Have you ever thought of all the possibilities web scraping provides and how many benefits it can unlock for your business? Surely, you have!
But at the same time there were a lot of thoughts about the hurdles appearing – possible blocking, the system being sophisticated, difficulties in getting JS/AJAX data, scaling up challenges, maintaining, requiring above-the-average skill. And even if you don’t give up and keep working, your efforts can be completely derailed by the structure changes in the website. Don’t worry about that! There’s a simple Beginners Guide to web scraping. We did our best to put it together so even if you don’t have a technical background or lack relevant experience, you can still use it as a handbook. So you can get all the advantages web scraping provides and implement the juicy features into your business.
Let’s get started!
In short, web scraping allows you to extract data from the websites, so it can be saved in a file on your machine, so it can be accessed on a spreadsheet later on.
Usually you can only view the downloaded web page but not extract data. Yes, it is possible to copy some parts of it manually but this way is too time-consuming and not scalable. Web scraping extracts reliable data from the picked pages, so the process becomes completely automated. The received data can be used for business intelligence later on.
In other words, one can work with any kind of data, as far web scraping works perfectly fine with vast quantities of data, as well as different data types.
Images, text, emails, even phone numbers – all will be extracted up to your business’ needs. For some projects specific data can be needed, for example, financial data, real estate data, reviews, price or competitor data whatever. Using web scraping tools it is fast and easy to extract it as well. But the best thing is that at the end you get the extracted data in a format of your choice. It can be plain text, JSON or CSV.
Surely, there are lots of ways to extract data, but here there’s the easiest and the most reliable one. Here’s how it works.
The first simple step in any web scraping program (also called a “scraper”) is to request the target website for the contents of a specific URL.
In return, the scraper gets the requested information in HTML format. Remember, HTML is the file type used to display all the textual information on a webpage.
HTML is a markup language, having a simple and clear structure. Parsing applies to any computer language, taking the code as bunches of text. It produces a structure in memory, which the computer can understand and work with.
Sounds too difficult? Wait a second. To make it simple we can say that HTML parsing takes HTML code, expects it and extracts the relevant information – title, paragraphs, headings. Links and formatting like bold text.
So all you need is a regular expression, defining the regular language, so a regular expression engine can generate a parser for this specific language. Thus pattern matching becomes possible, as well as text extraction.
The last step - downloading and saving the data in the format of your choice (CSV, JSON or in a database). After it becomes accessible, it can be retrieved, implemented in other programs.
In other words, scrapping allows you not just to extract data, but to store it into a central local database or spreadsheet and use it later when you need.
Today computer vision technologies, as well as machine learning is used to distinguish and scrape data from the images, similar to the way a human being could do.
All it works quite straightforward. A machine learning system has its own classifications to which it assigns a so-called confidence score. It is a measure of the statistical likelihood. So if the classification is considered to be correct, it means it is close to the patterns discerned in the training data
In case the confidence score is too low, the system initiates a new search query to pick the bunch of text which will most likely contain the previously requested data.
After the system makes an attempt to scrap the relevant data from the text considered to be new and reconciles the received result with the data in the initial scraping. In case the confidence score is still too low it processes further on, working on the next pulled text.
There are numerous ways how web scraping can be used, basically it can be implemented in every known domain. But let’s have a closer look at some areas where web scraping is considered to be the most efficient.
Competitive pricing is the main strategy for e-commerce businesses. The only way to succeed here is to keep a constant track of the competitors and their pricing strategy. Parsed data can help to define your own pricing strategy. It is much faster than manual comparing and analysis. When it comes to price monitoring web scraping can be surprisingly efficient.
Marketing is essential for any business. For marketing strategy to be successful one needs not just to have the contact details of the parties involved but to reach them. It is the essence of lead generation. And web scraping can improve the process, making it more efficient.
Leads are the very first thing needed for marketing campaign acceleration.
To reach the target audience you most likely need tons of data such as phone numbers, emails etc. And of course to collect it manually over the thousands of websites all over the web is impossible.
Web scraping is here to help! It extracts the data. The process is not just accurate but quick and takes just a fraction of time.
The received data can be easily integrated into your sales tools as far you can pick a format you are comfortable with.
Competition has always been the flesh and blood of any business, but today it is critically important to know the competitors well. It allows us to understand their strong and weak points, strategies and evaluate risks in a more efficient way. Of course it is possible only if you possess a lot of relevant data. And web scraping helps here as well.
Any strategy starts with analysis. But how to work with the data spread everywhere? Sometimes it is even impossible to access it manually.
If it is difficult to do manually, use web scraping. So you get the required data and can start working over almost immediately.
A good point here – the faster your scraping tool, the better competitive analysis will be.
When the customer enters any e-commerce website the first thing he sees is the visual content, e.g. pictures. Tons and tons of them. But how to create all this amount of product descriptions and pictures overnight? With web scraping of course!
So, when you come up to the idea of launching a brand new e-commerce website you face a content issue – all these pictures, descriptions and so on.
Old good way of hiring somebody just to copy and paste or write the content from scratch might work but will take forever. Use web scraping instead and see the result.
In other words, web scraping makes your life as an e-commerce website owner much easier, right?
Web scraping software is working with data – it is, technically, a process of data extraction. But what if it is protected by law or copyrighted? It is quite natural that one of the first appearing questions is ‘Is it legal?’. The issue is tricky, as far here’s no certain opinion on this point even between the layers. Here are a few points to consider:
Some aspects of web scraping are challenging, though it is relatively simple in general. See below a short list of major challenges you can face:
After the scrapper is set up the big game only begins. In other words, setting up the tool is the first step so you can face some unexpected challenges:
All websites keep updating their UI and features. It means that the website structure is changing all the time. As far the crawler keeps in mind the existing structure, any change might upset your plans. The issue will be solved as soon as you change the crawler accordingly.
So to get complete and relevant data you should keep changing your scrapper again and again as soon as structure changes appear.
Keep in mind that all the websites with sensitive data take precautions to protect the data in this or that way and they are called HoneyPots. It means that all your web scraping efforts can simply be thwarted and you will be surfing the web in attempts to figure out what’s wrong this time.
Anti-scrapping technologies evolve as well as web scraping does as far as there's a lot of data that should not be shared, and it is fine. But if you do not keep this in mind you can end up blocked. See below a short list of the most essential points you should know:
To get the data is just one of the points to achieve. For efficient work the data should be clean and accurate. In other words, if the data is incomplete or there are tons of mistakes, it is of no use. From a business perspective data quality is the main criteria, as far in the end of the day you need data ready to work with.
We are pretty sure – the question spinning round in your head is something like “How can I start web scraping and enhance my marketing strategy?”
Another way to reach the same result is just to use existing tools for scraping.
There’s another way, something in between the previous two.
It is simple – get the team of developers, so they will code a scraping tool specifically for your business’ needs.
So you get a unique tool without the stress caused by accrual DIY approach. And the total cost will be much lower than in case you decide to subscribe to some existing scrapers.
Freelance developers can match too and create a good scrapper upon request, why not.
A SaaS MVP based on web scraping, data analytics, and data visualization
Web scraping is an extremely powerful tool for extracting data and getting additional advantages over the competitors. The earlier you start exploring, the better for your business.
There are different ways to start exploring the world of web scrapers and you can start with free ones shifting to unique tools, developed in accordance with your needs and requirements.
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