In a digital world, data is one of our most essential commodities. With this being said, it is vital to understand how we can acquire this data quickly and legally. Web Scraping has been around for years now and is still being used today as a very effective tool for web automation.
This article will focus on different types of web scrapers and how they can be used to understand how web scraping works. This guide is informative yet straightforward to apply what you learn in your own business or project right away! So without further ado, let’s begin!
What is Web Scraping?
Web scraping is the process of automatically extracting data from websites. A web scraper tool extracts the data elements by crawling through the HTML code of a web page and then pulling the data element based on defined rules. The resulting data can be saved in various formats such as Excel, CSV, JSON, or XML.
Web scraping is commonly used to scrape website data for business intelligence purposes, market research, competitive analysis, and web analytics.
For example, a company might want to scrape competitor websites to see what products they sell and how much traffic they get. You can also use web scraping to extract contact information from LinkedIn profiles or find email addresses from websites.
Web Scraping: Is it Legal?
The answer to this question is not straightforward. Different countries and courts have made different judgments about what is and isn’t allowed under the given laws and statutes. And this area of law – known as cyber law – is still in its infancy.
Some general conclusions that you can draw from the precedents so far:
- Scraping public data from public websites for personal use does not violate laws or copyrights. The website terms of service might prohibit it, but they don’t hold up in court if they do.
- If you scrape a private website, the site owner could claim violation of their terms of service, which you agreed to when signing up for an account. The site owner could also try to claim that you unlawfully circumvented their technological measures to gain access to the data, but it would be difficult for them to prove this.
- If the scraping is done on a large scale, or if the scraped data is sold, then it can become a legal problem depending on what kind of scraped data is involved and which jurisdiction you are in.
Web Scrapers: How Do They Work?
Traditional web crawlers are designed with human-level intelligence, so they don’t download every page on every website all over again when they already saw this page before.
An intelligent crawler will remember which pages it downloaded previously and which ones it still needs to visit. A smart web scraper should have similar intelligence not to download empty pages or duplicate content from the same website.
Types of Web Scrapers
There are a few different web scrapers: browser extensions, desktop software, and cloud-based services.
Browser extension vs. Software
Browser plugins allow you to click a button in your web browser toolbar to start scraping data from a webpage automatically without going there manually each time you want to scrape something from that page again.
Self-built or Pre-built
Self-built applications involve programming your own crawler software in a language like Python or Java. In contrast, pre-built applications come ready to use with the extension already installed, so you just need to enter the website URL and wait for all the data to be extracted.
Cloud vs Local
The cloud approach helps access scraped data from multiple computers at once without worrying about syncing them up with each other. Still, it has some limitations in scraping speed/volume, tool customization availability, and API support.
Also, since the crawler is running somewhere else instead of your computer, it can raise suspicion if someone finds out that you are doing this for commercial purposes.
On the other hand, local applications give you complete control over everything, so they are better suited for heavy-duty scraping projects. It’s also much easier to create a custom API in desktop software than in an online service or browser extension where everything must be done through the browser.
Browser extensions usually don’t have too great a user interface because they are limited in available space. At the same time, desktop software and cloud-based services can provide you with more options to tweak how your web scraper works or interacts with website elements.
Desktop software is usually faster than both browser extensions and cloud-based scrapers, so if speed is essential for you, it’s better to pick one of these options instead.
What are Web Scrapers Used For?
Industry Statistics and Insights
Many benefits can be derived from extracting data from websites, such as identifying trends, updating industry knowledge, verifying information accuracy, comparing different companies/industries, etc.
Scraping data from company websites can help you build a prospect list that you can use for lead generation. You will be able to extract contact information like email addresses, phone numbers, and social media links, so it’s much easier to find the right person to talk to at the companies you are targeting.
Comparison Shopping Sites
Web scrapers can work on comparison shopping sites by providing product price comparisons on different online stores while also showing them where they can get the best deal.
For example, if there is an Amazon product page, its corresponding eBay listing, and some other relevant results shown on this website all in one place without having to search through multiple results pages manually.
Another bonus of using web scrapers is getting extra information about product reviews, seller ratings, and user feedback which is usually not available on standard comparison shopping sites.
Real Estate Listing Scraping
Using web scrapers to pull data from real estate websites is a common use case because the realtor will have all the listings in one place that you can then automatically download into a spreadsheet or CSV file.
The main advantage here is that instead of opening each listing individually and collecting the required information like price, location, and several rooms, you can do it all in one go with your automated scraper software. You will also extract more data than what’s presented on the website itself, such as photos and property diagrams.
Web scraping is a powerful tool that can help you gather lots of helpful information from websites without manually searching through pages and pages of results.
Using web scrapers will automate things like price comparison sites by pulling prices for millions of products across hundreds of leading retailers or building your own lead generation list that you can then use for email marketing, phone calls, or social media outreach.