a complete digital advertising strategy. Consider these pros and cons when deciding which business platforms and classified sites to advertise on.
Cost: The main appeal of free business advertising platforms is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get the word out about your business. Rather than focus all of your marketing efforts on a single website, you can afford to post on all of them.
Reach: High-quality digital ads can have a global reach, but local businesses may want to focus on customers in a specific geographic area. Posting free online ads can reach users who are looking for goods or services in a specific city or ZIP code without the need for expensive or intrusive ad targeting.
Optimization: Free advertising sites may not offer the same level of customization and optimization that you can get from a paid advertising campaign. Many advertising sites charge extra for custom ad templates or to target a specific demographic. You may be limited in how many ads you can post or how often you can repost them.
Reputation: Some classified ad sites have a mixed reputation regarding scams and safety. Even on sites that offer reviews and ratings, you may not be able to build a custom storefront or link to an external site to demonstrate your brand’s reputation.
Build your brand and reach more customers
Posting a free ad online can be a cost-effective way to reach new customers, but your ad campaign will be more effective if you already have a strong brand identity. Before you start posting classified ads, ensure your website is detailed, accurate, and easy to navigate, add or claim your business page on Yelp to build your online reputation, and use social media to interact with customers.
Having a consistent, detailed, and professional presence on multiple platforms helps to build brand awareness and legitimacy. That way, no matter where new customers see your free ads online, they can quickly and easily visit your website, read reviews, and verify that you’re a genuine local business.
To expand your free advertising and marketing strategy even more, check out these email marketing tips every small business can use.
The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.