Craigslist: usability testing and redesign suggestions

Redesigning one of the most chaotic websites in the world.

You’re probably familiar with Craigslist. Craigslist is “an American classified advertisements website with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, for sale, items wanted, services, community, gigs, résumés, and discussion forums.” (Wikipedia). And, according to Mashable, Craigslist users post more than 100 million classified ads each month.

Craigslist is a very popular website available worldwide. For this usability testing, I used the San Francisco Bay Area Craigslist website.


The goal was to identify pain points that users encounter on the Craigslist website when trying to sell an item and trying to create an account.

Craigslist main page

Test Details

  • What was tested: Craigslist (CL) website.
  • Who: Two tech-savvy users, in their teens, who had never used the CL website before.
  • Where: My office, using a laptop.
  • Task 1. Sell an item.
  • Task 2. Create and account.

I chose teens because I was curious to see how a younger audience would interact with the site. I have heard of older non-technical people asking their grandchildren or younger relatives for help. This test would show how the younger tech-savvy users would handle two common tasks on Craigslist.

Users First Impressions

“Looks like a list of services? (doubting tone). Or like…. Nouns?”
“There’s a list of things.”
“It looks really bad, old, outdated. Pretty 1920s”

Both users felt the site looked really old. And they were not sure what the site was used for at first glance. Only after paying closer attention they could tell it was used to sell things & search for jobs, housing and services.

Task 1: Selling an item — Pain Points and Proposed Solutions

For task 1, users were asked to imagine they had a guinea pig that they could no longer keep so they had to sell it on CL. I encountered a problem with User 2 (see “Other Usability Issues” section) and had to change her task to selling a lamp instead.

“What is ‘post to classifieds’?”
“You are going to write ‘Subject is feeling frustration’” (User 2, after several minutes of attempting to to figure out where to sell).

Pain Point 1 — Trying to figure out where to sell on CL

Both users started by trying to see where they could sell a guinea pig. They tried browsing different sections. They clicked inside different links to see if they could see where to post their guinea pig for sale.

Both users did not know what the “post to classifieds” link was for or what “classifieds” meant. One of them realized this was the link they needed to post their ad only after clicking on it and reading the first line on that page. The other user eventually realized she needed to click on “post to classifieds,” but only after going to the “About CL” page > FAQs > “Help page on how to create a free post.”

Even though both users came across “post to classifieds,” they didn’t click there to begin with.
Me: “Do you know what “classifieds” are?”
User: “Mmm… probably different classifications, like branches.”
Me: (explained how in the newspapers you could open a section full of little ads separated in different categories)
User: “I see, Generation X.”

Proposed Solution

Consider re-wording “post to classifieds” to “Post Ad” or “Create Post.” The meaning of the word “classifieds” is not clear to younger users.

Also consider making the button that allows you to post things bigger and placing it in an area that improves its discoverability.

After the tests, both users agreed that the button to post ads was too small. Or, as user 1 pointed out:

“The button to post was super tiny and way randomly on the side, not that obvious. I was surprised I actually found it.”

Pain Point 2 — Trying to figure out how to sell on CL

Once the users clicked on “Post to Classifieds” they were confronted with a long list of categories to choose from:

List of categories to choose from

Users had a difficult time trying to choose which category they would use. They were trying to guess and choose a “good enough” category. They had to browse and click on many different potential categories, from the main page, to figure out which category their item belonged to.

Proposed Solution

Consider adding more descriptions for categories that contain a large number of potential items, or give examples of which items would be listed under those categories. This can save users time and the hassle of having to spend many minutes exploring what others have posted under different categories.

Example: Instead of the current label “furniture — by owner,” consider adding more info: Furniture — by owner (ex: sofas, lamps, chairs, desks, etc.)

Add the most common items sold under that category to give some reference. The info can be added next to the item, or can be hidden under a ? icon next to furniture.

Task 2: Creating and Account — Pain Points and Proposed Solutions

For task 2, users were asked to create an account. When they were prompted to enter an email address, I gave them an email address to use.

Pain Point 1 —Issues setting up a password

The system does not allow you to continue unless you have a strong password. But it doesn’t give you extra help to create a strong one, other than the written text at the bottom (which describes which elements make for a strong password). It took one of the users several attempts until the system liked the password they had created.

Proposed Solution

Consider giving more specific feedback on the particular password that the user is trying to create. Or let the user go on the next steps with just a warning that their password is weak.

Pain Point 2 — Issues creating an account

Both users thought that after they had entered their email address, they were done creating their account. This was because the screen that showed up after they entered their email was misleading.

Screen after users enter their email address to create an account.

The users only read the first line on the screen (“Thanks for signing up”) and assumed they were done.

Proposed Solution

Consider wording the message on the screen different. Maybe something like: “Next Steps to create your account” or “ Important: You should receive an email shortly with the next steps to finish creating your account.”

Other Usability Issues

These issues did not happen to both users. However, I think they are significant enough to mention.

Usability Issue 1 — Letting users post something that is not allowed

User 2 realized, after spending many minutes checking different sections, that pet sales were not allowed on CL.

Not only were they not allowed, but other users were asked to flag such postings. She found this under the Discussion Forums > Pets.

Turns out pet sales are prohibited on CL, but the system allows you to post such ads.

I was very surprised that user 2 came across this information because the site let User 1 post a guinea pig for sale without any warnings.

Proposed Solution

Add a warning in the categories section of the “Post to Classifieds” about the “no sale of pets allowed” rule. Do not keep this important information hidden in a link that sellers are not likely to visit (under discussion forums).

Usability Issue 2 — Problems spelling words

One of the users had a difficult time spelling “guinea.” It took him several tries (and asking me for help) to spell it correctly.

The system already lets the user know if a spelling error is being made by highlighting the word in red. However, it doesn’t give more help to fix it.

System highlights the misspelled word, but doesn’t give suggestions to fix it.

Proposed Solution

Consider helping users with spelling. This would be helpful, especially since users are used to getting that help on their phones when they are writing.

Users Comments After both Tasks

I asked both users for their final thoughts/opinions/observations after they were done with both tasks. Here are some of what they had to say:

“It was not that easy”
“The hardest part was that in the beginning I couldn’t figure out what the site was for. It just looks like a dictionary or something.”
“They should put more descriptions.” (referring to categories inside the “post to classifieds” section)
“Let me just say I feel like that could have been a much faster process.”
“It took quite a bit of time (the process of posting an ad), which is kind of sad.”
“I feel like the button that says “post to classifieds” should be a LOT more visible and big, not like this tiny thing that no one really looks at.”
“The button that says “post to classifieds” should be simpler, not so complicated. First of all, it should not be called “post to classifieds” but something simpler because that ain’t happening no more.” (referring to “classifieds” being an old and outdated term)

Conclusion and Reflections

I hope you found the results of this usability testing useful (no pun intended). It was certainly a very enlightening process for me.

Since I was familiar with the site, I didn’t anticipate to find these many pain points. This just shows how important it is to test your products with real users.

It was interesting to come across the issue of not being allowed to sell a pet with user 2. I was definitely surprised and had to quickly choose another item to sell, even though I hadn’t anticipated coming across this issue.

Luckily, having a clear goal for the first task (selling an item) helped me come up with a different task in a short period of time. This highlights the importance of having a clear plan and goal before you start the tests so you can change things if needed.

On a more practical and logistics level, I ran into some problems while recording the sessions. I was using the free version of a screen recorder, which only allows to record so many minutes at a time. So I had to stop in the middle of one of the tests because the recording stopped and it took several minutes for the recording to process.

Luckily I had been recording the entire session on audio as well (on my phone) so I had that backup, which allowed me to continue with a few more screens that I could recreate later.

It was fascinating to see the importance of language and what younger users expected to see in the labels.

For instance, one of the users guessed that “postal code” was referring to “zip code.” And that same user did not know what “posting body” meant, but had no problems understanding what it meant after reading the error message “all postings must have a description.” Then he understood that “posting body” meant “description.”

Overall this was a very interesting and refreshing experience. It was great to see how younger users interact with a website, their expectations, how their mental models play into all this, and how they attempted to navigate the tasks.