How Does Web Scraping Actually Work?

The internet is filled with great content and data – a precious asset that provides significant value to any business.

This data is located on web pages but not in a structured format. It thus needs to be in a structured format to be useful.

Web scraping (usually used interchangeably with web crawling) refers to the process of collecting massive amounts of data from websites in a useful and structured format. It’s also called web data extraction or web harvesting. The data is extracted in a fast, accurate, and cost-effective manner and stored in a database.

Despite some of the challenges encountered – like IP blocking- web scraping remains one of the most popular and effective ways of data gathering from the internet.

How did Web Data Extraction Start?

Though it may sound like a new concept, web scraping began with the birth of the World Wide web. Before the era of search engines like Google, the internet was a collection of File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites. Users would then navigate through these in search of specific shared files.

To help locate and organize data available on the internet, an automated program – the web crawler – was created. This web crawler fetched all the internet web pages and copied their content into databases for subsequent indexing.

With internet growth, the web pages turned into millions. Additionally, data was now available in multiple formats such as texts, images, videos, and even audios. Users could now easily search for and access the information they wanted – often spread across numerous websites.

However, data gathering from the internet was not so easy because few websites provided download options. Besides, manual copy-pasting was both tedious and inefficient.

Enter web scraping. This automated technique extracts specific data from specific websites both quickly and efficiently. As a business, you can transform the extracted data into actionable insights like finding contact information, market research, or comparing prices with the competition, among others.

How does Web Scraping Work?

Using web scraping tools, any company can access vast amounts of web data for analysis. As a business owner, you don’t need to be a coder or take a programming course to do this.

Based on a user’s request, a web scraping tool or software automatically loads and extracts data from multiple website pages – helping you to easily scrape data. This could be custom-built for a particular website or designed to work with any website.

You can then save the data on your computer. The data may also be saved in many formats, including  Excel, JSON, CSV, and HTML.

The Web Harvesting Process

Before you proceed to scrape your data:

  1. Confirm your data source – this depends on your  scraping purpose
  2. Confirm whether a public API is available-using one makes data gathering easier

 

Web scraping is a three-step process:

  1. Enter the target URL(s) to build a crawler
  2. Build a pagination loop
  3. Extract the data

Web Crawling

This is the first step of scraping websites. A web crawler or spider visits the relevant page, web scrape, and then “crawl” to the following page.

Web Scraping

In the next step, the crawler collects data from the websites and copies it onto a different platform.

Data Extracting

Here, the scraped data gets sorted and meaningful information such as phone numbers, names or prices, extracted.

Data Formatting

In this final stage of the process, the extracted data is fed into a user application in  JSON, CSV, or XML format for the end-user.

Note, however, that websites could block you for scraping them too much. This occurs when a website identifies numerous requests from the same IP address.

A way around IP blocking is to use proxies that simulate human browsing the website. You could also delay between two requests or use various scraping patterns.

Is Web Scraping the Same as Web Crawling?

Both processes work similarly. However, while web scraping obtains data from multiple website pages – as done by Google – web crawling systematically browses the World Wide Web for web indexing purposes.

Tips for Effective Data Gathering

To make the most of your web scraping, consider the below tips:

  • Choose the correct extraction tool for quick results with minimal effort
  • Avoid over scraping the websites as this causes them to upgrade their anti-scraping technology
  • Always perform your data gathering in compliance to the website’s terms of use
  • Only republish content with consent from the website owner
  • Use real-time data scraping tools for price comparison or inventory tracking as data changes could cause substantial capital gains or losses for your business

Conclusion

With today’s increasing demand for big data, many businesses are looking for effective data gathering ways to help improve their bottom line.

The thing is, the more data you extract, the better your chances of discovering market trends, customer preferences, competitor strategies, or the next step to take. To remain competitive, your business needs real-time market intelligence that web scraping can offer you. Plug into this essential business tactic today.