SEO Wars: Craigslist vs. Backpage

When looking for links that matter, that is links that get traction and pass-through value, it is important to know where you are posting and how that site:

  • Allows search engines to  index pages
  • Allows search engines to follow links
  • If it passes PR value how much is it passing
  • Relates to your topic

Craigslist's robots.text file

A few years ago I created a site called where I invited 25 real estate bloggers to participate. It literally took 3 months to get to a PR3 which, to me, was absolutely amazing. In fact we saw search results in the 100’s in the first 90 days. Call it a lucky storm if you want but in reality it was because so many PR4 and PR5 sites were linked to “The24: America’s 24 Chosen Real Estate Bloggers” and they were linking outbound with good content. There was no Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn back then. The moral is there were high PR links pointing to The24. (It was downed for two reasons one of which included repeated hack attacks and denial of service attacks and I was too busy to fight it, unfortunately.)

When planning your strategy to build Page Rank you should treat it differently than when you are going for links on clean sites (non-blackhat) and when you’re going for community relevant content. Click links from organic search depend on search engine placement which comes from multiple factors including PR and search relevance. Click-throughs from referring pages depend on neither search relevance nor Page Rank but they do depend on traffic and topic relevance. So, let’s look at two online ad sites which both have a high volume of traffic and how they interact with the search engine robots.

First is Craigslist

If you have not heard of Craigslist welcome to Earth. Craigslist is an online ad site created in 1995 just for San Francisco. It has since gone global and now boasts a whopping 64,000,000 monthly unique visitors, 80,000,000 pages indexed, 113,000,000 backlinks and a PR of 7. Those are some powerful numbers and some everyone in SEO and online marketing would like to take advantage of. The pass-through value alone could be enormous but aside from that capturing even a fraction of a percentage of that monthly traffic is huge, too. Thus the battle.

Craigslist does allow robots but greatly limits their search. You can see from the image the robots.txt disallows a few directories. It’s once you know what those directories are that the impact is really seen. Let’s look at those triple letter directories to see exactly what they contain:

  • ccc = all community ads
  • hhh = all housing ads
  • sss = all for sale ads
  • bbb = all service ads
  • ggg = all gigs
  • jjj = all jobs

So what else is there you’re wondering? Why personals of course.  Even the “res” means resumes so that’s not patrolled either. Now you’re wondering, “why even bother with Craigslist?”

Let me introduce you to our friend RSS. Because Craigslist is nice enough to make their RSS feed available by search category there are many websites which use that data to stuff their content and republish CL content to their sites. The site publishing the RSS feed may not block indexing and you just may get links from search engines picking up your keywords from these sites. The downside is that CL uses the nofollow tag even in their RSS feed. However, if the content is indexed by Google et. al., you’re going to get an increased likelihood for click-throughs from those visitors. And it does happen.

Still, for CL, the best way is to write compelling titles and post in relevant categories.

What about this Backpage thing?

Backpage's robots.txt file

This is a unique approach to the same format as CL started by the Village Voice and partnering with a dozen or so newspapers nationwide. BP handles search engines and their syndication feed a little differently. The RSS feed on BP, for example, strips all HTML from the content and delivers a text only version. If you type your links like <a href=””>CLICK HERE</a> it will completely strip it down to just “CLICK HERE”. So on BP you want to create your links as <a href=””></a> and the feed will be stripped to just “”.

Backpage does not allow robots. Take a look at their robots.txt in the second image here on this page. If you know how to read the robots.txt file you will see BP simply denies robots the permission to access all directories on the service. So while BP does not use the nofollow tag it does use the robots’ global exclusion policy meaning robots are not supposed to index (store) any data they find on any pages on Backpage.

At first glance you would think CL is more friendly to robots than BP but that’s not necessarily the case.  However, CL has much higher monthly unique traffic than BP. In fact BP has 136,000,000 backlinks with 20,000,000 pages indexed and a PR of 5 but only shows around 3,000,000 unique monthly visitors. If you have used both you have likely had more success with CL simply because of that huge gap, about 60,000,000 in monthly unique visitors between the two.

Summing it all up

If you are counting on either Craigslist or Backpage to bump your SEO and PR you’re going to be let down. However, if you are a steady marketer with good word skills you can expect to jump your traffic from using both in tandem. They both allow a wide range of HTML tags so you can “pretty it up” if you like but we’ve found through long-term A/B testing the difference is insignificant for click-through. Visitor to prospect conversion, which we have not measure, may be higher with design aspects but that’s for you to discover … and share!

Call in the professionals

Let’s face it – you probably need to be doing what it is you do. Fortunately there are people who can handle the reset for a relatively nominal fee (or more if you just like to pay higher prices). Sometimes marketing campaigns deserve CL and BP in the arsenal. Mostly when the marketer does not want to budget in PPC or other paid advertising. We certainly use it for lead generation services and it has served us well. When you are ready to start a low-cost, month-to-month online advertising and social mention campaign I’m sure we can accommodate your needs in an easy to swallow, bite sized but scalable solution. Call me at 678-439-8683 or just contact me here online.


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