What’s the best way to search craigslist?

*Note that the Tempest Blog and SearchTempest.com are in no way affiliated with or endorsed by craigslist.

Craigslist clearly has a fantastic wealth of classified ads available in every conceivable category. However, their search capabilities are relatively limited. Fortunately, there are a number of useful tools out there to help with searching craigslist. Which one is best really depends on what you’re hoping to find. Here’s our completely biased rundown:

For the Locals

First off, if you’re really just interested in your own city, and you’re not shopping for an apartment or a car, your best bet is probably just to search craigslist directly. (And you’re probably not actually reading this…) In case you are reading though, when searching directly, keep their advanced search syntax options in mind. They can often come in handy, allowing you to combine multiple searches into one.

Globetrotters

On the opposite side of the spectrum, say you want to find something on craigslist, but you don’t care where in the world it is, or what category it’s in. In that case, your best bet is simply to use Google’s ‘site’ operator:

your search terms site:craigslist.org

One downside is that in many countries craigslist uses the country’s own top level domain instead of .org. (For example, craigslist uses .ca in Canada and .co.uk in the UK.) With the query above, Google won’t catch those. Of course, you can add them to your query, like this

your search terms site:craigslist.org OR site:craigslist.ca OR site:craigslist.co.uk

but that quickly becomes tedious if you really want to search everywhere. And of course, this method doesn’t let you narrow your search either; you’re basically stuck with results from (almost) everywhere and from every category, even if you’re only looking for, say, a motorcycle in your home state. That said, it can’t be beat for speed or simplicity.

Power Searchers

One option to have a bit more control over where you’re searching is the tool we came up with: SearchTempest.com. With SearchTempest, you can choose exactly which craigslist cities you want to search, in a couple of different ways. The easiest option is to enter your zip (or postal) code and the distance that you’re willing to travel. However, if you prefer you can also search by state, or even choose specific cities. You can select the category and subcategory to search, as well as only show results since a given date. And finally you can get results from eBay, Amazon, and Oodle (Facebook Marketplace) at the same time (but only if you want them).

Perfectionists

SearchTempest isn’t perfect though (although we certainly try!) Its default mode is powered by Google, so it should offer basically the same results as the Google method, just with a bit more flexibility in terms of where to search. One downside to this though, is that Google does occasionally miss craigslist posts, or at least takes a while to find some. (Most posts are found within minutes, but some take hours or longer to show up, especially in less popular cities and categories.)

If you really want to be sure to catch everything, especially if you’re searching for something obscure, using craigslist directly might be a better option. However, if you still want to check multiple cities, SearchTempest has an alternate mode called Direct Results that we hope offers the best of both worlds.

Basically Direct Results mode allows you to open results pages directly at craigslist.org, but adds a little navigation window to quickly flip through cities. So you’re getting results straight from the source, just as if you’d searched directly, but you save the effort of manually typing your search into each site. It still takes a bit longer than the Google-powered option, but you’re seeing exactly the same results as if you searched each city manually.

Serial Searchers

Now, if you tend to run the same searches repeatedly, you have a couple options to speed up that process. First of all, if you’re only checking a handful of cities, one great technique is simply to bookmark the craigslist results page for each city, and put all the bookmarks in a folder. Then you just use your browser’s option to open all bookmarks in that folder in tabs, and you’ll have the newest results for all the cities in your search.

If you prefer a bit more automation, craigslist supports RSS feeds, which are built for this sort of thing. Each craigslist results page has an orange RSS link, which you can click to add the feed to your reader of choice. (If you don’t have a favorite, we recommend Feedly. No affiliation – we’ve just found it to be the best free option so far.) You can create a folder for each search, and add the results feeds for all the cities you’re interested in. Then just click on that folder to view the new results from all of them in one place. It keeps track of which posts you’ve already seen too, so time is wasted retreading the same ground.

If you’d like to speed up the setup a bit, SearchTempest can help with that too. Just run a search at SearchTempest.com, then click the “Feeds for this search” link at the top-right. It will generate a file that you can import into Feedly (or your reader of choice) with the matching feeds for every city in your search, saving you the effort of adding them one by one.

Car Buffs and Vagabonds

While all the options above will work regardless of what you’re seeking, for some searches there are better alternatives. For apartments, Padmapper is a cool site that will show you results from craigslist and several other sites, all on a map as the name implies. Craigslist has also recently added a map option, but it’s not as slick as Padmapper (yet, anyway), and obviously lacks results from other sites. (We’re not affiliated with Padmapper; I just think it’s cool.)

If you’re looking for a car (or truck, or van…) we’d like to think AutoTempest.com (our other site) is worth a look. It ties into SearchTempest, so you get everything mentioned above, plus it adds results from all the other top car classifieds sites: AutoTrader (no affiliation), Cars.com, CarsDirect, Oodle, eBay Motors, and more. Also, it simplifies things like specifying model years. It is possible to specify a range of years using craigslist’s advanced keyword syntax, like this

1998|1999|2000|2001|2002|2003|2004

but with AutoTempest you don’t have to bother; we do it for you.

In Summary

  • Searching a single city? Just use craigslist.
  • Don’t care where, just want results fast? Google’s site: operator should do the trick.
  • Want to choose where to search? Try SearchTempest.com.
  • Want to get every result? Try RSS feeds if you’re running the same search a lot, or Direct Results mode otherwise.
  • Searching for a car? Try AutoTempest.com. An apartment? Padmapper.

Did I miss anything? Let us know which tools you use to search for classifieds in the comments!