The market size of big data and business analytics reached $198.08 billion in 2020 which is estimated to be a $684.12 billion industry by 2030. Not surprisingly, leaders of tomorrow are collecting data today. Whether you are exploring the possibilities or just starting to kick in the big data industry, web scraping is a must-have technique for you.
Web scraping is the go-to approach to mining the web and extracting valuable data. With web scraping, you can not be bored by questions like how you can get the wanted data, instead paying more attention to solving problems like what data your business can leverage and how to utilize that data. This article will give you a no-brainer introduction to web scraping techniques, tools, and tips to scrape websites. Hope these ideas can help you make smarter decisions for your business.
What is Web Scraping
In layman’s language,
- It is a process of collecting information from different websites on the web;
- It is an automated process;
- It is the same as data extraction, content scraping, data scraping, web crawling, data mining, content mining, information collection, and data collection.
Manual scraping vs. Web scraping
Let’s imagine that you are going to capture the email addresses of people who have commented on a LinkedIn post. The first mind that jumps into your brain may be pointing the cursor to the string of an email address, and then copying and pasting it onto a file. You are literally doing manual scraping when you repeat the same process over and over again.
On the contrary, web scraping is a term for having the same process done at scale using some sort of program or bots. It can take hours for anyone to collect 2000-ish emails while it only takes 30 seconds for a web scraping tool to complete the same task. It’s hard not to notice the difference.
In technical lingo, the web is inundated with data, whether structured or not. Website data, including text, images, videos, audio files, etc., people need such data for different reasons. Web scrapers, web scraping tools, or web scraping scripts written by coders can serve the end. This is the programmatic approach to obtaining web data in an automated fashion that can help people grab data more easily and efficiently.
How You Can Utilize Web Scraping
Big data helps people understand the market and gain a competitive edge over competitors. In this regard, web scraping is widely used among e-Commerce businesses, entrepreneurs, marketers, consultancies, academic researchers, and more. People who are involved in businesses can leverage web data for:
- Training ML Algorithms
- Price Intelligence
- Brand Monitoring
- Market Research
- Lead Generation
- Sentiment Analysis
- Trend Analysis
- Content & SEO Research
- Content aggregation
- Product data
- Building aggregator services
If you are interested in learning more about how businesses can use web scraping, check this post out: 25 Ways to Grow Your Business with Web Scraping
Web Scraping Techniques Explained
Apparently, manual scraping is not a viable option since it is extremely time-consuming and ineffective. Instead of wasting a whole day copying and pasting around in front of the screen, there are 5 ways you can get data at scale effectively.
Using Web Scraping Tools
Automatic scrapers offer a simple and more accessible way for anyone to scrape websites. And here is why:
- No coding required: Most web scraping tools nowadays are designed for anyone regardless of programming skills. While using them to pull data from websites, you only need to know how to use the mouse to click.
- High efficiency: Utilizing web scraping tools to collect data is money-saving, time-saving, and resource-efficient. For example, you can generate 100,000 data points in less than $100.
- Scrape scalable data: You can scrape millions of pages based on your needs without worrying about the infrastructure & network bandwidths.
- Available for most websites: Many websites may use anti-scraping methods to stop web scraping on their pages. So, web scraping tools have built-in features to bypass such architecture. When websites implement anti-bots mechanisms on websites to discourage scrapers from collecting data, good scraping tools can tackle these anti-scraping techniques and deliver a seamless scraping experience.
- Flexible and accessible: Using web scraping tools’ cloud infrastructure, you can scrape data at any time, anywhere.
In-house Web Scraping Tech Team
If your requirements are too complex to be handled by a web extraction tool, then you should consider building an in-house team of developers and data engineers to extract, transform, and load (ETL) your data to the database. This approach is:
- Highly customizable to your requirements
- Fully controllable and flexible
- Costly and resource-intensive usually
Data APIs for Data Collection
Programming knowledge is usually required for using these third-party data APIs that provide you with the data required. It can usually be used on demand. Data API does serve the purpose well but as the data requirements increase, the costs increase too. Besides, you don’t get to customize the data.
One-stop Data Service
An alternative to using web scraping tools or hiring developers is to outsource your data extraction requirements. There are IT services companies that would cater to your data requirements. Under the hood, they’ll be using one of the above approaches.
Scraping Techniques for Mobile Apps
To scrape from Mobile apps, you can try using tools like Selendroid, Appium, Bluestacks, or Nox emulator to run mass mobile app scraping in the Cloud, but this is not as easy as it seems. Scraping data at scale is full of challenges if you do it on your own. If this is something you need, you can also consider:
- Scraping the PWA version of the mobile app, if it exists
Many popular mobile apps have web versions, like Quora, Amazon, Walmart, Indeed, etc. Scraping the web versions can be much easier than scraping directly from mobile apps. Some scraping tools provide pre-built templates for scraping popular websites making it even easier.
- Outsourcing mobile app scraping
IT companies that provide app scraping services have extensive experience in tackling the challenges involved with scrapping and can smooth out the process for you.
Top Web Scraping Tools
With Python being the most popular scraping language, Scrapy, a Python framework for web scraping, is definitely one of the most used open-source tools. As for no-code web scraping tools, Octoparse is highly recommended among a series of similar tools.
Octoparse is an easy-to-use web scraping tool due to its flexibility and strength of customization. Any users can build their scrapers in a customized way by clicking on elements on the pages, and create the workflow easily. It even provides pre-built scraping templates that cover most mainstream websites so that users can get the data they need by only giving the required parameters. It also equips features like solving CAPTCHA, scheduled data extraction, IP rotation, etc.
Besides Octoparse, here are the top web scraping tools that you might give a try:
In case you’re an export of coding, and wish to scrape data with writing scripts, here are some open-source tools for web scraping:
- Apache Nutch
Web Scraping Challenges and Solutions
Web scraping can be challenging. Be considerate of your options and the issues that may arise along the way.
Choosing the right web scraping tool
We have ample options today, almost for everything. It is essential to pick the right web scraping tool for your project, and here are some tips for you! While looking for the right scraping tool for your project, you should:
- Define your requirements well
- Pre-validate your scraping ROI
- Chose a tool that fits your budget
- Ensure the tool is extensively documented so you can get help if you have a problem
- Know that support is provided for the tool
Dealing with dynamic JS, AJAX-rendered websites
Web pages come in many forms, for example, for web pages that employ infinitive scrolling, you will need to keep scrolling down the page to get additional search results.
For this type of website, good scraping tools automatically handle this. But, if you’re using custom scripts, you need to reverse engineer the HTML requests. Check out how to deal with the web page with infinite scroll.
Adapting to ever-changing website structure
Another big challenge associated with web scraping is the ever-changing web page layouts. Many websites update their UI from time to time. It makes previously written scrapers fail. So, these scrapers make use of XPaths which is to parse semantic HTML/XML docs.
Using relative, generic, niche XPaths could help here. For example, don’t write div/div/p/text() if your <p> element has an id. Prefer writing //p[@id=”price”].
CAPTCHA is also one type of scraping challenge. CAPTCHA stands for the Completely Automated Public Turing Test to distinguish a person from a robot. Logical tasks or input of characters are displayed for verification, which humans solve quickly and robots can not. Indeed, many CAPTCHA solvers are now implemented in bots for continuous data collection. It might slow down the process a bit though. However, setting up delay time is just one of many methods. CAPTCHA is various. Therefore, there are many methods to solve different CAPTCHAs relatively.
Although we might meet different types of CAPTCHA during web scraping, we have methods to solve them accordingly. For more information about CAPTCHAs check out the resources:
5 Things You Need to Know about Bypassing CAPTCHA for Web Scraping
How To Solve CAPTCHA While Web Scraping?
Avoiding Honeypot traps
A honeypot is a cybersecurity mechanism that uses a manufactured attack target to lure cybercriminals away from legitimate targets and also gathers intelligence about the identity, methods, and motivations of adversaries. To identify bots, websites often place links with the CSS display attribute set to none. So that humans can’t see it but a link crawler would access it.
However, you don’t fall into this trap if you use click & scrape tools. If you’re using custom scraping programs, extensively inspecting the website would help avoid such traps.
Tackling anti-scraping technologies
Anti-bot technologies use a combination of web tools like IP, cookies, CAPTCHAs, browser user agents, fingerprints, etc., to block a scraping bot. But, as mentioned earlier, click-and-scrape tools have inbuilt features to handle these. If you’re writing scraping scripts, rotate IP proxies, and user agents, use CAPTCHA-solving services, or code your ML program to solve CAPTCHAs.
Check out Anti-scraping technologies you may encounter and how to solve them.
Be considerate of the legality
Web scraping is legal if it doesn’t violate privacy. The LinkedIn vs. HiQ court shut all voices about scraping being illegal. Scraping data behind login walls is similar to scraping public data. But yes, this is unethical if done without permission as it violates privacy laws.
Final Thoughts and Next Step
In the era of big data, no matter whether you need this technique for now or later, it’s definitely worthwhile to know your options are ahead of time and get prepared.
As for web scraping tools, Octoparse is worth a try. It’s free and easy to learn, which means a great deal for anyone who’s looking to start any web scraping projects. So, why wait? Download Octoparse and get started for free today!