Web Scraping: Basics, benefits and business cases

Web Scraping

The internet is a gold mine of information that’s just waiting on you to take it. Whether you need data on sports stats, product prices, company contact information, stock value, or the new Barbie doll release date, you can get all the information you need on any one of over 1.7 billion websites.

Now, simply looking up this information and memorizing it would be browsing – you likely do it every day. However, extracting and exporting it for later use is another thing altogether, and it’s known as web scraping.

Web scraping can serve various purposes for various businesses, but to make full use of it, you need to understand it. So, let’s get over the basics of web scraping and see why you might want to invest in it.

Basics of web scraping

If you had ever copied a line of text from a website and pasted it to a document for later use, analysis, or comparison, you’ve done web scraping.

In essence, it’s a simple data extraction process that allows you to accumulate information from different sources and export it to a format that’s more comprehensive (and understandable) for you.

Since businesses across niches heavily depend on excessive amounts of data for their everyday operations, harvesting information manually using the copy-paste function is far from ideal. It takes a lot of time and effort, and there’s too much room for human error, which corrupts the data, making it inaccurate and unreliable.

If your business depends on data harvesting, a much better alternative to manually collecting data would be using web scrapers – software and bots that automate the process. Web scrapers can extract information, store it, and present it in a readable format, allowing you to gain accurate industry insights and make data-driven business decisions without wasting time.

How the process works

When you use automated tools, the process is pretty simple and straightforward, at least on the surface. There are only a few steps to it:

  1. Identify your target website(s) from which you wish to collect data;
  2. Collect the URL(s) and copy them to your Python web scraping tool;
  3. Activate your web scraper;
  4. Access the data once your web scraper has completed the task.

Ideally, you’ll also select the type of data you need to scrape. You could be interested in collecting product pricing information from Amazon – in this case; you only need the price. You don’t need product descriptions or user reviews. Therefore, you’ll select the preferred data before activating the web scraper.

The tool will load your chosen website’s HTML code and retrieve all data into the HTML format when you activate the web scraper. Then, it will convert the code into the tree-structure path. Unfortunately, this path is a bit too complex and largely unreadable, so the web scraper will convert the data into a more readable format, such as PDF, JSON, XML, CSV, XLS, or TSV.

Once the conversion is complete, your web scraper will store the information in your database and give you access to it.

Common business uses of web scraping

Virtually all businesses rely on web scraping to harvest data for one reason or another. Some of the most common uses of web scraping across industries include:

  • Lead generation: Scraping contact information from Google Maps listings or yellow page websites to use in email marketing;
  • Competitor research: Scraping competitor websites to gather user reviews, analyze common complaints, or identify target audiences;
  • Price comparison: Harvesting competitor’s price information to adjust the pricing model;
  • Market insights: Collecting data on market trends and predictions for futureproofing your business;
  • Stock price analysis: Collecting stock prices to include into an API.

Businesses rely on web scraping for many different reasons since they can use scraping tools to collect any type of data. Even individuals can use web scraping to do comparison shopping, collect sports stats for betting, perform academic research, and more. An abundance of information is available online, and web scraping gives you access to the most critical pieces of data.

Business benefits

Businesses enjoy numerous benefits of web scraping. They can automate the process of data extraction and receive quick and efficient insights, which are invaluable for making data-driven business decisions. They can enjoy the utmost data accuracy without the risks of human errors, collect all the necessary information within seconds, and receive readable and easy-to-digest information with a single click.

Web scrapers offer speed, efficiency, and reliability. They’re easy to implement and allow you to cut through the noise and find concrete, concise information without going through unnecessary details.

In-house scrapers vs. out-of-the-box scrapers

When investing in web scrapers, you’ll have to choose whether to develop the tool in-house or use ready-made, out-of-the-box scrapers.

As a general rule of thumb, in-house scrapers require a bigger commitment. You’ll need a full in-house team to develop and maintain the tool, enable all the necessary features, and ensure the utmost efficiency and efficacy. That’s often easier said than done, especially since many websites you’ll use to collect information change their HTML structures frequently.

That’s why out-of-the-box Python web scrapers are usually the way to go, even more so if you’re just getting started. You have access to a variety of tools with unique features and capabilities so that you can make your choice. You won’t have to worry about web scraper maintenance, and you’ll have access to all the same data you would with an in-house tool. Read more on Oxylabs’ official blog.

Conclusion

Web scraping can give businesses a competitive edge. They provide access to an abundance of data to help you make data-driven decisions that set you on a path to success. You can extract any type of data – text, images, video, and more – and enjoy all the benefits that web scrapers bring.

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