Out of all of the sites out there to scrape, none is quite as difficult as Craigslist. The site is set up in a way that makes it very hard to scrape data, and it’s because of its API.
While some sites have APIs that contain information that you can easily scrape, Craigslist’s API is set up differently. Instead of allowing you to pull data, Craigslist’s API is created for people to post data. You can use the API to post data in bulk, but it isn’t made for pulling data.
This API might leave you banging your head against the wall, but it makes sense why Craigslist would set it up this way. After all, people who sell things in bulk often utilize the site, so by allowing them to post in bulk, they save a ton of time. Craigslist is basically offering good customer service through the API. People can post countless apartments to rent or offer an entire lot of vehicles with the click of a button. That’s why it is so popular with people who want to sell things.
While it is frustrating, it isn’t impossible to scrape data from Craigslist. You just need to choose the right Craigslist scraping service and follow some tips. Then, you will have the data you need.
Choosing a Craigslist Scraping Service
The first thing you need to do is choose a scraping service that can attach to your Craigslist proxy that will let you harvest all of the data you need from the site. While some people choose to develop tools on their own, it is much easier to get a tool that is ready to go. Of course, if you are skilled at web development, you can try your hand at it. Just remember that the API is basically backward, so you need to design your tool to work around that. Otherwise, it will be useless.
There is a ton of solid options out there, but, of course, some stand out among the others. Let’s look at a solid free option and a quality paid option. Then, you can decide which one you prefer for your scraping needs.
Free Scraping Service
Scrapy is one of the best in the business when it comes to pulling data from Craigslist. Of course, it is not just for Craigslist. It’s an all-purpose solution, so you can use it for all of your scraping needs. It doesn’t cost a thing, and it’s a breeze to configure. Plus, it comes with all kinds of documentation and tutorials. You just need to look at the tutorials and you will be able to move forward with the job. It’s pretty easy to use if you want to complete basic tasks. If you want to do something more advanced, you will need to immerse yourself in the documentation to find out how, but you can get it done.
Paid Scraping Service
If you want something that is incredibly powerful, go with Visual Web Ripper. This graphical scraper is so easy to use that you basically just point it in the right direction and it handles the rest for you. It also has tons of tutorials, so you shouldn’t have any problems using this scraper. You can browse through countless video tutorials to get the information you need to move forward.
There is a drawback, though. It’s a little pricey. You can try it out with a free trial, but you will only be able to scrape up to 100 elements and your trial will expire in 15 days. Then, you will need to pony up $350 to continue using it. The price is high, but it does include free lifetime upgrades, so that is worth noting. If you plan to scrape Craigslist and other sites for years and years to come, this might be a good investment.
Which Scraper Is for You?
These are just two of your options, but they represent the best of the free and the best of the paid choices. If you want a quality web scraper, you can’t go wrong with one of these.
You might be thinking, “But what about the web scrapers that are made specifically for Craigslist? Shouldn’t I get one of those?”
While it might sound like a good idea, it actually isn’t. Scrapers made specifically for Craigslist are small and limited. After you get your data from Craigslist, you will want to branch out to other websites, and you won’t be able to do that if your scraper only works on Craigslist. Instead of limiting yourself, get a scraper that works on a variety of sites. That way, you can get the most use out of the scraper. You can get all of the data you need without downloading or buying multiple scrapers.
Once you choose a scraper, you will be ready to get your proxies.
Craigslist Proxies – The Key to Safe Scraping
There’s something that you need to know about scraping Craigslist. The site does everything it can to stop scrapers. If you’re detected, you’ll get banned from the site. You won’t get your data, and you won’t be able to access the site. That’s the perfect example of a lose-lose situation.
So how does Craigslist detect scrapers in action? It all comes down to the IP address. If the same IP address makes one request after the next, the site will assume it is being scraped. It won’t check what you are doing. It will simply ban your IP address and then go out to find more people scraping the site.
Fortunately, there is a pretty simple solution to this problem. You can use a proxy to hide your identity. Proxies send traffic through different web servers, which changes the IP address. That means that Craigslist won’t notice that you’re scraping data since the requests will come from different IP addresses. Your identity and actions will remain hidden, so you can easily scrape the data you need.
Configuring Your Proxies
How you configure your proxies depends on the Craigslist scraper tool that you use. If you use Visual Web Ripper, you need to head over to the “Proxies” tab and enter the information. It has a bunch of configuration options, so look through them and decide how you want to run your proxies.
If you use Scrapy, it’s important to note that it is a little more difficult to configure the proxies. You will need to go through the documentation provided to set up your proxy. That’s normal when you go with a free program. You have to dig into the code a little bit to configure it to your liking. It can be done, though. It might take a little bit of time, but you will be up and running after a bit.
Deploy the Tool
Take the time to set everything up, and then it will finally be time to use your tool. Look through the tool’s settings and make any changes before you deploy it. Simple tweaks, like limiting the number of parallel requests, will help everything go more smoothly. Remember, you don’t want Craigslist to know you’re scraping data, and while a proxy will hide you, you still need to be subtle when scraping.
When you start the scraper, it will go out and pull the data for you. Then, it will likely push it out to a CSV file. You can easily open the file with Google Docs or Microsoft Excel. Then, sort the information and use it for your needs.
Now that you know how to scrape Craigslist, let’s look at what you can do with the data.
Using Craigslist Data
People scrape Craigslist for a variety of reasons. Look at your various options so you will know what to do with the data that you collect from the site. Keep in mind that these are just some options. If you want to use the data in a way that isn’t listed, feel free to move forward with your plan. There are lots of ways to use the data, so find the way that works best for you.
Some people scrape Craigslist for personal reasons. Let’s say you are looking for an apartment to rent. You can scrape all of the listings to see what options you have out there. This is much faster than going from city to city on Craigslist and sorting through data. You will have a nice list of data you can look through to make your decision. Then, you can get your dream apartment without all of the work. This is just one example. You can also use a scraper to find other big-ticket items you want to purchase, such as vehicles or furniture. There are lots of high-value items on Craigslist, so you might as well use a scraper to find them.
Turning a Profit
You can also use the information to buy items and then sell them for a profit. Let’s say a hot performer is about to hit the stage in your town. Tickets are sold out and they are going for top dollar on reseller sites. You can scrape Craigslist to find tickets for sale. If you find some cheap tickets, buy them up and then resell them. There is a risk with this, but if you’re smart about it, you can turn a nice profit quickly and easily. Just make sure you can make enough money to make it worth your while. If you will only bring in a few bucks, it’s not worth the effort. However, if you can make $100 a pop, it’s worth your time.
Lead generation is also a popular reason people scrape data on Craigslist. The “Wanted” section is full of potential leads. You can scrape that section to find people who are looking for something you can provide. Then, contact the person to offer your services.
You can also use the site to determine pricing. If you sell something that is popular on Craigslist, you can scrape the data and find out what it is going for. Then, you can offer it for a little bit less. This goes back to basic marketing. Find a price point and go a little lower. Then, watch your sales go up.
Finally, you can use the data to spy on your competitors. Find out what keywords they use in their listings and look at their descriptions. This will give you a much better idea of how to attract people if you are trying to sell on Craigslist. Borrowing from competitors is a tried and true method, and your scraping tool can help you with this task.
Get Started with Craigslist Scraping Today
Now you have the information you need for scraping Craigslist. Gather your tools so you can get move forward quickly and easily. Then, get ready to gather all of the data you need. From price points to leads, you will find everything you want on this site.
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