Crawler, web data extractor, bots, data harvester – you’ve heard those terms enough times. Web scraping software saves tons of time when it comes to navigating massive chunks of data available in the world web.
In a nutshell: web scraping is a piece of software, which closely emulates the human behavior when it comes to extracting data from the websites.
Tons of data, I’d add, in very timely and efficient manner with just few clicks. Think of web scraping as highly optimized copy pasting. Yet, the main difference between manual labor and using the software is that the later can transform unstructured HTML data into an easy-to-browse structured data, which you can store in a local database or spreadsheet and use to your advantage.
Do you need web scraping?
If you run an online business, most likely – yes. Here are just a few common cases when automating data research saves you heaps of time and efforts:
- Scraping products + prices from 3rd party websites for price comparison
- Gathering contact and social media data for an outreach campaign
- Scraping your company reviews and profiles for online reputation management and tracking
- Gather news and content to aggregate and curate on your website
- Scrape search results for targeted keywords to monitor your competition and optimize your SEO campaign
- Gather contact information of potential leads
- Aggregate data from multiple job boards at your portal
How Does Web Scraping Work?
Web scrapers find and grab specific markers or identifiers in HTML, which correspond to the data you want. Modern web scrapers range in complexity – from the ad-hoc, requiring human input to fully automated systems, which can convert entire website into a structured piece of information with certain limitations, though.
Understanding the Difference Between Different Types of Scrapers
Web scraping often gets a negative connotation and some bad legal rep in tow. So is this practice indeed illegal or why web scraping is against some web sites Terms and Conditions?
Allow me to explain the different types of scrapers:
Bots are often one-line code software, created to perform a precise task on a wide scale e.g. click ads, place bids, scrape data and more. Web scrapers and site indexers are bots too.
So why some companies are against bots? Let’s take eBay v. Bidder’s Edge case as an example. BE used web scraping bots to aggregate eBay auctions data and display it on their website, which further on involved automatic placement of auction bids. This is bad, right?
Now, here’s another example from the travel industry. Hipmunk is known to use web scraping to gather price data and other site stats before going to suppliers and OTAs with a partnership agreement. Also, they immediately stop the activity when asked. This sound like a legitimate practice.
Journalists use simple scrapers to gather and work with massive chunks of statistical data. Online marketers use scrapers to gather contact details or public SEO stats from certain websites without spending hours on manual labor. Developers need scraping tools to work to fill up their apps with large amounts of variable data.
Site Indexers are bots as well. They are used by search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) to crawl your website, render and prioritize the content. Those are the good guys, so make sure they can access and crawl your website easily.
Fraud bots hunt for vulnerabilities in your system and take advantage of those e.g. click ads; fill in the forms falsely, leave spam comments and so on. Review and comment sections often suffer from those. They are the bad guys. Identify and get rid of them.
- Blacklist IPs
- Enable CAPTCHA or any other anti-spam protection
- Rate limiting – though some bots are really good at mimicking human browsing, most are not
- Typically they interact with your website on a much higher speed. Limit those IPs that make several requests per second
- Monitor any excess traffic
Web Scraping Software: What are the Options?
So, the good scrapers can save you time and sanity on working with data. From here you have two options – learning a bit of code and DIY the scraper or choose from one of the ready-made tools (free and paid).
The DIY Approach
If you are slightly into coding, you can create your own, fairly simple and efficient scraper in under an hour.
Opt for using either Python or Beautiful Soup – both allow creating simple and advanced, accurate scrapers for HTML pages. Check out this basic tutorial.
Top Tools and Software for Web Scraping
If programming isn’t among your core skills, you can test drive one of the following recommended tools.
Our Free Tools Bundle
A free desktop data extractor that treats each page as a potential data source to generate an API from. It’s simple to use, works rather accurate and your data extraction request is usually processed within 24 hours.
This tool is the primary choice of app developers, looking to power up their app with mashing data. Kimono Browser bookmarklet works great for simple on-page data extraction. You just need to train the tool by providing it with some positive/negative examples to scrap.
Do you automatize your data research? What’s your take on web scraping and which tools do you use?