To put it simply, web scraping is a popular method of acquiring data and getting content from open sources with minimal efforts. The method is based on using pre-trained algorithms to visit websites, where they will be checking all links to collect data from the specified divs. As the final result, you will have files, tables, and even databases with the structured data from the specified websites.
For most business and marketing professionals getting large volumes of information can be a very time-consuming and rather troublesome task. But with web scripting tools, this routine can be simplified. The combination of proper software to gather data and experienced data analytics is the most effective way to deal with large volumes of information and use it to your advantage to stay ahead of your direct competitors. Join us today to explore what benefits this amazing technology brings for your business and find out how companies are using it to gain the upper hand in the marketing wars.
Into the World of Web Scraping and Web Crawling
Before we start, we would like to point out that you must distinguish these two methods of collecting data. Crawling is basically the same activity that web search engines like Google do – bots (or crawlers) are looking online for any information. While web scraping is more specific and it targets specific websites, looks for certain data (e.g., price comparison), and packs it in files/tables for the bot owner to work with.
Scraping is similar to normal user activity on a website – one lands on the site, scrapes the information needed, writes it down in the brain, and maybe even sorts that data out. Web scraping does the same but with a more technological approach. Complex websites contain lots of information that can be invaluable for business (e.g., stock prices, descriptions, reviews, etc.). You may want to use that information for your needs, but in order to do that, you need to copy it on your hard drive or server in an acceptable format. Manual copy-pasting can be pretty tedious because you need to extract lots of information from a website. And if there is more than just one website, then it is practically impossible to do single handedly. This is where web scraping comes to the rescue.
Scraping programs will be your little helpers enabling you to extract data from websites into more useful formats. For example, you can use a web scraper to export a list of product names and prices from Amazon onto an Excel spreadsheet. With manual web scraping, you will never achieve the same efficiency as various software tools have. In addition to that, those tools can be less expensive and work at a faster rate. But you must bear in mind that while web scraping is not rocket science, it is not a child’s play either. Modern websites have different designs, tons of features, various processing algorithms, so you have to adapt and learn which tools to use, and how.
Web Scraping: How Does It Work?
First, you need to “feed” the program one or multiple links to load before scraping. Then your scraper will load the entire HTML code for the page. Advanced web scrapers can even render the entire site with CSS and JS elements.
Next, the scraper will extract all the data on the page or specific information selected by the user before the start of the procedure. Usually, you don’t really need to scrape a website fully, so pre-selecting the data you need on the page will save your time on the analysis stage. Let’s say you want to scrape a page on eBay or Amazon along with all listed products and prices, but you don’t need the reviews – let the program know your intentions and select what kind of data you really need.
When your data has been copied, the scraping program will output it in the format of your choice. Most scrapers offer you to choose between CSV and Excel spreadsheets, while advanced solutions have more options in-store, including JSON, which is the best choice for APIs.
Just like any other software on the market, web scrapers come in many different forms having different features on board. For instance, there are web scrapers in the form of browser extensions, but those are less powerful than the desktop analogues. Some tools can also scrape sites locally from your computer using the resources of your PC and your Internet connection or work on the cloud without any impact on your hardware.
Is Web Scraping Legal?
After reading the paragraphs above, you might question the legal side of using programs of this kind. Is not it a content theft? Or using them is like inviting legal troubles to your doorstep? Well, you should not worry about such things at all. You just need to understand a few things to start with web scraping. Here are a few guidelines for you to follow:
- Consider using robots.txt before you scrape data to define the legality of your plan. Robots.txt is a file with important information for web robots that scan the Internet. Before crawling any site, web robots check this file. It tells them which areas of the website shouldn’t be scanned and which are free to scrape.
- Crawl rate must be conservative. We would recommend not exceeding the limit of one request every 10 seconds. And don’t hit the servers too frequently.
- Schedule your scraping procedure to the periods with minimum load (peak-off hours).
- Use an API if provided.
- If you are scraping public data, there is nothing to worry about.
- Check if the content is under copyright or not. If it is not, everything is ok.
- Don’t gather sensitive user information.
- Adhere to use standards.
- Identify your scraping tool with a legitimate user agent string. You might need to create a page with an explanation – what are you doing, what’s the purpose, etc. Then you need to place the link in your user agent string that will lead to this page with your explanation.
- Never republish the scraped content and its derivative datasets without verifying the license or obtaining written permission.
If you follow these simple guidelines, you can be 100% sure that you’re doing web scraping legally.
Common Examples of Using Web Scraping
As we already said, both web scraping and web crawling have one main purpose – fetch the data you need from all available sources. There is a wide variety of uses for these techniques, and each business can adapt web scraping for their unique needs. The most common scenarios for using web scraping include the following:
- Lead generation. Allows gathering contact details (e.g., email ID, phone numbers of businesses or individuals).
- Brand monitoring and reputation tracking. The information is needed to actively build brand intelligence and monitor how a brand is perceived by the audience (helps to understand how customers feel about your products or services).Machine learning. Machines require lots of information to learn, and bots can gather huge amounts of data across millions of web pages whenever you want.
- Competitor analysis. Companies need to extract data, customer sentiment, etc. in a structured, usable format to deduce what marketing strategies their competitors are using.
- Financial analysis. Helps to get a financial statement into a more usable format. Then the data can be analyzed by experts for insights.
- Building websites that compare prices. Scraper bots not only collect prices but also copy product descriptions along with the product images. This information is important for comparison, analytics, and affiliation.
- Building websites with product catalogues. After finding a product catalogue, a bot can automatically scrape all the information provided in it.
- Creating job listings on job websites. Helps with extracting data from various job boards and displaying information in an aggregated way.
- MAP compliance monitoring. Retail channels are important for manufacturers, and monitoring them with scrape bots is one of the most effective solutions to detect anomalies (alerting on significant price changes on demand). Ensuring MAP (minimum advertised price) is not possible by checking the channels in a manual way. The algorithm allows analyzing all products and their prices hourly/daily/weekly.
- Social media analysis. Retrieves information from social media, which allows you to gauge consumer trends, find out how visitors react to ad campaigns, etc.
- News monitoring. Lets you analyze the information about current events and also keep track of the news surrounding certain products, organizations, or public figures. This way, you can study the social trends and extract insights out of the text.
- SEO monitoring. Allows you to understand how content moves in rankings over time and whether you need to enhance it or not to get better results. Also, can help you deduce the best keywords for attracting new customers.
- Developing specific apps for business. Lets you customize your app according to the needs of any business and apply its prowess to drive business growth.
Tips for Web Scraping
When you’re ready to start working on your web scraping project, there are a few additional things you should keep in mind, in addition to the guidelines mentioned above. This is what you should stay away from to be sure that your scraping goes as planned:
- Do a quick check of the website you’re about to scrape – if it contains any broken links, better avoid it.
- Don’t add sites with many missing values in the data fields to your scraping list. You won’t extract enough valuable information to work with because it is simply missing, so you will just waste your time.
- Stay away from all websites with a CAPTCHA authentication.
- Keep in mind that some sources use looped pagination. It means that your scraper will start scanning the already scraped pages again after checking the last page on the site.
- Iframe-based websites and web scraping don’t get along.
- Some sites limit or completely block scraping after reaching a certain connection threshold. Different user headers or activating a proxy can help you finish the scraping procedure, but you need to understand why those actions were taken against you. It means that the website owners don’t tolerate web crawling and web scraping, and if you continue doing it against their will, it will be considered illegal.
Web scraping has been around since the dawn of the Internet. But today, it has become completely automated and enhanced thanks to a wide array of great tools. Just don’t use those tools mindlessly ignoring legal aspects of the question. Every web scraping project needs careful planning and precise execution, do it right, and you will get a lot of valuable data that will be useful for your business. After researching the use of web scrapers by different companies in different markets, we’ve determined five main benefits of using this method:
- Competitor monitoring: allows obtaining the latest information about the changes done by your rivals on the market.
- Pricing optimization: simplifies the process of setting up prices and correcting them.
- Lead generation: instead of buying low-quality leads just to retrieve leads’ contact info online by legally scraping any site you want.
- Making investment decisions: investing is always risky and requires historical data analysis to avoid possible mistakes. Also, historical data can be used for creating machine learning models that will help you with predicting results.
- Product optimization: collect customers’ feedback and reviews to understand what people like in your product and what you can improve.
The list of things you can do with web scraping and web crawling is practically endless. In the end, it is all about what you are going to do with the data you have gathered and how valuable you can make it. There is a number of ways to turn this information to your benefit. For huge companies with their own tech departments, it would be advisable to purchase an advanced web scraper that can perform all routines automatically or with minimal human intervention. For smaller businesses, there is another, more effective approach, – buy software, do some coding, and learn how to use it without specialists.
But if you don’t feel like managing this kind of things on your own, you can always hire a third-party company to outsource all your web scraping activities. Just make sure to hire a reputable organization with proven expertise in this field. Otherwise, you are risking that the information collected will be used to run questionable activities. SSA Group has years of experience in extracting and analyzing scraped data for our clients. We even developed our own web scraping solution that can compete with the market leaders. So, if you need assistance, don’t hesitate to contact us whenever you want to discuss the projects you have in mind.