Advanced Craigslisting

A while back I wrote a bit about how I’m using a little web-based service called IFTTT to automate the Craigslist searches that I tend to do a lot.

It’s been two years of farming here, and we still use Craigslist constantly to get stuff that we need like goats, grain bins, feed bins, IBC totes, fence posts and a tractor.

The best deals on Craigslist tend to go very quickly, so having IFTTT tip you off about new Craigslist ads can be a real benefit.

While I really like IFTTT, it’s primary limitation was the quality of the search query that you define.  I had initially put in some rather basic search queries. I’d just type in the normal stuff that I would search craigslist for.  If I wanted a grain bin, I’d tell IFTTT to search for “grain bin”.

This strategy works, but it does return a lot of results that are just noise. Craigslist searches the entire title and content of a post for the terms in your search query.  As a result the query “feed bin” may return results for a Minolta copier (with auto-feed and 10-bin sorting!) that are entirely irrelevant. You have some rudimentary control by narrowing the category you search in.  You can cut out most of the copiers by searching for “feed bin” within the farm & garden category.  This does risk missing out on a few really good deals where the person who posted the ad has miscategorized it (same goes for misspelling).

This still leaves us with one big problem.

A feed bin is not always a feed bin. As with a lot of farm equipment, there are often multiple names for the same object.  Depending on which farmer you ask, you may hear about their “feed bin” “bulk tank” “grain bin” or “feed tank” all while referring to the same piece of equipment.   You could add a new IFTTT recipe to cover each of these name variations, but then you will undoubtedly add to the “noise” that your search results return.  Now you’re returning dozens of new listings every day for irrelevant listings for copiers, combines, aquariums and grain dryers.

This is where a good search string can really help you out, and since you’re letting IFTTT automate the search, you only have to come up with a complicated search string once.


It’s time to learn advanced Craigslisting:

When you type “feed bin” into the Craigslist search box, Craigslist sees:

feed AND bin

Space = AND


But what if you want an OR?

On Craigslist you can signify OR with a bar | (that’s Alt 124 for you PC users).

Using an OR we could search

“feed bin | grain bin | bulk bin”

and Craigslist would see

feed AND bin OR grain AND bin OR bulk AND bin


To winnow down things a bit more we could use parentheses to make groups of search terms.

It’s a bit redundant to search for feed bin, grain bin and bulk bin when they all share the word “bin.”

We could instead search for

“( feed | bulk | grain ) bin”

which Craigslist would interpret as

feed OR bulk OR grain AND bin


Using two groups would widen the search a bit more

“( feed | bulk | grain ) ( bin | tank )”

which Craigslist would interpret as

feed OR bulk OR grain AND bin OR tank


If you’re still getting some consistently irrelevant results you can use a minus sign to indicate terms to exclude from your results.

You may want to exclude results about grain dryers by adding “-dryer” to your search string.

That would make

“( feed | bulk | grain ) ( bin | tank ) -dryer”

which Craigslist would interpret as

feed OR bulk OR grain AND bin OR tank BUT NOT dryer

You have to be careful when excluding results (especially excluding numbers) as it looks at the ENTIRE content of the post for prohibited words.

It’s possible to exclude results for larger grain bins by adding “-000” (excluding bins with multi-thousand bushel capacities) but you’ll also exclude anything with an even $1000 price or any listing with a “000” in the phone number.


If you want to get really fancy (and try to nab the good deals that get overlooked due to spelling errors) you can add a “wildcard” to your search using an asterisk.

Searching for “grain bi*” will let Craigslist return that odd listing that some unfortunate fellow posted for a “grain bim” but it will also return “grain binder”.

On a related note, never search Craigslist for “barley” and expect to get many ads for the cereal grain crop.  You will return plenty of results for “barley used” kids toys & clothes.


These advanced Craigslist searches are quite helpful when you’re looking for a very specific item in a fairly wide category.  For example, we’re currently looking for a commercial chest freezer with a sliding-glass display top.  While there are tons of home and commercial freezers and refrigerators on Craigslist, a display top freezer is somewhat rare.  They are also known as “ice cream freezers” which only adds to the problem.  After a bit of fiddling around I came up with a search string that works pretty well:

“( ice cream | display | glass ) ( true | kelvinator | arctic air | commercial | nsf ) freezer”

Now if anyone posts one on Craigslist in my area, I’ll be notified within 15 minutes.  Not bad.

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