Classifieds deserve design attention

January 2, 2013

By Ed Henninger

Years ago, a client publisher boasted that his classifieds section was second only to the big area mall in the number of customers per month.
Yes, there’s been some downturn in classifieds linage, but classifieds are an important part of our revenue stream—and the classifieds section requires the same level of design attention as other pages and packages in your newspaper.

to check
THE HEADER: Is it uncluttered, or are you trying to put too much there? How about clip art, bursts and the like? Too many elements make a classifieds header unappealing—and make your paper appear less professional. One element you don’t want to leave out: Your phone number. Give it prominent placement in the header and make sure you use it large enough, 24 point at the smallest. Your phone number is the front door to your classifieds store. If you want people to advertise in the classifieds, make it easy for them to get to you.
NUMBER OF COLUMNS: If you’re charging by the word, column width doesn’t really make a difference in revenue. So you can use six columns, a width that makes classifieds easier to read. If you charge by the line, narrower columns create more revenue. Still, I wouldn’t go to more than eight or nine columns. Anything narrower can torture the type.
TYPOGRAPHY: Ah—here’s the key to success in classifieds. If you can get the type right, you’ll have a classifieds section that advertisers will be happy to support—and readers will be happy to browse through at length. Items to consider include:
• Font: Go for a clean, legible sans serif. Helvetica or Arial will work well. Though I would not recommend either for use elsewhere in your paper, they do serve well for classifieds.
• Size: You really don’t need to go any larger than 8 point—if you’re using that good sans serif font.
• Spacing: You can keep classifieds tight. Spacing need be no more than 8.5 to 9 points.
• Set: If your columns are wide enough, it’s OK to set classifieds justified. But squeezing classifieds into narrow columns (as in the illustration) and setting them justified creates word spacing that makes you look careless. Consider going to flush left instead. I’ve seen some classifieds set centered but they’re just tough to read.
IN-COLUMN LABELS: Avoid the temptation to use reverses here. Sure, they stand out better, but they can also be so strong that they become more of a stumbling block than a stepping stone to easy reading. Instead, just try a bold rule above and below or an Oxford rule border. If you must use a reverse, try screening it back to 40 or 50 percent black. One last point: If you can, rid yourself of the numbers here, like “501-To Rent” or “333-Pets.” The numbers usually mean nothing to readers and can create confusion—especially if they’re out of sequence.
RULES: It’s a good idea to run a horizontal rule between your classified ads, to help separate them. These need be no more than .5 points wide, unless your advertiser pays an up-sell fee for something heavier. And, if your gutters are narrow, consider running .5-point rules there, too.
BORDERS: If an advertiser is willing to pay a premium for a special border, then go ahead and sell it. But let’s keep the options to a few. Puhleeze—no autumn leaves or little cutesy bunny rabbits.
COLOR: If you have color available throughout your classifieds section, it’s a sure way to up-sell your advertisers. Be careful, again, to control the options. You don’t want your classifieds pages to look like a hodgepodge of every color in the rainbow.
Design is important to every page in your newspaper. Take care to bring informed design thinking to your classifieds section, too.
Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact me at or at 803-327-3322.
If this column has been helpful, you may be interested in my books “Henninger on Design” and “101 Henninger Helpful Hints.” With their help, you’ll have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more at © Ed Henninger 2013

ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting, offering comprehensive newspaper design services including redesigns, workshops, staff training and evaluations. E-mail: On the Web: Phone: 803-327-3322.

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