I just survived another garage sale that my wife, Irma, has put on. That's three in the last six years. While I absolutely hate them, I do enjoy the end result which is some cash in her pocket (or purse) and a house that is less cluttered. During this one (which I hope is out last), I started to think how a successful garage sale is a lot like a successful search marketing effort. Likewise a garage sale that performs poorly can be compared to a search marketing effort that delivers a poor ROI.

My wife has always had very successful sales which has been the result of a lot of hard work. This includes thorough preparation, setting up the environment up so it is comfortable for customers, advertising the sale to draw people in and then properly running it. I compared my wife's sale to our neighbor's, who by complete coincidence during this last one, was having hers at the same time. It was apparent that her preparation, set up and actual running of the sale could not even compete with my wife's. However, she did benefit from our advertising efforts seeing that she was not only next door to us but the first stop on the path to our home. As far as advertising, her typical effort was to place a small box with a "garage sale" sign at the entrance to our street and then hope for a few customers to trickle in. Unfortunately, that is the way a lot of business owners conduct their online marketing efforts. They put forth very little effort and as a result, experience very little success.

The Marketing Effort

As far as getting the word out regarding our garage sale, my wife placed classified ads in both Craigslist and a very popular community forum called AnthemStuff.com. While there are certainly additional places to advertise a garage sale, these are the two top spots where people in our area would look.

I liken this to having good visibility in the organic search results of engines like Ask, Yahoo!, MSN and especially Google. This is where a vast majority of Internet users are going to search for what they are seeking. That seems like common knowledge to someone like me who has been involved with search marketing for ten plus years now. However, I still find that many small to medium sized business owners fail to see the importance of having good visibility when it comes to organic search results. If that is you, you are missing out on a lot of potential traffic.

Now, the community we live in already attracts many garage sale seekers on the weekends. It is for the most part an upscale master-planed community where people know they are going to be able to find quality items. To attract those who are not necessarily looking online for sales but rather driving around, good signage plays an active role. We use professional store bought yellow "Garage Sale" signs you can get at any Home Depot and place them not only at the entrance to our neighborhood and street we live on, but at various spots in the community where large quantities of traffic can be found. We use signs that are consistent in their look so as to not be confusing and arrows to point people in the right direction until they reach their destination.

In regards to organic search, this is likened to the way search results appear for your site. Are your titles compelling enough to attract click thrus? Are the descriptions good representations of what users will find on the page? These are important elements to not only help improve visibility in the organic search results but attract actual click-thrus once your listings are spotted.

In the paid search environment, this is likened to not only compelling ad copy that draws click-thrus but the landing pages you send visitors to. If you have ever experienced a garage sale, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing signs but not being able to locate the actual sale. The same is true when PPC ads send you to an irrelevant page, in most cases the home page. Rather a PPC ad should send the visitor to the most relevant page whether that be a specific product or service page or one especially created for the paid search campaign. They already searched once at the engine. Why make them do it all over again by not delivering exactly what they were searching for in the first place?

Site Aesthetics and Usability

Let's explore aesthetics and usability. Not that I go to many garage sales, but several things will sour the experience for me.

  • Items Not Priced - don't make me ask what the price is.

  • Dirty Merchandise - clean merchandise will go a long way in helping the sales effort.

  • Disorganization - similar items should be grouped together, not spread out all over the place.

  • Unfriendly People - they look like they rather be somewhere else and that you are bothering them.

  • Selling Junk - stuff that is only suitable for the trash can.
My wife does an excellent job making sure every item is clearly priced, organized and properly displayed. She even goes so far as to do things like create gift baskets out of surplus Avon or Pampered Chef products she is trying to sell, or selling water, soda and baked goods. As I sit back and observe people, I notice that they stay a long time, taking their time to carefully browse through all the various merchandise that is available. Of course if you ever met Irma, you would soon realize that she is one of the friendliest people around which also goes a long way to makes patrons feel comfortable and at ease.

One thing many business owners fail to recognize is that their web sites are much like an extension of their brick and mortar locations. They are also supposed to be an extension of their sales force. I have seen businesses go to extremes to make sure their physical locations are aesthetically pleasing and are staffed with quality people to serve those who visit their locations but then at the same time, have absolutely horrid web sites. How can this be? Obviously they don't understand that their web site is a reflection of their business. It will create a first impression, whether good or bad. It will provide the visitor an experience, again good or bad. And finally, it will either encourage or discourage a sale

With the abundance of graphic and web designers, not to mention prefab templates, there is really no reason why a site should not be aesthetically pleasing. It is a reflection of what kind of business you are. A poorly designed site may paint a picture in the user's mind that just like your site, your business is sub-par. It would benefit any business to make sure they set aside enough budget to hire a professional graphic designer along with a good web programmer so they have an attractive site that will encourage visitors to stick around for a while.

Second is usability. Steve Krug's book "Don't Make Me Think!" provides some excellent ideas surrounding the idea of usability. The main idea is to make it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for and to get them the information they need in order to make a decision to convert to buy or not. Two of the worst sins site owners commit in my opinion is poor or clumsy navigation and inconsistency in site architecture. In the same manner that our garage sale signs easily direct people to our sale, your site's navigation should not cause people to have to think or second guess where they are navigating to next. Furthermore, consistency in site templates allows them to become familiar with their environment rather than wondering if they are still on the same site or not.

No One Goes Into Business To Fail

Back to my neighbor. My wife ended up buying an exercise bike from her (no - not another piece of exercise equipment). When Irma asked our neighbor what she wanted for it, she replied that she did not care. Her only goal was to get rid of her stuff. Granted that is one of the main objectives of any garage sale. However, my wife combines this goal with the objective of making some money as well. Sure you never get what you originally pay for your things in a garage sale, however my wife has surprised me more than once of what she ends up taking in for what I consider junk.

So why do people set their businesses or in the case of this discussion, their online marketing efforts up to fail? With proper planning (preparation), implementation (set up), marketing effort and managing the results, an online marketing effort can and should be successful. Otherwise, like my poor neighbor, you watch people pass you by and see your competitors prosper.

October 2, 2007

David Wallace is CEO and founder of SearchRank, an original search engine optimization and marketing firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is experienced in search engine optimization and marketing, pay per click and pay for inclusion management, directory submissions and web site design usability. David is a frequent contributor to various search engine related forums, an active editor of popular directories such as GoGuides.org, Joe Ant and Zeal and has had several articles published on industry related sites. Since 1997, David along with his company have helped hundreds of businesses both large and small increase their search engine visibility and customer acquisitions.


Thank you for the fab ideas. My wife is a garage saler too. She is also very fussy and very successful taking weeks to prepare and hours and hours of fussing. However, we often wonder what to say in the local newspaper ad. We are not a neighborhood of computer users and the older sector don't very often rely on the "confuser" to search out local garage sales.

Everyone goes to the local paper, distributed once a week (Wednesday) to advertise AND set out their route for Saturday morning.

What can you say in an ad that will ensure the travelers will go out of their way to come to your garage sale when you are 15 minutes farther away from town - out in the sticks! ???

Thanks in advance!

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Search Engine Guide > David Wallace > Search Engine Marketing and Garage Sales