Online Auction Obstacles

234: 4 Types of Content to Avoid While Advertising Online Auctions

Since starting my company in September of 2002, I’ve designed more than 16,000 newspaper, magazine, and banner ads for auctioneers. (That doesn’t include thousands of social media ads.) But my favorite ad I’ve ever seen in the auction industry isn’t one I designed. Back before Facebook was invented and before anyone had an iPhone in their pocket, an online bidding platform ran a full-page ad in Auctioneer. In it, two farmers were shown next to a large piece of John Deere farm equipment, and one of those farmers was quoted at the top of the ad: “Nobody around here would pay that much for this.” At the bottom of the page was a killer hook: “Exactly.”

In the years since that ad appeared, most of the auction industry has embraced online bidding and the power it has to pull in a wider buyer base. With our fiduciary responsibility to sellers to get the most for their assets as we can, the transition to online bidding makes sense. Of the 266 auctions I advertised during the first two quarters of this year, 208 (78%) were online only; and 26 (10%) offered simulcast online bidding. So, 88% of the auctions I advertised were online auctions. We all know online bidding brings nonlocal buyers to personal property and equipment. But multiple times this year, non-local buyers have bought rural and even commercial properties I’ve advertised—because they could bid from out of state.

You’d think that with my customer base mostly embracing online auctions they’d advertise their auctions as though they were online marketplaces. Often, however, they don’t. In fact, they ask me to spend our often-limited space on content that doesn’t interest people until they’ve arrived at the auctioneer’s website. Certain details about an auction don’t matter until a customer is interested in buying what auctioneers are selling. So, it doesn’t make sense to tell prospective buyers certain details until after they’ve perused your property or catalog of items. 

The point of all auction advertising—for online or offline auctions—is not to get people to an open house or an offline event. All advertising should point people to your website, where you can put as much content as you’d like. So, you shouldn’t have anything on your signs or in your ads that doesn’t push or draw potential buyers to your online platform. For auctioneers with one or more tracking pixels on your website, you also want to get prospects to that site as quickly as possible so you can capture user data and replicate interested parties in your online advertising. 

Superfluous information crowds the sales copy and image space that gets potential bidders to your bidding platform. In print advertising, that extra content leads to reduced font sizes as well as smaller or fewer photos. In online advertising, it replaces your most critical content. That crowded impression or misaligned content gives your brand a negative, unprofessional look.


To spare you from that, here are four things you can remove from your advertising to make your message clearer, your bait more attractive, and your hook more effective.

Open House or Inspection Information

I have to explain this idea more than any other to my clients. Ask yourself a simple question: if someone isn’t interested enough in your property or catalog of items to click to your website or type in the URL on your postcard, what makes you think they’d be interested enough to drive out to the asset location for an on-site inspection? Put the inspection information large and bold in a prominent place on your website but only on your website. That’s where the people most likely to inspect the asset(s) will be.

Driving Directions

The only time your advertising needs more than an address is if you’ve discovered that GPS technology doesn’t get people to the right spot. Any bidder that doesn’t know how to use GPS in 2022 is probably going to be a problematic online bidder for you. Giving driving directions in lieu of sales copy is sending people somewhere they don’t yet know they are willing to make a trip to see.

Bidding Ending Time 

If someone doesn’t know yet whether or not they want to bid in an auction, why would they care what hour of the day the auction ends? Short answer: they don’t. So, why give someone information they don’t need—information that crowds other content in your advertising? I would argue that you don’t even need to include the date the auction closes, either; and I have data to support that recommendation. But that’s a bridge too far for most auctioneers. From my experience, “Bid now!” and “Bid online now!” work better than an auction date at creating both website traffic and a sense of urgency. From the scores of auctioneer websites and proposals I’ve read, bidder urgency is one of the key benefits of auction marketing. So, I must assume the industry will eventually come around to believing the urgency premise they advertise to sellers—and go dateless in their advertising.

Load-Out Information 

I still have auctioneers who use valuable advertising space to list the date(s) and time(s) items must be picked up after an auction closes. While pickup times might be a deal breaker, why promote what might break the deal instead of the deal itself? Why show a pickup time when you could use that space to create more interest in the item(s) for sale?

Old habits die hard. They die more easily when we evaluate them through the filter of pragmatism. Our advertising improves after we ask ourselves what most interests the buyer and then cut everything that doesn’t serve that interest out of our advertising. We can supplement that content with secondary and tertiary details, legal parameters, and supporting documentation on our website. If the main draw of the asset(s) doesn’t get people to our website, those who don’t respond wouldn’t have been bidders anyway. And no amount of open house, driving directions, auction ending times, or load-out information will change that lack of interest.


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