Data is essential to the success of a business. In fact, it’s central to many crucial processes, from customer support and incorporating feedback from clients to coming up with a robust pricing strategy. It’s also through collecting and analyzing data that a business owner can use to establish the size of a market, the number of potential customers, and the competitors therein, helping businesses make more informed decisions or what’s called data-driven decision-making.
And as more and more businesses move their operations online or increase their online presence, web scraping is emerging as a vital tool in the data collection and analysis pipeline.
Web scraping, also known as web data harvesting or web data extraction, is the practice of collecting publicly available data from websites. The data collection can be conducted manually by copying text or numbers from a web page to a document on a computer. However, this approach is slow and can sometimes be fraught with mistakes and errors that affect the accuracy of the data. For this reason, it’s preferred to automate web scraping using software known as web scrapers.
Generally, the choice of web scraping tool depends on several factors, namely speed, cost-effectiveness, accuracy, and reliability. The best tool is fast and affordable, offers reliability, specific geo-locations (for example, a US proxy), and generates accurately parsed data. Therefore, web scrapers and web scraping APIs from reputable service providers, which tick all these boxes, are preferred.
How to Undertake Automated Web Scraping
- Web Scrapers
In isolation, web scrapers don’t always guarantee success. This is because they can be blocked for bot-like activities. For this reason, using them in concert with proxy servers is advisable.
A proxy is an intermediary that intercepts all outgoing web requests, hides their real IP address, and assigns a different IP address. By doing so, the proxy anonymizes the browsing, preventing a scenario whereby the web scraper would be blocked.
The proxy server also enables you to scrape geo-locked data. For instance, if you want to extract data from a website that’s only viewable in the United States, you can use a US proxy. The US proxy will assign your web scraper a US IP address, virtually relocating your web scraping tool to a different location.
And for even better results, it’s advisable to use rotating proxies, which periodically change the assigned IP address. This way, the proxy limits the number of requests that originate from a single IP address. In simpler terms, this arrangement helps mimic human browsing behavior and avoids CAPTCHAs and IP blocks.
- Web Scraping APIs
Uses of Web Scraping
As stated earlier, companies are increasingly moving their operations online. As a result, it’s no longer uncommon for businesses to upload their financial results, press releases, job openings, products, leadership, and other company-specific information on their websites. This makes such sites a source of reliable first-party data that competitors can use in their decision-making.
Even more remarkably, this data is readily available and accessible when needed. No wonder, then, that bots are increasingly responsible for a large chunk of internet traffic. According to a 2022 study, bots accounted for 42.3% of internet traffic in 2021, with the traffic being attributed to, among other things, web scraping.
Businesses rely on web scraping for a myriad of use cases, including:
- Price monitoring
- Competitor analysis
- Product monitoring
- SEO research and monitoring
- Reputation and review monitoring
- Lead generation
Web scraping, especially automated web data extraction, is a preferred mode of collecting data from websites. It enables businesses to monitor their reputation online, undertake market research by uncovering the number of competitors in a market, their products, and prices, and discover the best keywords to use to boost their SEO strategy.
To increase the chances of success, it’s advisable for businesses to use web scrapers alongside proxy servers. A US proxy, for example, will enable access to US-only content.