Publicizing a Town-Wide
Yard Sale on the Internet
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
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.
Q. What good is advertising if potential customers don't see it?
A. None at all!
Q. What good is advertising if it doesn't give potential customers the information needed to buy?
A. Not much better.
Entirely too much so-called advertising of town-wide yard sales fails on one or both of these counts.
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, I feel frustrated if I knew
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
Let me start with the bad assumptions. Then I'll present some know-how,
so it can be done well. The know-how will be a checklist of
things you must do, with links you can follow to the details
you don't know already.
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.
Here are three assumptions that are apparently made by too many
based on the number of times their publicity (or lack thereof)
- Assumption: Everybody
who could potentially attend lives in town. This is a
self-fulfilling prophesy. If the webmaster believes this, then he/she
will fail to reach potential attendees who don't live in the town. In the best cases,
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
about how poorly the publicity was done. (I attended one of those this
morning, which is the inspiration for this article.)
- Assumption: Everybody
who could potentially attend receives my notifications on my favorite
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.
- Assumption: 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.)
ChecklistA couple more definitions:
- "Publicity" is what lets people know that a TWYS is going to happen.
- "Information" is
what people who might attend the TWYS need in order to properly
navigate their way around the TWYS. The most important part of this
information is the list of participating addresses.
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:
Information pages and publicity pages must not be
combined. Don't try to do both in one page. This is extremely important!
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.
Put the information page where it can be accessed by anybody from
anywhere. (NB - Facebook does not qualify! It blocks access by
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. There will be only one copy of this, posted where anybody can access it.
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!
The first thing you need to do, before you deploy a
single publicity page, is deploy and debug an empty ("under
construction") information page. As you have information, you can fill
in this page. There will only be only this one information page --
If you want the reasoning or step-by-step instructions, read the rest of the article.
The trick to getting it right and keeping it right is to keep the information
the shopper will need 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 must have a conspicuous link to the
you think visually
and want a diagram of examples before you start reading the checklist
of things to do, here it is. If you don't understand it, don't be
alarmed. We'll look at it again, after we have covered the
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 they need to be a shopper.
a blank information page. The information page will be a list of
participants at a bare minimum. It may also include a map, a narrative for
each yard sale, etc, but those are optional. The information page will be empty for now. You need to create
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
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:
If you miss either one, you will get phone calls and messages asking when and where.
- Include on the "under construction" announcement the date and time the information will be available.
- Get the information there by that date and time.
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:
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.
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.
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, but even that is far less important than the list.
That's it! As easy as A,B,C. Well maybe not quite. So let me fill in a
- You only have to enter the information once, in one
place. Same for deploying the information. You don't have to put it everywhere; in fact, it makes things worse if you do.
- You never have pages out of sync with one another.
household is on the list, they are on the list everywhere you
publicized things. That is because the publicity, rather than containing the information itself, points to the one information page that is as up-to-date as you have made it.
- If you have to change some information (e.g. - you
spelled a street name wrong), you only have to change it in one place, not everywhere.
Which brings us to the very real case...
- If you have to change information at the last
minute (e.g. - the mayor's daughter signed up after the deadline),
you only have to change it in one place, not everywhere.
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. And, sadly, this scenario happens all the time.)
Publicize everywhere! Here are some places that are musts, some that are mights, and you may
have more you can use.
Here's the picture again, of how
various pages relate, and a few things to remember when you post your
resources, like the town web site and/or the mailing list.
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
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.
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 get it onto calendars, though many people will miss it because they filter by
date. The second will get those planning this weekend's yard saling.
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. Only a fraction of your town's residents follow your town's page. There are other fallacies with that
assumption, but these few are obvious and rather fatal.
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.
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 often 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.
yard sale sites and mailing lists. They do exist, but I'm
skeptical they are useful. Examples are yardsale.com
The problem is the usual networking problem: if you don't have a large
following, you won't get
a large following.
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
publicity page should have a link to the information page.
This is the ideal solution to (a) above.
- 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.
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
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.
Yes, I know about the problem of religious preference for the day,
Saturday or Sunday. If you can't solve it by making it just one -- no
choices -- then at least indicate each individual household's intent in
the list of addresses.
List of addresses of participating households
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
So post it to the internet. Put it on the
information page -- the
one information page -- as the primary key for the
- 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.
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 there, as far as I could tell.)
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
by "printing" an image do not. JPEGs do not work.
Note: If you get only this far
with the information page, you will still be way ahead of most TWYSs.
And you will have done publicity in a way that helps both the sellers
and the buyers. Any more information might be nice, but is an optional
a map is not absolutely essential, but it is a nice touch. However,
almost every TWYS I have ever seen that supplies a map (less than 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
shoppers need to plan their route and to travel that route must include
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.
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:
- Go to Google
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".)
- 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 typing or thumbing addresses by hand from a print or image list.
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 "201½".
- 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
- Each user
might like to see it printed a little differently. For instance, if
your town is large they
might want to print out just the section of town they will visit.
- 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 -- where the webmaster provided a Google
MyMaps of the TWYS.
map includes an address list, and the individual address markers can be
clicked for the address itself. Very versatile type of display!
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,
will require another screenshot, tilting and cropping of the
screenshot, and saving and/or printing of the result.
Description of each saleI 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.)
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.
seldom see this information provided, and I 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.
PlanningThis isn't about publicizing, but I'd like to bring something up anyway.
Coordinate, don't interfere!
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.
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 mistakesSo that's the right way to do it. What are common mistakes I often see webmasters make?
If you still have any questions about why these are mistakes, go back and read the article again.
- 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 to be available... 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. (Some potential attendees won't have a Facebook account, and will be blocked.)
- Advertise/publicize the event only on the town's Facebook page.
- Fail to put a listing on Craiglist.
- Fail to put a listing on Facebook Marketplace for the local region.
- Provide the list of participating addresses as a JPEG image. (Make it some sort of copyable text.)
- 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 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
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.
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.
modified - May 1, 2021