Web scraping, the internet-focused version of data scraping, is an important tool for gathering information in the digital age. In this article, I’ll cover why you’d want to use it and the importance of web scraping.
Before we get into the specifics of web scraping, let’s start with a quick overview of the broader term, data scraping.
What Is Data Scraping?
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Data scraping, in simplified terms, is a program that extracts data from a source that was designed to be readable by an end-user.
Normally, when a program is pulling data from another program, it’s already in a data structure that the computer can easily parse. Data scraping comes into play when it’s pulling info it wants from something that was intended for human consumption, rather than optimized for machine use.
It has multiple subvariants, two of which are screen scraping and web scraping. I’ll go over the importance of web scraping shortly, but here’s a brief explanation of screen scraping first.
Screen scraping is taking visual data and copying its contents for another purpose, such as pulling text out of a PDF. It has old roots as a tech term. Originally it was a program replicating human usage behavior to extract data from an antiquated system that you no longer had access to the source code for.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to web scraping.
What Is Web Scraping?
Web scraping is a younger relative of screen scraping. It’s the process of a program extracting data from, obviously, the internet. Since the program, or rather, bot, doesn’t have access to the backend of where it’s snooping around for information, it has to make do with what’s available on the surface.
Web scraping can be done at just about any scale. You can manually run a little algorithm to pull some data from a single website. Conversely, you can have an advanced bot running thousands of requests through multiple proxies. It can dig up data from numerous sites simultaneously.
However, even at a fairly small scale, you’re going to need to use a proxy. Because bots accessing a website may have malicious intent, most sites have protections in place to keep them at arm’s length. Whether it’s grabbing information or taking part in a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, they run captchas and ban any IP addresses that make too many requests.
If you’re unfamiliar, a DDoS attack is when an online service is flooded. Generally, an absolute ton of requests intentionally disrupt its services, courtesy of bots. There are a lot of scoundrels out there, and their reasons for wanting to make DDoS attacks vary.
Regardless, I’ll go over the relation of proxies and web scraping a little later. Continuing on. Something else along the lines of web scraping that you may have heard of is web crawling. Rather than defining it, let’s go over the overlaps and differences between scraping and crawling.
Web Scraping Vs Web Crawling
Large-scale operations follow threads beyond the surface area when you shift from web scraping into web crawling territory. Web crawler bots, called spiders, are even more sophisticated bots than those you need for scraping. Yes, they’re called spiders because they crawl on the World Wide Web. Classic nerd humor.
Web scraping is generally more focused than crawling is. The scraper is going after specific information on targeted websites as per your request. The crawler, however, will keep following links it finds. It wanders all over the place, collecting massive caches of indexing information. For example, Google finds the sites it recommends for your searches based on the results of the crawlers it runs.
One downside of web scraping is that it is only pulling raw information. While the bot is gathering info it doesn’t check for inconsistencies. It doesn’t homogenize how that data is documented. The bot also doesn’t concern itself with making sure that all of the data it extracted is easily readable. It looks like a giant mess before you manipulate it into a usable state through a process called data parsing.
What Is Data Parsing?
Data parsing is the process of splitting up a string of data to analyze it and then separating it into its constituent parts. Once the parsing program has an idea of what it’s working with, it can then convert it into a more readily understood format so you can put all of that data to good use.
There are a lot of libraries out there to use when making your own parsing algorithms. I’ll cover what they are, include links to them, and go over the pros and cons of building a parser versus paying for a professionally made one in a future article.
Now that you are familiar with what a web scraper is, I’ll cover some use cases as to why you may want to consider running a web scraping script.
Web Scraper Use Cases
There are as many reasons to use web scrapers to collect information as there are reasons to go on the internet in the first place. You can see the importance of web scraping in the trimmed-down collection of examples below.
- E-Commerce & Retail: monitoring commodity prices so you know when to buy things to flip, when to buy for yourself, or how to price competitively.
- Finance & Investment Research: every source of information is invaluable when making optimal investment decisions. Collecting information from social media, geolocations, and monitoring real-time online commodity value shifts can give you an edge over the competition.
- Real Estate: the real estate sector has fully embraced the internet. Realtors will list their properties across several websites for more visibility. Potential customers dig through hundreds of listings before making their decisions regarding renting, buying, or selling. Both sides can benefit greatly by gathering and processing relevant data.
- Job Data & Human Capital: long gone are the days of in-person paper resumes. When looking for job listings or potential future employees, being able to collate data from multiple sites can be the difference in finding a perfect match.
- Travel, Hotel & Airline Data: perforce of being consumer-driven industries, being able to anticipate customer wants and needs, and not falling behind your competition’s innovations, can make a world of difference.
- Sales & Marketing: the importance of collecting as much relevant data as possible for marketing is rather self-evident. Targeting the right audience, how to reach them in a meaningful way, what prices to set, who your competition is, and so much more.
- Sentiment Analysis: political groups can go over text extracted from social media platforms. This way, they gauge if members are for or against them. Similarly, a seller can determine a potential shopper’s inclinations by going over their reviews.
- Social Media Scraping: in short, gathering information on users. Content creators can use this information to determine what’s trending. This way, they can make relevant content that is en vogue.
- Search Engine Optimization: you can gauge your site’s reach, dig through google for keywords, and find some expired domains that are up for grabs.
Why Is Using A Proxy So Important?
As I briefly mentioned earlier, most websites have protections against bots set up. Your web scraper throwing hundreds of requests at a website in a short timespan is a huge red flag that a bot is targeting them. This is a surefire way to get your IP address banned.
Ah, right. If you’re unfamiliar, your IP address is much like your street address. It is a series of characters that represents where you are for internet traffic to come and go.
A proxy acts as the intermediary between you and the websites you visit. It masks your IP address by hiding it behind another.
While there are a lot of types of proxies out there, in regards to web scraping, you’re going to want to use a rotating residential proxy. Receiving websites will interpret them as being from different sources each time the IP changes.
That way you get your data, don’t get banned, and get to keep on scraping. Otherwise, your attempts at data collection will come to a very abrupt halt before you get anywhere.
Now that you’re familiar with what web scraping is and saw some examples of its numerous applications, it’s time to harvest the fruits of the internet for yourself. No matter what your data needs are, web scraping will fulfill them.
Regardless of your intended scale of operations, you’ll need a good reliable rotating proxy to help you. KocerRoxy will have you reliably covered at a low cost. Since you know the importance of web scraping, it’s time to get started!