Publicizing a Town-Wide Yard Sale on the Internet

Dave Tutelman  -  September 7, 2019


I enjoy going to yard sales, and town-wide yard sale days are the best. But in order to go to them, I have to know about them! And I have to know who the participants are. Too many times, a town-wide yard sale loses a lot of customers like me because whoever is in charge of publicizing it misses something important. As an internet user and developer for more than three decades, here's my advice for how to make sure the proper information is where it needs to be on the internet to attract people to attend.

A disclaimer before I start: none of my suggestions deal with registration of the participants, just with making the event known to those who might want to attend as shoppers.

I like to use yard sales to structure my Saturday morning exercise walk. If there is a town-wide yard sale within, say, 20 miles, I am likely to drive there so I can hit as many yards sales as I can with my walk. If I find out I missed a town-wide yard sale because I didn't know about it, I feel frustrated. Likewise if I knew about it but couldn't get the information I need (like the list of participants). And that happens much too often. Too many of the people responsible for getting the word out either don't know how or make bad assumptions.

Let me start with the bad assumptions. Then I'll present some know-how, so it can be done well. I'll present the know-how as a checklist of things you must do, with links you can follow to the details you don't know already. But first...

Briefly...

If you just want the recommendation and not the whys nor wherefores, here it is in a nutshell.
  • There are two kinds of pages you have to create:
    1. Information page - the information the user is going to need in order to attend the town-wide yard sale. At a bare minimum, this is the list of participating addresses.
    2. Publicity page - this announces and advertises the town-wide yard sale. Post a copy everywhere! Don't limit it to your favorite place, like your web site or your Facebook page. Everywhere!
  • Information pages and publicity pages must not be combined. Don't try to do both in one page. This is extremely important!
  • Put the information page where it can be accessed by anybody from anywhere. (NB - Facebook does not qualify!)
  • The first thing you need to do, before you deploy a single publicity page, is deploy and debug the empty ("under construction") information page. As you have information, you can fill in this page. There will only be only this one information page -- total!
  • Every publicity page must have a conspicuous link to the information page.
  • Put publicity pages everywhere! Don't limit yourself to your town's Facebook page.
If you want the reasoning or step-by-step instructions, read the article.

First a little vocabulary

For the sake of brevity:
  • I will refer to the town-wide yard sale as "TWYS".
  • I will refer to the person in charge of getting the word out on the internet as the "webmaster". That may be not entirely correct in every case, but we'll use that name for brevity. Webmasters may work for the town itself -- in most cases they will -- but they may work for some other organization in charge of the town-wide yard sale, such as the town's library foundation or the middle school's PTA. And "work" may not be a paid position; they are sometimes volunteers.

Bad assumptions

Here are three assumptions that are apparently made by too many webmasters, based on the number of times their publicity (or lack thereof) frustrates me.
  1. Everybody who could potentially attend lives in town. This is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If the webmaster believes this, then he/she will not reach potential attendees who don't live in the town. I have seen lots of well-publicized TWYSs where more than half the shoppers are from out of town. That increases the value of the TWYS to the town's residents -- the webmaster's constituency. Conversely, I have also seen TWYSs where even the people running the sales were griping loudly and angrily about how poorly the publicity was done. (I attended one of those this morning, which is the inspiration for this article.)
  2. Everybody who could potentially attend receives my notifications on my favorite platform. Webmasters, not everybody is on Facebook (nor Twitter nor Instagram, if those are your favorites). And even if they are, they may not be receiving blanket notifications of local events. Not everybody watches your town's web site for events. Not everybody is on your town's mailing list. In fact, if you understand Bad Assumption #1, that alone would mean that your notifications are probably not reaching a majority of people that would be interested.
  3. People are able and willing to pick up a printed page of participants. Just plain wrong! Out-of-town shoppers are not going to drive to your town in advance just to pick up the list. And out-of-towners don't know the streets, so they are the ones who need it in advance, to look at the list and the map and plan their path. If you tell them, "Pick up the list of participants that morning at the town offices," they will not attend. (I say "they". Let me be more precise: I will not attend! I am making an assumption here myself: that others react as I do.)

Checklist

The trick to getting it right and keeping it right is to keep the information the shopper will need (most importantly, the list of participating household addresses) separate from the publicity to tell the shopper that there will be a TWYS. Then put the information in one place and one place only, and spread the publicity all over the internet -- each publicity posting with a conspicuous link to the information.

If you think visually and want a diagram of examples before you start reading the checklist of things to do, feel free to glance ahead now.

Here's my checklist of things you need to do in order to be sure everybody that might want to attend (i) knows about your TWYS and (ii) has the information needed to participate.
  1. Create a blank information page. This will be a list of participants at a bare minimum. It may include a map, a narrative for each yard sale, etc; but it will be empty for now. You need to create an empty page first for a couple of reasons. (a) to be sure you know how to format it, and you have the tools to do so; (b) to provide a working link to the information when you put your publicity in various places, even if the information is not yet filled in. The links should all point to this page.

    It is almost essential to start the empty page with an announcement like, "Under construction. Check back Friday noon for the complete list of participating houses." People are going to click on the link in your publicity blurbs, so they will encounter this page. Its presence and the announcement will reassure them that they will be able to access the information Friday night after your offices have closed. Be sure to:
    • Include on the "under construction" announcement the date and time the information will be available.
    • Get the information there by that date and time.
    If you miss either one, you will get phone calls and messages asking when and where.

    Now here's the magic. There is only one information page deployed. Ever! Every publicity page will include - prominently - a link to the information page. Why do it this way? Here are a few good reasons:
    • You only have to enter the information once, in one place. Same for deploying the information.
    • You never have pages out of sync with one another. If a household is on the list, they are on the list everywhere you publicized things.
    • If you have to change some information (e.g. - you spelled a street name wrong), you only have to change it in one place. Which brings us to the very real case...
    • If you have to change information at the last minute, you only have to change it in one place, not everywhere.
    IT professionals, programmers and database administrators, know this rule and live it every day. They avoid duplicating data when it needs to have a consistent value everywhere it is used. It's good for your publicity campaign, too.
  2. Distribute your publicity. Put it everywhere you can think of. Hit the social media, the town web site, Craigslist, etc. I have more to say about this below.
  3. Fill in the information page once you have the list of participating households. Few towns provide more than the bare minimum of information. There are ways to make the experience even better for the shoppers. The most important of these extras is a worthwhile map.
That's it! As easy as A,B,C. Well maybe not quite. So let me fill in a few details.

Where to publicize

There are lots of places you will want to leave publicity footprints. Don't leave it to participating households to let the world know that your town is having a TWYS. Get the word out yourself. (I would not even have known about this morning's TWYS, but for a Craigslist ad for an individual yard sale that happened to mention they were part of a TWYS. Far from the first time this has happened, either.)

Publicize everywhere! Here are some places that are musts, some that are mights, and you may have more you can use.
  • Town resources, like the town web site and/or the mailing list. Be sure the announcement is on the web site in a prominent place, for at least the week in advance of the TWYS -- and with a link to the information page. But this is just a start. It barely scratches the surface. It will leave out all the out-of-town shoppers you might want to get.
  • Craigslist. Don't forget this. It's free, easy, and a lot of people check it when they look for yard sales. Craigslist is organized by region; make sure you post the ad in your region. If I were doing it, I'd post a publicity announcement well in advance (a week or even a month) and then definitely post another two or three days in advance. The first might freeze calendars, though many will miss it because they filter by date. The second will get those planning this weekend's yard saling.
  • Social media, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. The webmaster responsible for today's fiasco assumed that it would reach everybody by putting it on the town's own Facebook page. Hello! Some people are not on Facebook. Almost nobody outside your town follows your town's page. There are other fallacies with that assumption, but these two are obvious and rather fatal.
  • Multiple places on social media. (I believe this is true about Facebook; don't know about other social media.) "Events" are not the same database as "marketplace". Yard sales are listed in "marketplace". So be sure that your TWYS is listed in both databases separately. If you make it just an "event", people searching for yard sales won't find it.
  • Local classified ads. Most newspapers, even small local media, have a web presence. Placing a classified ad with them is a harder choice, and possibly unnecessary. It's harder because it usually isn't free. It may reach a few people who are old school when they look for yard sales, but it becomes less relevant with every passing year. It is only a few years ago (5? 8?) that I attended more yard sales I found in the Asbury Park Press than I found on Craigslist. That has reversed in the past few years, and emphatically so.
  • Specialty yard sale sites and mailing lists. They do exist, but I'm skeptical they are useful. Examples are yardsale.com and garagesales.com. The problem is the usual networking problem: if you don't have a large following, you won't get a large following.
Here's a picture of how various pages relate, and a few things to remember when you post your publicity:

  1. The publicity page is not the information page! It is actually a bad idea to make them the same. One reason is that you want to publicize in as many places as possible. But you only want one information page to maintain. Which brings us to....
  2. Every publicity page should have a link to the information page. This is the ideal solution to (a) above.
  3. Be careful where you put your information page. You will probably pick one of the places where you publicized the event. Be sure the link to the information page works from everywhere on the internet. A safe approach is to make it a public page on your web site. This morning's fiasco included an information page on the town's Facebook page. This does not work! The reason is that people without a Facebook account cannot access a Facebook page even if they are using a link to the page; Facebook will block the access. Believe it or not, there are people who resolutely refuse to have a Facebook account, and that number seems to be growing, not shrinking. They can't get to your information page on Facebook, even if you give them a link right to it. Wherever you put the information page, be sure it can be reached by anybody from anywhere.

The Information Page

What sort of information will the yard-sale-goer need in order to go? Here are the things I know from experience:

Global information about all the sales

This is simple stuff like date and time. By the way, date and time should be global. It's a mistake to leave it to each household whether they want to hold their sale on Saturday or Sunday, or what time they want it to start. It's a town-wide event, and shoppers have the right to expect some uniformity in date and time, especially if they are traveling to be there.

List of addresses of participating households

This is the single most important per-household piece of information needed by the shopper. If you provide nothing else, make sure that this is correct, easy to find, and easy to use. All too often, the person in charge of publicity
  • Makes it available only on photocopied paper handouts on the day of the sale, or perhaps one day before.
  • Forgets to post it on the internet.
  • Posts it to a place where nobody is likely to find it. (That is what happened today. Even the townspeople holding the sales failed to find it. And they did look. I had to email the town's office, and they told me to look on the town's Facebook page. I might add that I was the only out-of-towner I encountered.)
So post it to the internet. Put it on the information page -- the one information page -- as the primary key for the households. (Yes, that's database terminology, and database technology is probably overkill for this job. But if you understand it as database terminology, you know what I meant.)

One final note on the list of addresses. Don't post it as an image; make it actual text that can be highlighted, copied, searched, etc. (That was another problem with today's TWYS. The list was a JPEG image.) If the list is copyable text, the shopper has a lot more flexibility in using it. HTML works; you can highlight it to copy and paste. So does a MS Word document. Some PDFs work, but those made by "printing" an image do not. And JPEGs do not work.

Map

Including a map is not absolutely essential, but it is a nice touch. However, almost every TWYS I have ever seen that supplies a map (roughly half do) simply reprints the town's stock map. It probably has street names (though often too small a font to be legible). But that's it. The map that shoppers need to plan their route and to travel that route must include the locations of the sales themselves. I have only seen two TWYSs that provided maps with sale locations on the map.

As I said, I walk the TWYS, so I need a visual image of the sales in order to plan an efficient walking route. Therefore, I prepare my own map, which does include every sale location as a marker on the map. I have done this for several years, and have found a remarkably clean and easy way to do it. If you are the webmaster, consider doing this.
  1. Go to Google MyMaps. This is a Google application (part of Google Maps) that allows you to put multiple addresses on a single map. Initialize a new map, with the name and description of the TWYS. (E.g.- "Smallville town-wide yard sale, Oct 2019".)
  2. Enter each of the addresses of participating households. BTW, if the list is already in text form, you can just copy-and-paste from the list. That is why I recommend text rather than image for the list. If I have to make the map from your list, I don't want to be hand copying from an image of the address.
    Now look at the map; there will be a bold blue marker at the address. If the location appears correct, then click "Add this to the map". In my experience, the most common reason by far for an incorrect location is that you clicked on the wrong town when more than one choice was offered. The second most common is a non-standard address format, like "201 rear" or "201".
  3. When you are done with all the addresses, share the map as "public to the web", and copy the link address it gives you. You can use that link address in all your announcements, to link the announcement to the information page. The map can even become the information page! (In all honesty, I believe but am not sure that this will allow read-only access to the public. If this grants public access to modify the map, then another strategy or a finer level of permissions is needed.)
You could go further, like putting a printable image of the map on the information page. But I would recommend using the shared Google map raw, for a number of reasons:
  • Each user might like to see it printed a little differently. For instance, they might want to print out just the section of town they will visit, if your town is large.
  • The user may want to use the map on his/her smartphone. It will behave for them exactly as a Google map, so they can navigate around and zoom in/out as they wander around your town. I have seen several people doing this -- very effectively, I might add -- in the one case where the webmaster provided a Google MyMaps of the TWYS.
  • The map includes an address list, and the individual address markers can be clicked for the address itself. Very versatile type of display!
  • It makes maintenance much easier. For instance, suppose you need to add an address at the last minute. (Say, someone missed the registration deadline, but they're on the city council so you can't say no.) If your information page is the raw Google MyMaps, all you have to do is add the address to the file. OTOH, if you use a printed image of the map, you will have to prepare and print the new image. In some strategies, this will require another screenshot, tilting and cropping of the screenshot, and saving and/or printing of the result.

Description of each sale

I am referring to a short description of what is being sold at each yard sale, such as women's clothes, or tools, or furniture, etc. Here is a screenshot of a fragment of the list from a town that does this. (They maintain and post the list as a spreadsheet.)



I consider this completely optional. If you support descriptions, limit the size of each or it will get out of control in a hurry. The longest description in the example is ten words, and that should be enough. If it gets much longer, it becomes too clumsy to use; it also blows up the document size for those who aren't interested in using the description.

I seldom see this information provided, and never use it myself. But I could envision someone who does more preparation than I do making use of it. Face it, the only way a shopper can use the description is to filter the yard sales according to it. And that has to be in advance, when you plan your route. Not many will go to that trouble. I'm a stickler for planning and even I don't go that far, even if the information is available to me.

Planning

This isn't about publicizing, but I'd like to bring something up anyway.

Coordinate, don't interfere!

I just got back from a Saturday walk where the town had a charity 5K run in its streets, the same morning as a TWYS. Disaster for the TWYS! The police blocked off all the streets from automobile traffic to protect the runners. A lot of the folks giving sales complained about how little business they were getting; they didn't know about the police blockades. The run was right in the middle of Saturday morning, the busiest time for yard sales.

And this was the second town in a month that did this! The first town had not only the blockade problem, but nowhere for the TWYS shoppers to park; the runners from out of town had taken all the parking places over a 20-block square..

Another place where coordination might help is with the TWYS of other towns. Check with the towns two or three towns away, to make sure they haven't scheduled a TWYS the same day as you. Yes, it happens, and it splits the attendance at both.

Common mistakes

So that's the right way to do it. What are common mistakes I often see webmasters make?
  • Start late to post the publicity.
  • Start late to post a blank information page. (It should be in place before the first publicity is posted.)
  • Fail to include a date and time for the information on the blank information page... or fail to keep that promise.
  • Include the list of participating addresses on the advertising/publicity page. (It belongs on the information page -- only!)
  • Put the information page on Facebook.
  • Advertise/publicize the event only on the town's Facebook page.
  • Fail to put a listing on Facebook Marketplace for the local region.
  • Fail to put a listing on Craiglist.
  • Provide the list of participating addresses as a JPEG image.
  • Fail to provide a conspicuous link (sometimes even any link) to the information page from every publicity page.
  • Fail to fill in the information page and make it available at latest noon of the day before the event.
If you still have any questions about why these are mistakes, go back and read the article again.

Conclusion

If you are responsible for the publicity of a town-wide yard sale event, and especially the internet publicity, you need to know what is in this article. In particular, it is wrong to assume that all the potential attendees live in your town, follow your favorite media platforms, or are willing and able to pick up a printed sheet before they start to shop. If you make any of these assumptions, you are pushing away shoppers that could be customers for your townspeople, your constituents.

If you accept that these assumptions are wrong-headed, this article will teach you how to avoid them in executing the internet publicity. It will also give you an organized approach that will yield both better results and easier administration of your internet information.

The essence of the recommendation is that you separate the information needed to navigate the town-wide yard sale from the publicity to know that there is one. Create one page with a copy of the information that can be accessed by anyone from anywhere, then publicize everywhere -- together with a link to the information page.



Last modified  -  Oct 12, 2019