Table of Contents
- Definitions of Scraping and Synonyms
- Kinds of Data Scraping Projects
- Approaches to Data Scraping
- Top Three Common Web Scraping Challenges
- What Is an API?
- What Is Web Scraping Used for?
Hi everyone, I’m Alex, cofounder at DataOx, an IT company with more than five years of experience in data scraping.
This article is written for startups and entrepreneurs, mostly nontechnical businesspeople who want to know more about how data scraping can benefit their businesses. In this article, I’ll explain how data scraping works and the main points to pay attention to if you want to use these technologies to grow your business.
First of all, let’s understand the terms used to define data scraping. There are a variety of terms like web scraping, web crawling, data parsing, data aggregation, and so on. My goal is to help you understand the scraping “ecosystem,” so you will find a comprehensive glossary at the end of this article. I define and apply these terms as they are most commonly used in the data scraping market.
Web data scraping is an automatic process of copying data from web sources and storing it in a database or other storage format (Excel, JSON, etc.).
Basically, web scraping software contains two parts: a web crawler and a data parser (See Image 1).
A web crawler (or web spider) is an automatic software that visits web pages and websites using specific links (or URL addresses) and downloads and stores all available HTML code. After all content is stored in the database, the data parser starts to comb through the “raw” data to structure it according to specific rules.
This is the basic process of web scraping. Let’s look at the different types of tasks and projects.
Each project has a unique amount of work, and the project price is determined according to each part, which is illustrated in Image 1.
Some projects require more complex web crawling systems but pretty simple data parsing, and other projects need complex data extraction and parsing solutions and relatively simple crawling processes. Each website requires a custom web scraper depending on the website’s complexity.
Data can be scraped once or on a regular basis. The latter is called web monitoring. It allows you to track any changes on the websites of your choice. For example, you might want to monitor the price of goods or the number of subscribers on a competitor’s YouTube channel. These factors can increase and decrease, so web monitoring helps you stay on top of these changes.
Web scraping projects can be implemented in two ways: through data delivery or through custom web application development. With the first option, you get just scraped data, but with the second one, you buy custom web scraping software developed just for your purposes. (Read more about that on our services page).
There are two basic approaches to data scraping: the enterprise approach and the individual approach (or DIY).
As an individual, the simple DIY approach involves the use of numerous off-the-shelf tools on the market. They are either free or are sold inexpensively as a subscription. Great examples are import.io and Octoparse, among others.
This approach is suitable for those who just need to scrape data from some uncomplicated and unprotected websites (for example, online news sources).
But with this approach, you have to understand the tool and configure it all yourself. And ready-made tools usually do not work very stably, but it depends on the site.
If you want to build your own product based on scraping technologies, then using ready-made tools is unlikely to suit you, as there are many instances where they may not work.
So let’s talk about the enterprise approach, how it works, and what difficulties you might encounter with it.
The enterprise approach assumes that a custom-made web scraping software should be developed for your custom requirements. You can outsource this task to a specialized company like DataOx or hire in-house staff.
Another model is possible: data delivery. This is when you can simply order the data from a contractor company if your business model allows for it
A proxy server is a remote computer with its own IP address. As a rule, if you want to collect a lot of data or collect it regularly from one site, the site will block you sooner or later by IP address, and to get around this issue, you need to have hundreds or thousands of unique IP addresses.
To solve this issue, you can use proxy servers. There are dozens of proxy services that sell access to proxy servers, and each has its pros and cons. There are many approaches to using proxy servers, and I will not dwell on them here in detail. You can find more information about this in our blog.
Captcha protection poses another barrier to data scraping. You have probably seen this security feature on some websites. Captcha is a special picture that humans can recognize to continue working with a web page, but data scraping software cannot. Some special services solve this by automatically sending the captcha to a human, who inputs the answer and returns it, preventing the website from kicking off the bot (i.e., the. web scraper).
The biggest difficulty to data scraping is when the website is professionally protected with services such as Imperva Bot Management or Akamai. This problem can only be solved by companies professionally engaged in data scraping. A few examples of company sites secured like this are LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and even British Airways. This defense is very complex and multifactorial and uses artificial intelligence. For each such resource, you need to select your own set of tools and change them over time.
We helped a few clients whose web scraping projects stopped scraping data from particular sites after only a few months. So before you build a product based on data scraping, we highly recommend getting a professional consultation with DataOx. This problem can occur even in the later stages of data scraping development, so always consult a professional to help you collect data at the speed you need.
Application programming interfaces or APIs are special “gateways” through which the site itself provides data so that it won’t be scraped. APIs usually have limitations in the first place, and they cost money. Here you need to check immediately whether it is possible to use the site API. But even with an API, there is no guarantee that a website will not change its policy tomorrow.
You might already know the area where you are going to implement a data scraping project, but DataOx provides examples of the projects and industries we’ve worked for on our services page.
|News scraping and monitoring||Job post scraping|
|Brand reputation monitoring||Real estate market scraping|
|Lead generation (scraping business contacts)||Data scraping for machine learning tasks|
|Price monitoring solutions||Review scraping|
|Website URL scraping||Flight data monitoring|
|Social media scraping|| Data scraping|
for the eCommerce industry
To get more information about web scraping, crawling, and other data processing, schedule a short free consultation with our data expert!