This article is a small part of our “Ultimate Guide to Data-Mining Scraping with Proxies” editorial.
The Internet is full of information about everything and everyone. With so much data exposed, a great number of people use different methods to gather as much information as possible and get the most out of it.
One such method is web scraping, which is being increasingly used for business purposes. This article aims to explain the concept of web scraping, its applications and methods, as well as its advantages and disadvantages.
What Is Data Scraping?
Data scraping (or web scraping) is a method used to extract data from websites. When you use scraping software, you can directly access the web using the HyperText Transfer Protocol or your web browser. In general, people who do web scraping use automated software such as a bot or web crawler.
With software, the scraped data is automatically extracted and saved to a local file in your computer or to a database in table format (e.g. spreadsheet).
However, web scraping can’t be done by everyone. This method is usually used by businesses who hire web scraping experts. There are numerous obstacles in this process, so if you want to use scraping for your business, you should either have an employee who is web scraping professional or outsource it to another company.
Web Scraping Applications
The power of web scraping is amazing, and companies that use it are head and shoulders above their competition.
There are so many uses of web scraping that we could hardly list them all even in a much longer article. These are only some areas where data scraping is often used:
- Sales leads
- Real estate
- Social media
For example, you can generate a lot of leads by scraping their contact information like email addresses, URLs and phone numbers.
When it comes to social media, one can scrape Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter to retrieve social graphs, job postings and candidates, as well as extract and analyze tweets.
Finally, modern marketing would be impossible without data scraping. Product and service pricing, competitors price analysis and reviews are only some aspects that are being constantly enhanced thanks to scraping.
Web Scraping Technology
Each expert in this field knows that there are a few web scraping tools that you can’t go without.
This is a web browser automation tool which does a number of tasks on autopilot. You can use it to mimic a human visiting a web page, emulate ajax calls, test websites and automate any other time-consuming activity.
Many say that Nutch is the ultimate standard when it comes to web scraping. Nutch is an incredibly useful tool that you can use for crawling, extracting and storing data at the speed of light.
Boilerpipe is what you want to use when you extract clean text along with associated titles. It is a Java library which extracts both structured and unstructured web pages. This tool intelligently removes HTML tags and other noise, and it does so very fast and with a minimal input.
Watir is a flexible and user-friendly tool used for web browser automation. It clicks the links, files forms, presses buttons and does anything that a human would do.
Pros and Cons of Web Scraping
To help you get the whole picture, we will list each advantage and disadvantage of web scraping that we consider to be important.
Here are the advantages of data scraping.
Imagine how much time you would spend if you had to copy and paste each piece of information you need from a website. Not only would this take hours but it would drain all your energy. Luckily, scraping software automates most of the associated processes.
Not only is scraping fast but it is also extremely accurate. This prevents any major mistakes which can occur as a result of smaller data extraction mistakes made during the process.
- Data management
You use spreadsheets and databases to manage figures and numerals on your computer, but you can’t really do this on a website configured in HTML. With web scraping tools, this is made possible.
However, there are also some limitations of web scraping.
Webmasters tend to change their websites frequently in order to improve their functionality, which can easily break the logic of web scraping software.
- Inability to keep up
Websites are only getting better, which makes it extremely difficult for data scraping tools to extract and store data accurately.
- IP detection
This may be the biggest of all web scraping problems. When you regularly scrape data from a single IP, it will be recognized and blocked. However, you can easily solve this problem by using a proxy.
GeoSurf proxies are recognized as real users by target websites since we use real residential IPs and have the ability to “keep” the IP for each user up to 30 minutes and thus appearing as a normal user would.