What is web scraping?

In today’s competitive world everybody is looking for ways to innovate and make use of new technologies. Web scraping (also called web data extraction or data scraping) provides a solution for those who want to get access to structured web data in an automated fashion. Web scraping is useful if the public website you want to get data from doesn’t have an API, or it does, but provides only limited access to the data.

In this article, we are going to shed some light on web scraping, here’s what you will learn:

  • What is web scraping?
  • The basics of web scraping
  • What is the web scraping process?
  • What is it used for? - top use cases
  • The best resources to learn more about web scraping

What is web scraping?

Web scraping is the process of collecting structured web data in an automated fashion. It’s also called web data extraction. Some of the main use cases of web scraping include price monitoring, price intelligence, news monitoring, lead generation and market research among many others.

In general, web data extraction is used by people and businesses who want to make use of the vast amount of publicly available web data to make smarter decisions.

If you’ve ever copy and pasted information from a website, you’ve performed the same function as any web scraper, only on a microscopic, manual scale. Unlike the mundane, mind-numbing process of manually extracting data, web scraping uses intelligent automation to retrieve hundreds, millions, or even billions of data points from the internet’s seemingly endless frontier.

Web scraping is popular

Web scraping has seen quite an increase in popularity in the last 10 years, based on Google trends:

web scraping trend

And it should not be surprising because web scraping provides something really valuable that nothing else can: it gives you structured web data from any public website.

More than a modern convenience, the true power of web scraping lies in its ability to build and power some of the world’s most revolutionary business applications. ‘Transformative’ doesn’t even begin to describe the way some companies use web scraped data to enhance their operations, informing executive decisions all the way down to individual customer service experiences.

The basics of web scraping

It’s extremely simple, in truth, and works by way of two parts: a web crawler and a web scraper. The web crawler is the horse, and the scraper is the chariot. The crawler leads the scraper, as if by the hand, through the internet, where it extracts the data requested.

The crawler

A web crawler, which we generally call a “spider,” is an artificial intelligence that browses the internet to index and search for content by following links and exploring, like a person with too much time on their hands. In many projects you first “crawl” the web or one specific website to discover URLs which then you pass on to your scraper.

The scraper

A web scraper is a specialized tool designed to accurately and quickly extract data from a web page. Web scrapers vary widely in design and complexity, depending on the project. An important part of every scraper is the data locators (or selectors) that are used to find the data that you want to extract from the HTML file - usually xpath, css selectors, regex or a combination of them is applied.

The web scraping process

If you do it yourself

This is what a general DIY web scraping process looks like:

  1. Identify target website
  2. Collect URLs of the pages where you want to extract data from
  3. Make a request to these URLs to get the HTML of the page
  4. Use locators to find the data in the HTML
  5. Save the data in a JSON or CSV file or some other structured format

Simple enough, right? It is! If you just have a small project. But unfortunately, there are quite a few challenges you need to tackle if you need data at scale. For example, maintaining the scraper if the website layout changes, managing proxies, executing javascript or working around antibots. These are all deeply technical problems that can eat up a lot of resources. That’s part of the reason many businesses choose to outsource their web data projects.

If you outsource it

1. Our team gathers your requirements regarding your project.
2. Our veteran team of web scraping experts write the scraper(s) and set up the infrastructure to collect your data and structure it based on your requirements.
3. Finally, we deliver the data in your desired format and desired frequency.
Ultimately, the flexibility and scalability of web scraping ensures your project parameters, no matter how specific, can be met with ease. Fashion retailers inform their designers with upcoming trends based on web scraped insights, investors time their stock positions, and marketing teams overwhelm the competition with deep insights, all thanks to the burgeoning adoption of web scraping as an intrinsic part of everyday business.

Price intelligence

In our experience, price intelligence is the biggest use case for web scraping. Extracting product and pricing information from e-commerce websites, then turning it into intelligence is an important part of modern ecommerce companies that want to make better pricing/marketing decisions based on data.

How web pricing data and price intelligence can be useful:

  • Dynamic Pricing
  • Revenue Optimization
  • Competitor Monitoring
  • Product Trend Monitoring
  • Brand and MAP Compliance

Market research

Market research is critical – and should be driven by the most accurate information available. High quality, high volume, and highly insightful web scraped data of every shape and size is fueling market analysis and business intelligence across the globe.

  • Market Trend Analysis
  • Market Pricing
  • Optimizing Point of Entry
  • Research & Development
  • Competitor Monitoring

Alternative data for finance

Unearth alpha and radically create value with web data tailored specifically for investors. The decision-making process has never been as informed, nor data as insightful – and the world’s leading firms are increasingly consuming web scraped data, given its incredible strategic value.

  • Extracting Insights from SEC Filings
  • Estimating Company Fundamentals
  • Public Sentiment Integrations
  • News Monitoring

Real Estate

The digital transformation of real estate in the past twenty years threatens to disrupt traditional firms and create powerful new players in the industry. By incorporating web scraped product data into everyday business, agents and brokerages can protect against top-down online competition and make informed decisions within the market.

  • Appraising Property Value
  • Monitoring Vacancy Rates
  • Estimating Rental Yields
  • Understanding Market Direction

News & Content Monitoring

Modern media can create outstanding value or an existential threat to your business - in a single news cycle. If you’re a company that depends on timely news analyses, or a company that frequently appears in the news, web scraping news data is the ultimate solution for monitoring, aggregating and parsing the most critical stories from your industry.

  • Investment Decision Making
  • Online Public Sentiment Analysis
  • Competitor Monitoring
  • Political Campaigns
  • Sentiment Analysis

Lead generation

Lead generation is a crucial marketing/sales activity for all businesses. In the 2020 Hubspot report, 61% of inbound marketers said generating traffic and leads was their number 1 challenge. Fortunately, web data extraction can be used to get access to structured lead lists from the web.

Brand monitoring

In today’s highly competitive market, it's a top priority to protect your online reputation. Whether you sell your products online and have a strict pricing policy that you need to enforce or just want to know how people perceive your products online, brand monitoring with web scraping can give you this kind of information.

Business automation

In some situations it can be cumbersome to get access to your data. Maybe you have some data on your own website or on your partner’s website that you need in a structured way. But there’s no easy internal way to do it and it makes sense to create a scraper and simply grab that data. As opposed to trying to work your way through complicated internal systems.

MAP monitoring

Minimum advertised price (MAP) monitoring is the standard practice to make sure a brand’s online prices are aligned with their pricing policy. With tons of resellers and distributors it’s impossible to monitor the prices manually. That’s why web scraping comes handy because you can keep an eye on your products’ prices without lifting a finger.

Learn more about web scraping

Here at Scrapinghub we have been in the web scraping industry for 12 years. We have helped extract web data for more than 1,000 clients ranging from Government Agencies and Fortune 100 companies, to early stage startups and individuals. During this time we gained a tremendous amount of experience and expertise in web data extraction. 

Here’s some of our best resources if you want to deepen your web scraping knowledge:

 

Have a web scraping project in mind?

Contact us today if you have a project in mind or try our tools to finish the job yourself - like Scrapy Cloud, Crawlera, and Splash.

Need data you can rely on?

Tell us about your project or start using our scraping tools today.

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