With the demand for data increasing across businesses of all sizes, web scraping has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry. Once confined to larger enterprises (with the budgets to match), web scraping is now accessible to every business out there – including yours.
Some of you may be wondering how web scraping works and ways to get started. If that’s the case, then this quick guide is for you. Get ready to learn what web scraping is, how the big players use it, and ways to begin integrating data into your business operations.
Web Scraping Overview
Data collection practices are not new. They were once as simple as manually observing and recording the number of customers visiting a competitor’s store, recording prices from sales flyers or newspaper listings, and sending customer surveys.
The advent of the internet enhanced that practice by allowing users to copy data from websites and inputting it into spreadsheet programs. Modern web scraping techniques have taken that idea and augmented it exponentially through the use of scripts that can extract hundreds of listings in mere seconds.
For clarity, let’s picture a large e-commerce website full of products, prices, stock information, and descriptions. Business owners that are keen on obtaining supply and demand insights can use web scraping tools to scan all those pages and extract the data in seconds.
The data is then delivered in a structured (e.g. JSON) or an unstructured format. From there, you can derive critical insights from the pricing, description, and stock data that can be used to adjust your strategy and increase your business’s competitive advantage.
Top Web Scraping Use Cases
As more people come online, additional data is added through the creation of websites, social media profiles, and other internet applications. A small sample of use cases for that data include:
Depending on how you look at it, search engines either invented web scraping, or web scraping gave rise to search engines. In any case, programmers in the early days programmed “crawlers” to explore the internet and record everything they found. What followed was the creation of algorithms that analyzed on-site factors like page titles, keywords, and backlinks.
From there, the search engine industry was born, giving rise to companies like Yahoo!, Bing and Google. Besides providing search services, these businesses also sell advertising through an auction-style system that allows websites to bid on keywords and pay for clicks.
SEO Software and Platforms
As the use of search engines grew in popularity, website owners seeking to increase their rank became interested in learning how the algorithms worked. To fill this demand, the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry emerged, comprised of consultancy firms, software and platforms that provide services that help website owners increase their ranking.
Popular SEO tool providers use data from third-party scraping services to “reverse engineer” the process of how pages are ranked. The insights they derive are then sold to subscribers in the form of both technical and content recommendations that can be used to help increase a website’s ranking.
E-commerce Stores & Marketing Agencies
Product and pricing data is critical to the success of e-commerce businesses. As a result, the use of web scraping to obtain market data grew rapidly among e-commerce stores seeking to gain a competitive advantage and marketing agencies selling data sets.
Web scraping can be used to extract an extensive variety of information, including pricing, descriptions, stock levels, comments and reviews. In addition, businesses can scrape supply and demand factors for use towards dynamic pricing strategies.
Current and historical data has always been critical to the decision-making process among investors. Web scraping gives traders the tools required to easily extract large volumes of data from various public sources, including stock indexes and government websites.
The industry has taken it a step forward in recent years to scrape data from non-traditional sources. Referred to as “alternative data”, this includes information from social media sites and real-time platforms, including flights, stock trading by politicians, government contracts, work visas, corporate lobbying, and more.
Ready to dive into web scraping? Here’s how to get started:
There are two possible paths your company can take to get started with web scraping:
In-house web scraping
In-house web scraping internalizes the operation within your company. It requires a team of developers to write customized data extraction scripts to execute and monitor the process.
There are many benefits to taking web scraping in-house, including customization, troubleshooting and faster support. At the same time, it requires a significant upfront investment to operate and maintain.
Outsourced web scraping
Some companies prefer to focus resources on data analysis rather than the extraction process itself. Data scraper APIs are a cost-saving option that helps a business collect real-time data from any public website. Data is then delivered in a structured format through the use of AI/ML-based parsers. Many of these solutions are easy to use and “work out of the box“, allowing companies to focus on the insights they need to enhance decision making and create precision data-driven strategies.
Ready to learn more?
My company’s webinar, Web Scraping for Business – Why Every Company Should Do It, is now available on-demand. You will learn how the process works and see a live demonstration of a powerful web scraper in action.
Your web scraping journey is just beginning. By unlocking the power of data, your business can gain the significant competitive advantage required to thrive in the digital marketplace.