Data is the new currency that helps a company or institution stay competitive in any industry. Data gathering allows companies to analyze every aspect of their operations and their impacts on the market. So, it is essential to mine these databases to acquire useful resources for business. This data harvesting process is called scraping.
You must have been thinking, “what does web scraping mean” for some time now. Here is the answer: web scraping is a means of extracting essential information from a website or multiple websites simultaneously. This article will tell you more about web scraping and why it is beneficial in many spheres of endeavor.
What is web scraping used for?
Web scraping is used in different fields of endeavor. In e-commerce, it is used to monitor market practices. Also, the analysis of search terms helps in organizing campaigns to cater to a specific demographic. Specific uses of web scraping include the following (in detail):
- To analyze the competition. Scraping a competitor’s website, helps you understand how they stay competitive. It will give you an insight into the best approach to edging other adversaries in your field. Website scraping also ensures a level playing field for all competitors.
- For market analysis. As briefly mentioned above, web scraping can be used for commercial purposes. One can monitor the prices of goods, as well as consumer behavior.
- For stat analysis. For example, sports websites can be scraped to find team and player stats.
- For archives. Information on a website can be archived for future reference. You can also save your site content when migrating to another domain.
- For checking your site’s ranking. You can track and monitor your site’s position in search results.
- For monitoring popular products in online stores. Scraping online stores gives you an understanding of in-demand products.
- For brand tracking. Track new information or articles that contain references to the brand you need.
- For monitoring social networks. You can effectively analyze data from social media. You can also collect information to track negatives and control information background.
How does web scraping work?
Web scraping also involves copying a website’s framework and database. But before you start wondering “what does scraping a website mean?” or “what is data scraping from websites?”, take a look at how it works:
- A scraper accesses the website’s source code detected by a crawler and extracts the data from a website or multiple websites.
- The copied data is initially saved in HTML format and eventually converted to the necessary format, getting rid of the unnecessary text.
- The final information is then stored in a database or a raw spreadsheet file like CSV, JSON, or even Excel.
What is a web scraper?
A web scraper is a tool that is used to extract data from a web page with precision. The complexity of a web scraper varies by the data size. If you want to extract data from one website, you can use a simple web scraper. For more advanced data mining projects, one can use a specialized web scraper.
How does a web scraper work? What does it mean to scrape a website?
A web scraper detects a potential source of information (website) and retrieves the data. The page’s contents are then parsed and reformatted to be saved on a spreadsheet and used for other purposes.
You can harvest data from web pages by using manual scraping or specialized software like Scrapy. These software programs make use of bots and web crawlers to identifying potential data hubs by sending HTTP requests to the remote web server.
What is a web crawler?
A web crawler is a like a spider that scours the internet for relevant data, like an AI that follows links automatically. It replaces the human who would manually go through multiple web pages to determine if they have useful datasets. Also, crawlers work in search engines by indexing web pages in order to optimize searches.
How does it work?
Web crawlers select a number of URLs (seeds), visits them, and filters out the hyperlinks to follow. The data obtained from the ‘visits’, are now archived (in a repository), as replicas of the original site’s most recent version in the form of ‘screenshots’.
Furthermore, crawlers are ‘trained’ to prioritize the information they download, because some websites have extremely large amount of data. And retrieving all these data can take a lot of time and large volumes. Consequently, the way a web crawler behaves is guided by a few policies that include:
- Parallelization — the process of using multiple crawlers at once, to maximize the retrieval rate and avoid repeated data acquisition.
- Selection — provides a list of priorities for websites based on the popularity, traffic, and URL. This policy helps narrow down the crawlers activity to specific segments of a web page.
Understanding the use of both tools will help answer your “what is data scraping” questions halfway.
What types of scrapers are there?
What is web scraping without an efficient scraper?
Answer: Boring and tedious. If you want to access just a small data fragment, you can easily inspect the source code and extract what you need. But with larger tasks, the process becomes more complicated for a human to handle. So, developers have come with a number of alternatives to manual data extraction.
Here are the main ones:
- Browser plugins. These extensions are installed to your browsers to scour and harvest content. The only downside, is that it can work on only one page simultaneously.
- Software. You can hire developers to provide a web scraper for a specific data harvesting task or use a multipurpose software that simultaneously works on various websites.
- Cloud-based scrapers. These web scrapers are useful for more extensive data scraping. It does not require multiple adjustments to fit specific web pages. Moreover, your copied data is saved to the cloud automatically, and you don’t need to download anything.
Examples of the most popular web scrapers
Web scrapers can be divided into two categories according to their purpose and functionality.
Here are the two forms of scrapers based on functionality.
1. Some scrapers allow the collection of data based on specific templates. To edit the template, you will need advanced coding skills, eg.: Diffbot and Apify.
- You don’t have to worry about the proxy.
- Data can be obtained without worrying about changing the settings.
- Despite the versatile nature of the scraper’s construction, it will struggle to parse a lot of websites.
2. Visual extractors — divides the web page into elements, allowing you to choose specific fragments from which to harvest data. They come in the form of downloadable desktop apps (Octoparse), browsers (Dexi.io), or browser extensions (Diggernaut).
- Flexible and allows the parsing of concrete data in the preferred format.
- The template has to be kept functional, because any changes in the site’s framework will make the scraper malfunction.
Web scrapers can also be categorized based on the purposes they serve.
- Scrapers for social networks. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are data goldmines. The scrapers for these sites are specialized to monitor traffic from specific locations. This information helps in organizing campaigns and making investment decisions.
- Scrapers for online shops. Sites like Amazon, eBay, and Aliexpress contain essential information about market trends and consumer behavior. Scraping these eCommerce sites helps you monitor the prices of your competitors.
- It also gives you a competitive edge in your industry.
- Scrapers for recipes. You can also use web scrapers on sites like Allrecipes, Yummly, Jamieoliver to monitor nutritional trends. Profound knowledge of consumer habits will help you adjust recipes to consumer needs.
What is website scraping going to look like in the future? No one knows the answer, but for now, use scrapers to make the process more efficient. Now when we have answered your “what is data scraping” question, start collecting data efficiently.
What is Web Scraping?