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The internet has become so vast, intricate and rich of information that we could compare it to a glorious feast in a labyrinth. Just imagine it for one second: There are tons and tons of food, but we don’t always know how to easily find our way around it and find the food we like and need the most without wasting our time. In other words, do we really know how to gather the information that we’re looking for?
The most common method to gather information from the internet is called “Data Scraping” or “Data Mining”. They are two different ways to refer to the action of extracting data from websites using a software. A scraping software allows you to directly access the web using the HyperText Transfer Protocol or your regular web browser. Scraping, especially when you need to do it on a very high number of web pages, is usually done with the help of an automatic software, such as a bot or a web crawler. These tools gather the data you need and save it into a local file in your computer or in a database in table format, like a spreadsheet.
Web scraping has become a crucial tool for many businesses when it comes to checking the competition, analyzing information or monitoring online conversations on specific topics. In this extensive guide, we will explain the different uses of data mining, the importance of using a proxy server with Residential IPs in order not be blocked by your target site or, even worse, be fed with falsified information. We will also go through some of the best scraping technologies and tools so you can make an informed decision on which services will work best for you.
The number of companies that use web scraping to improve their business operations has skyrocketed over the last few years. Mainly used to tackle their competitions, it’s used in sales, marketing, real estate, banking, finance, SEO, eCommerce, social media, and the list could go on and on. The truth is that modern marketing would not exist without web scraping!
Here are a few examples of data mining applications:
Let’s say you’re selling a product online. You can use web scraping to monitor the performance of your own sales; or you can use it to gather information about your own customers or potential customers, possibly also using social media.
It’s fundamental, if you’re selling a product online, to constantly keep track of what your competitors are doing. Web scraping allows you to compare your prices with the ones offered by the competition, giving you a critical advantage in the game.
Have you ever heard of ad fraud? If you’re putting out advertisements for your business in the internet, beware of the existence of this very subtle type of fraud. Usually you sell your ads to services (ad servers) that commit to distributing them on reliable sites. But what happens sometimes is that hackers create fake websites and generate fake traffic, and your advertisements won’t actually be seen by real people.
Another form of ad fraud happens when competitors try to ruin your brand by directing your ads to bad sites. If your ads appear in a porn or casino website, your reputation may be at risk.
This use allows you to scrape search engine results (e.g. from Google). You’ll be able to analyze results on specific search words and find the best title tags and keywords to get more traffic on your own website.
Just like in price monitoring, if you want to keep up with the current prices of real estate in a desired location, you can use data mining tools to check real estate websites.
As you can imagine after reading these examples, there are plenty more uses for data mining, and these are just a few of them.
Now, you might be thinking: “Awesome, I got it! Let’s start scraping!” However, if you do that without protecting yourself, your scraping might lead to nothing or, even worse, to a financial loss. Yes, you read that right. Let us explain.
The internet can be dangerous jungle, don’t we all agree? Many of your target sites (in other words, the websites you’re trying to gather information from) will try to detect you. If they recognize that you’re trying to scrape their data, their server will block you. In some cases, it might not block you, but show you falsified information, instead. Let’s say you’re mining data and you’re basing your business decisions on the results you get from your search. If you’re basing your decisions on falsified results, you’re likely to make a very poor decision.
Another example: If you’re scraping the internet for price comparison, and you visit certain sites extensively while using the same IP address, you will appear as suspicious to the target websites, which will block you.
So, how can you avoid being detected? It’s simple: you can use a proxy server that allows you to use—and even rotate between—Residential IPs. These IPs look unsuspicious and allow you to gather your data in total anonymity. Beware that if you’re using a proxy server but the IP you’re using is not residential, you might still be detected.
ELKI, GATE, KNIME, MEPX… No matter which data mining software you use, you know it’s a process that takes a considerable amount of time. Just imagine that you’re about to complete the process when your connection suddenly breaks and you lose all the progress you’ve made, wasting precious work and time. This can happen if you use your own server, whose connection can be unreliable. A good proxy will ensure you have a stable connection.
As we explained earlier in this article, if you pursue several web scraping operations over an extended period of time in the target site, you are likely to get banned. In other cases, you might be blocked because of your location. A good proxy like GeoSurf can solve these problems in the blink of an eye. It will hide your IP address and replace it with a large pool of rotating residential proxies, making you virtually invisible to the server of your target site. A proxy will also give you access to a set of proxy servers located worldwide, which will help you solve the location obstacle easily: Just select your preferred location, whether it’s the United States or Madagascar, and surf in total anonymity and freedom.
Your own server might not be secure enough to handle all the malicious entities it may encounter while you’re scraping information; do you really want to put yourself in a vulnerable position while you’re in the middle of a mining operation? Getting a backconnect proxy is the best solution to this problem.
Data mining is a complex process in and of itself; regardless of the software you’re planning to use and how great of an expert you are, a proxy can easily help you with some crucial and basic necessities such as hiding your IP address and using a secure and stable connection to carry your operation smoothly and successfully.
While it’s not true that proxy servers are particularly expensive, it’s important to put things in perspective and realize that if you are detected by your target site and fed with falsified information, this may lead to a much greater financial burden; at that point, paying for a Starter Plan with a good Residential IP Proxy service ends up being more convenient.
Using Residential IPs will lower your fail rate; and if you get better results from your data mining activities, you can say that by paying for a good proxy you get a bigger return on investment (ROI).
Many proxy providers out there use high rotation IPs, which means that you get a new IP address every time you send a new request. This can obviously affect the success of your operation. If you need to send multiple requests or go through several web pages, it’s recommended to send all the requests through the same IP address in order to successfully complete the process. Using high rotation IPs to complete a task that requires to go through several web pages is a mistake you should avoid!
Sticky IP by GeoSurf allows you to stick to the same IP address throughout the duration of a task. You just need to select the desired location and the rotation time corresponding to the time you need to complete your task (1 minute, 10 minutes, 30 minutes) until your IP address will change. This process will maximize the success rate and get the job done much faster.
Well, that depends on which proxy service you purchase.
Some proxy providers look great and fancy until you try to integrate them. Some are very difficult to integrate, as they require you to install complex proxy managers and to ultimately modify your entire solution. Other proxy services require you to whitelist your IP addresses; but if you are using shared servers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or any Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, you cannot whitelist the IPs, because they’re probably in somebody else’s whitelist.
In short, stay away from these proxies.
Instead, go for easy-integration proxies that support whatever your needs may be. GeoSurf, for instance, takes less than 5 minutes to integrate and supports the IP:port method with IP whitelist, the username-Password solution, and session persistence with an API.
The best proxies out there are compatible with any software. They’re easy to integrate and don’t require you to go crazy or install complex proxy managers. They should also offer automatic on-boarding and not require you to go through burdensome bureaucratic procedures or do video calls in order to purchase the product. Proxy servers should ensure account anonymity within the entire proxy eco-system architecture and have a language-agnostic API which is mandatory since developers normally deal with multiple coding languages and will always prefer an API that has no language restrictions.
Now that we explained why it is crucial to use Residential IPs to carry your mining operations, we can discuss the actual operations in detail. As we mentioned earlier, data mining means finding large sets of data and analyzing them in order to discover patterns in them. It’s a computing process that enables a user to extract the information and transform it into a clear structure for future use.
First of all, define the problem you want to solve. Are you looking into finding the prices of the competition and analyzing them? Or are you looking into learning about people’s opinions on a certain topic or issue? At this point, you can start with the data mining.
The entire process can be divided into three stages:
At this initial stage, you gather the data you’re looking for. You need to find it, access it (here you’ll need a proxy), sampling it and if necessary transforming it.
After considering various data models and patterns, you build one that will work best for your goal. After creating your model, you might want to test it.
Apply the gathered data to your model and analyze it. This might lead to writing an in-depth report of your findings and ultimately might help you make a business decision based on the results.
There are numerous data mining techniques you can pick from. Some of them will only leave you speculating what the pattern actually is and how to use it. Below, we will list some excellent techniques:
This technique is a good fit for you if you want to categorize the data in different classes. You can apply algorithms that already exist or invent your own to determine how to classify the new data.
If you encounter a data item that does not really match an expected pattern, the most logical thing you can do is to take a closer look at it, right? Anomalies are also referred to as outliers, deviations, noise, exceptions and novelties—therefore you might read the phrase “outlier detection” or other synonyms online. Anomalies can provide extremely useful information and help you detect the real cause behind them. If your job is to monitor a network, you can easily detect a flaw in the system by detecting and analyzing the anomaly.
If you are an expert at customer profiling, then you know how important this method is! Clustering analysis allows you to group similar items, objects or people in the same category. As a result, you will have categories containing items with a high level of association, while items in different categories will bear very little similarity.
As you can imagine, there are many more data mining examples, but we chose these three because they are some of the most efficient ones.
So far, we’ve talked about all the good things that come with data mining. The truth is, that just like with anything also, also data mining can have its advantages and disadvantages.
Can you imagine how much time you would waste if you had to manually copy and paste each piece of information you need from a website? It would take hours—if not days—and drain all of your energy. Scraping softwares automate this type of operation, gathering the data in just a fraction of the time it take a human to execute the same instructions.
Not only is scraping fast, but it is also very accurate. This characteristic prevents you from making major mistakes that can easily occur when you carry these operations manually. It takes just a minor mistake to mess up a larger result: don’t risk it!
In order to manage figures and numbers on your computer, you can use spreadsheets and databases. However, you cannot really do this on a website configured in HTML. Using a web scraping tool, this is possible.
Webmasters tend to update their websites frequently so that they can improve their functionality. These updates can easily break the logic implemented by web scraping softwares.
As websites continue to improve, it has become increasingly difficult for data scraping tools to extract and store data accurately.
When you scrape using a single IP address, it is going to be detected and you will eventually get blocked! While this is a big problem when you are web scraping, it can easily be solved by using a proxy. As we explained earlier in this article, using a of Residential IPs as a proxy is the best solution in order not to get detected or blocked ever again.
GeoSurf proxies appear to the target website as real users. This is because we use real Residential IP addresses and give you the ability to stick to the same IP for up to 30 minutes until you rotate to a new one; this way you’ll look just like a regular user would.
Here are some common traps you may fall into if you’re not careful while data mining:
It’s important that you don’t keep following the same crawling pattern over and over again. If you do that, you’ll look like a robot. Bots are programmed to follow specific patterns, and that can be the reason your target sites detects you. The solution is to include random clicks on the pages you’re visiting, so that the behavior of the bot will look more human.
A honeypot is a system used by websites to catch hackers; they are created to deceive hackers / data scraping. A common example is what map businesses have started doing to prevent competitors to scrape their maps: They started inserting “new,” inexistent places in their maps so that they could prove that their competitors were stealing their maps and infringing the copyright.
Some websites deploy infinite loops as a means of security in order to mislead a data scraping bot when it hits a honeypot. This easily can be avoided by limiting the number of redirects allowed for your data scraping framework. For example, if you set the limit to 5 than the infinite loop will stop after visiting 5 URLs.
Website policies typically contain some text about limiting access to their service for bots or other means of non-human engagement in relation to their content. Having said that, a federal judge on Monday ordered LinkedIn Corp. to allow a startup company to scrape data publicly posted by LinkedIn users (wsj.com, Aug. 14, 2017 by Jacob Gershman). We learn from this case that retrieval of data by human or machine
Now that you’re prepared and you know what obstacles to expect, it’s time to discuss the best tools for data mining.
There are a few web scraping tools that no mining expert can go without! Take a look below at some of our favorites:
Selenium is a suite of tools designed for automating web browsers. It can perform several 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 activities. It runs in many browsers and operating systems and can be controlled by many programming languages and testing frameworks.
Many say that Nutch is the ultimate tool when it comes to web scraping. It’s very useful for crawling, extracting and storing data at the speed of light.
Boilerpipe is the tool you want to use to extract clean text along with associated titles. It is a Java library that extracts both structured and unstructured web pages. This tool intelligently removes HTML tags and other noise; in other words, it “provides algorithms to detect and remove the surplus clutter around the main textual content of a web page.” And it does it very fast and with minimal input!
Watir is a flexible and user-friendly tool used for web browser automation. It can automatically click on links, fill forms, press buttons and navigate a website the way a human would. It’s “an open source Ruby library for automating tests.”
After you’ve selected your preferred scraping tool, you can pair it with a proxy to ensure anonymity and security for your data mining operation.
GeoSurf gives you access to a premium proxy network of over 2 million Residential IP addresses located in over 130 countries. With GeoSurf, you can select how often you want to rotate between different IP addresses. Scrape in total anonymity and with no fear of being blocked or fed with falsified information.