Nowadays, a lot of businesses use web scraping to gain many different benefits. Whether you are in the e-commerce waters yourself and want to become more competitive or you wish to provide scraping services to other businesses, data gathering can be the way to drive additional profit growth.
Unfortunately, web scraping is not seen as a very welcome activity by many large e-commerce sites. Consistently sending many requests can get you blocked or permanently banned which will inevitably lead to slowdowns in your data scraping operation.
If you want to learn more about how and why this happens and discover how to get around web page blocks, you are in the right place.
Scraping e-commerce websites: the challenges
Web scraping is not something you should treat lightly as there are many challenges that will arise. Should you start an e-commerce scraping project without the knowledge on how to get around web page blocks, you are at risk of reaching a swift dead end. This applies doubly so to large e-commerce websites because of the amount of data you will need to retrieve. As such, experienced web scrapers understand that there are several common challenges in any e-commerce data gathering project.
E-commerce website structure is not set in stone
E-commerce website layouts are constantly changing. These changes help them deliver a more optimized user experience, attract more customers, and capture more sales. If the structure of the target website changes, crawlers are unable to adjust automatically and the scraper may crash or return an incomplete data set. Both are fatal to your scraping operation.
Not enough storage capacity for retrieved data
Large scale scraping provides deliverables. However, the deliverables are these big chunks of data that you need to store somewhere. There are two problems related to storage capacity: it can be insufficient to store collected data or the data infrastructure can be poorly designed, making exporting too inefficient. Poor data management can lead to critical issues way before you need to start worrying about how to get around web blocks.
Maintaining data quality
Data integrity can easily be compromised during a large scale operation such as scraping big e-commerce sites. As such, data validation becomes a mandatory part of any scraping project. You will need to set clear data quality guidelines. After that, data validation can be initiated by creating rules which ensure that the acquired information meets quality guidelines.
Anti-scraping technologies and a hostile environment
E-commerce is a lucrative industry. As such, many e-commerce sites spend thousands of dollars on keeping bots, including scrapers and crawlers, at bay. To do this, they implement various anti-scraping technologies that range from CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA to honeypot traps. Therefore, understanding how to crawl a website without getting blocked becomes a critical part of any scraping operation.
In either case, if a website recognizes scraping activity, your IP can get blocked for a couple of days or even banned permanently. This is particularly inconvenient for businesses using static IP addresses. Therefore, buying and using proxies becomes an unavoidable part of any web scraping project.
What is a hostile environment?
Scraping e-commerce websites can get you blocked
While getting blocked by e-commerce websites for scraping may be all too familiar for some, to newcomers, it can be devastating. Without the correct set up and industry knowledge, each blocked IP will be extremely costly. Therefore, finding out how websites block bots and how to get around web blocks is the first step for any newcomer.
Why do e-commerce websites block bots?
Boosting website traffic looks like a good thing which might make bots seem harmless. Yet, bots can send significantly more requests per second than the average user and put a lot of strain on servers hosting the website. If it crosses a certain threshold, the website may become too slow, or it can completely shut down.
For many businesses, a website is just one link in the revenue-generating chain. On the other hand, for e-commerce businesses the website is the chain. Scraper and crawler bots can send too many requests and put servers under so much pressure that it can cause a website to shutdown. Even small delays can cost potential revenue from customers as they might simply close out and purchase the desired product from a competitor. As such, many e-commerce websites use anti-scraping technologies to avoid any potential slowdowns that bots could cause.
How do e-commerce websites recognize bots?
E-commerce websites can recognize bots due to anti-scraping technologies. There are various specification algorithms that differentiate between human and bot users. We also mentioned CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA as the most popular anti-bot technologies. reCAPTCHA version 3 is out, and it is even more efficient at detecting bots. As such, understanding how to get around web page blocks becomes increasingly important as the frequency of bans might increase.
Other solutions can track the number of requests from one IP address. There are also wardens that are able to cross-reference your IP address location with the language and time zone and detect discrepancies.
All of these technologies create a safety-net, and they are operational 24/7. Bypassing these restrictions is, largely, preemptive. Unblocking a specific IP address is nearly impossible, therefore not getting it blocked in the first place is the better strategy.
How to get around a web block?
Web blocks can be avoided by understanding how e-commerce websites protect themselves. There are very specific practices and technologies that can help you scrape data off large e-commerce websites without getting banned, blocked, or even detected for using bots.
Get acknowledged with target website crawling policies
Large e-commerce websites allow scraping to some extent. To stay within limits, you should do two things: check the official Crawling Policy if there is one and view the target website’s robots.txt file. In robots.txt, you will be able to find out how often you can scrape a site and what you are allowed to scrape. Staying within the agreed upon limits will greatly reduce or even completely remove the possibility of getting your web crawler blocked.
Go with a reliable proxy provider
If you decide to use a proxy provider to acquire data from more difficult targets, make sure to choose a reliable proxy provider. The best providers use a top-notch IT infrastructure, security, and encryption technologies to deliver consistent bandwidth and up-time. Any downtime on proxies causes issues and delays as they have to be replaced by the provider.
Also, with a reliable proxy provider, you will have access to customer support and get professional assistance when implementing proxy in your day to day scraping operations. This can prove very useful when you want to upscale or downscale your operations while avoiding getting blocked by websites.
Additionally, good proxy providers should support such features as sticky port entries, session time management and a wide array of possible locations. Certain content might only be displayed to specific regions or countries (e.g. USA). In that case, using a USA proxy would be required to access and scrape any content.
Use real user agents
E-commerce websites are hosted on servers, and these servers are getting smarter every day. The servers can now analyze the header of the HTTP request made by your bots. This header, called user agent, contains various information ranging from the OS and software to application type and its version.
Servers can detect suspicious user agents. To avoid getting blocked, you should always use real user agents. Real user agents contain popular HTTP request configurations that are submitted by real human visitors. Additionally, rotating user agents by developing a large set of viable choices is recommended. If user agents are not rotated, websites can discover that a large part of the incoming traffic is suspiciously similar and at least temporarily block a specific set of user agents.
Usable user agents will generally be documented by the proxy provider. Always remember to check the technical specifications of proxies to ensure that they fit your requirements.
Use a proxy rotator
A proxy rotator is a tool that uses the IPs in your proxy’s IP pool and randomly assigns them to your machine. This is one of the best techniques to avoid blocks as it allows your bots to send hundreds of requests from random IPs and from different geo-locations.
Diversify your scraping practices
Scraping practices are, in fact, your scraping speed and crawling pattern. Both of which are easily detectable by e-commerce websites. To mitigate the risk of being blocked, you should slow down your scraper speed. For instance, you can add random breaks between requests or initiate wait commands before a specific action is performed.
The pattern refers to how your scraper is configured to navigate the website. You can randomize scrolls, clicks, and mouse movements to make it behave less predictably, although the behavior should not be completely unpredictable. One of the best practices when developing a scraping pattern is to think of how a regular user would browse the website and then apply those principles to the tool itself.
You should know now the answers to the question of how to crawl a website without getting blocked. As you can see, e-commerce websites have credible reasons for blocking crawlers and scrapers. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get around web page blocks.
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