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Web scraping vs API: what to choose for your business?

Iveta Vistorskyte

Jun 08, 2020 7 min read

If your company decided to start data gathering to improve its pricing, marketing, or other strategies, it could be difficult to determine what method to choose. Companies are using different ways for data acquisition. We will explain to you the most common methods – web scraping and using API to access required data.

In this blog post, we will cover the technical advantages and disadvantages of both methods in order to help you choose the best option. First of all, let’s figure out essential definitions.

What is web scraping?

It is a process when you scrape data from the required public sources and import needed information into any data storage device. Collecting data has become an essential process of every company that wants to stay competitive or even become the leading game player in the market.

What is API?

API is an abbreviation of the Application Programming Interface. It is an intermediary between different softwares, and its primary purpose is to allow one software to refer to another. To clearly understand how it works, API delivers your query to the provider and then gives its response back to you.

Before we begin to identify the differences and which method is better for data acquisition, please note that when you search for information about this topic, you can also find comparisons like screen scraping vs API. Basically, screen scraping is almost the same as web scraping. The difference is that web scraping is used to extract data from the websites, while screen scraping is used for extracting data from required applications.

Also, it is important to understand that API is a general definition of a tool that developers use for various tasks. In this blog post we are going to talk about using API for data gathering.

Web scraping vs API: the differences

Both of these methods, web scraping and using API, allow access to the data. The main difference between them is their operating principle.

Web scraping is a process when a web scraper copies all the required data from various web pages and delivers results for further use and analysis. Many providers offer scraping services, so your company can outsource web crawler tools and focus on analysis instead of data acquisition. Also, if your business has all the resources for the data gathering process, you can build your own web scraper and use it for your companies’ goals.

Web scraping is a method to gather data from targeted web pages
Web scraping is a method to gather large amounts of data from various web pages

To put it simply, some websites provide APIs that give access for developers to receive the specific data from web pages. It is one of the most popular ways to exchange data between businesses. Usually, companies make collaboration agreements to acquire permissions to access API provider data.

Web scraping vs API: which is better?

Using API is probably one of the best choices if you need to interact with the system because it opens up data for developers or other users. However, not all websites have APIs. Also, API does not always give access to all the available public data. It depends on the agreement with the web page owner. These are essential issues for companies that need to gather plenty of public information from the targeted websites. Web scraping is a solution for these problems.

Here are more advantages of web scraping compared to API:

Avoid limitations

Websites are implementing blocking measures from any triggers because they want to operate smoothly, so you do not want to hinder their operations. As long as you are not overloading targeted websites with many concurrent requests, there should be no issues. Otherwise, you can get a ban or a request for some form of verification like CAPTCHAs. However, you should know that there is a solution to avoid blocks. Use proxies for web scraping tasks to prevent IP address blocks from target servers. We will explain this solution below. 

Real-time data

You will get up-to-date and relevant data because you scrape the information precisely from the website. When using API, websites’ databases can not be updated at the exact moment, putting the required data at risk of being obsolete. Real-time data is essential for further analysis since you need to have accurate data for better results. 

Web scraper customization 

You can collect well-structured data from any targeted website. You can even think of geo-specific or other particular data that will improve your business strategies and help you to achieve your goals. When web scraper building is in process, all you need to do is set parameters in the program for the required data.

Anonymous data acquisition

It is impossible to stay anonymous when using API for data gathering. You frequently need to register to get a key and send it along every time you request data. When web scraping, you can remain anonymous.

Screen scraping vs API has more advantages when collecting vast amounts of data
Screen scraping vs API has more advantages when collecting large amounts of data

Using proxies for web scraping

As we already mentioned, to ensure a smooth data gathering process when web scraping, you can use proxies. Targeted web servers receive a bunch of requests, and this is unavoidable. Your data acquisition process may be recognized as a suspicious activity, and your IP address gets blocked. This is the reason why you should use residential IPs since they are essential for web scraping, especially to gather large amounts of data.

What are Residential Proxies?

Residential Proxies are IP addresses provided by an Internet Service Provider. These IP addresses are attached to a physical location. If you want to know more, watch our video:

Why are companies using APIs for data acquisition?

We have covered many benefits of web scraping over API. If you are having thoughts why users are still using API to collect data from websites, you should know that web scraping is not always the only solution for every data acquisition task.

Choosing to use API over web scraping depends on your business’ goals. You will not encounter any restrictions when using API if you need to gather specific data from the same website all the time. For example, if you need to gather data from your product supplier and oversee stock of products or price changes, API is a preferable choice. If your data acquisition demands are not changing over time, you can use API without any issues.

You should not forget that companies are growing and the market is changing all the time. If you plan on expanding your business in the future, it is worth investing in web scraping tools from the beginning.

Wrapping it up

In short, web scraping and using API has the same goal – to access the required data. However, web scraping is a preferable choice when it comes to gathering vast amounts of data from a bunch of different resources.

Web scraping advantages include collecting real-time data, fewer limitations, better customization, and anonymous data collecting process. Also, you can additionally use proxies to ensure a smooth web scraping process with significantly fewer IP blocks.

However, choosing between web scraping vs API depends on your business goals. If you need to collect data from the same website all the time, API is a suitable choice.

If you think that it is time to boost your business by starting web scraping, register here and begin using Oxylabs’ web scraping tools right now! If you have any questions, get in touch with our sales team by clicking here and booking a call.


About Iveta Vistorskyte

Iveta Vistorskyte is a Copywriter at Oxylabs. Growing up as a writer and a challenge seeker, she decided to welcome herself to the tech-side, and instantly became interested in this field. When she is not at work, you'll probably find her just chillin' while listening to her favorite music or playing board games with friends.

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All information on Oxylabs Blog is provided on an "as is" basis and for informational purposes only. We make no representation and disclaim all liability with respect to your use of any information contained on Oxylabs Blog or any third-party websites that may be linked therein. Before engaging in scraping activities of any kind you should consult your legal advisors and carefully read the particular website's terms of service or receive a scraping license.