Explaining what web scraping is
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Iveta Vistorskyte

Nov 16, 2020 7 min read

Nowadays, companies gather large amounts of data to achieve their goals. Businesses use data to make important decisions, so having accurate information is crucial. The internet is full of invaluable and publicly available data. The question is how to collect it without a team manually copying and pasting the required information around the clock?

The definition of web scraping becomes increasingly familiar to every modern company that collects data. This article will explain in detail what web scraping is and how to use it in your business.

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Web scraping definition

Web scraping (also called internet scraping, website scraping) is an automated process of gathering publicly available data from targeted websites. Instead of collecting data manually, web scraping tools acquire a vast amount of information in seconds.

You should pay attention to two often mixed concepts: web scraping vs. web crawling. For more information, we suggest you check out this explanatory video below:

The web scraping process

To clearly define what web scraping is, explaining the basic web scraping process is crucial. There are three main steps:

1. Making requests for targeted websites. Web scraping tools (also called web scrapers) are making HTTP requests, such as GET and POST to the target websites for the contents of a specific URL.

2. Extracting required data. Requested web servers return the data in the HTML format. However, you might need to extract specific information from the HTML file. In this case, web scrapers parse the data according to your requirements.

3. Storing scraped data. This is the final step of the whole web scraping process. The required data needs to be stored in CSV, JSON formats, or in any database for further usage.

The web scraping legality is a frequently discussed topic and it’s especially important for businesses. Therefore, there are some of the things you need to know before starting web scraping: 

1. Even if  you are gathering publicly available data, ensure that you’re not breaching laws that may apply to such data, e.g., downloading copyrighted data.

2. Avoid logging in to websites to get the required information because by doing that you must accept Terms of Service (ToS) (or other legal agreement) and that may forbid automated data gathering processes.

3. Data for personal usage should also be collected cautiously, according to websites’ policy.

Before engaging in web scraping activities of any kind, we advise you to seek legal consultation to ensure you’re not violating any laws.

The legality of web scraping
Before starting web scraping, you have to be sure that you’re not violating any laws

How to start web scraping?

Starting website scraping isn’t easy because you have to think of many aspects. First of all, you need to decide whether your team is capable of building an in-house web scraper, or whether it would be easier to use third-party web scraping tools.

What is a web scraper?

A web scraper is a specific tool used for data gathering tasks. This tool is capable of requesting and extracting information from target websites. There are advanced web scraping tools that also parse the required data.

Building an in-house web scraper requires an experienced developers team with specific coding knowledge. Python is the most common programming language for web scraping. Also, if you’re choosing this option, you have to ensure all the resources for your developers. For example, for any projects based on web scraping, it’s necessary to use and maintain proxies. Using proxies is crucial for gathering vast amounts of data without being blocked by targeted websites.

If you’re interested in web scraping but have difficulties building or maintaining your own web scraper, there is an option of choosing a reliable third-party web scraping tool. In this case, you won’t need to deal with proxy maintenance, IP blocks, CAPTCHAs, and other challenges. You can dedicate your time to more important tasks, such as data analysis.

Choosing what tool to use for your web scraping tasks depends on your target sites. For example, our Real-Time Crawler is a customized scraper designed for public data retrieval operations on a large scale.

How Oxylabs' Real-Time Crawler delivers data to clients
How Oxylabs’ Real-Time Crawler works

Types of web scrapers

By now, you should have a decent idea of what a web scraper is. It’s worth mentioning that there are different types of web scrapers. Mostly, they are divided by their installation method. Knowing the differences between these types helps you decide which web scraper is the best for your data gathering tasks.

1. Browser extensions. They are easy to integrate and comfortable to use. However, these extensions usually have limitations on scraping multiple pages at a time. Browser plug-ins are a suitable option if you need to gather small amounts of data.

2. Software. Like using any other software, you’ll need to install selected web scraping software on your computer. Web scraping software from reliable providers is compatible with most operating systems. You should know that web scraping software is usually chosen for smaller web scraping processes, but it’s capable of gathering larger amounts of data than browser extensions.

3. Cloud-based scrapers. Compared to other types, cloud-based scrapers are capable of gathering larger amounts of data because these scrapers run on computing environments that allow easy scaling. Choosing this type of web scraper releases you from dealing with various limitations.

Choosing the right web scraping tool always depends on your needs. Before making any decision, you should think of what you expect from it now and, of course, in the future.

What is web scraping used for?

Web scraping is used to collect publicly available data from target websites. The question is, how companies use this data for their needs? We outlined the most common use cases of scraped data for businesses:

  1. Market research. To stay competitive, companies need to know their market. Analyzing competitors’ data and market trends help to make more accurate decisions.   
  2. Brand protection. Web scraping is crucial for brand protection because it gathers data all over the web to ensure that there are no violations in terms of brand security.  
  3. Travel fare aggregation. Travel companies search for deals across multiple websites and publish founded results on their websites. Without automation, this process would take plenty of time. 
  4. Price monitoring. Businesses need to keep up with the ever-changing prices in the market. Scraped pricing data is vital to make precise pricing strategies. 
  5. SEO monitoring. Web scraping allows companies to gather necessary search engine result pages’ (SERP) information to track their results and progress in the rankings. 
  6. Review monitoring. Tracking customer reviews and responding to them can increase online reputation and help achieve marketing goals.
There are many use cases of scraped publicly available data

The future of web scraping

The web scraping market is constantly changing by implementing new technologies and improving the whole data gathering process with the latest innovations. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies are shaping the entire technology field, so there aren’t any exceptions with web scraping as well.

AI web scraping is already successfully used to gather vast amounts of data at scale. This technology can deal with the most challenging issues, such as solving CAPTCHAs, collecting data from JavaScript rendered websites, adapting to websites’ changes, parsing data, and much more.

Wrapping it up

There isn’t any hesitation that web scraping is a crucial process for businesses that make data-driven decisions. Whether companies choose to build their own web scrapers or use third-party tools, the solution to implement web scraping in their daily tasks is a definite improvement and a step forward. 

If you are interested in starting web scraping, we suggest you check out the Python web scraping tutorial or other blog posts for more information.

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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.