The web is replete with information—the type that can transform your business and take it to the next level. As you digest this piece, many more terabytes of data will make their way to the online space.
The good part is that businesses are beginning to leverage this data since they know they can use it to gain a competitive advantage. If you want to make intelligent decisions, you cannot negate the importance of data in today’s business environment.
Enterprises in different verticals rely on data—a large amount of it for insight about their customers. They want to optimize business processes and improve their products, and data has become a valuable tool. Web scraping comes into the picture to further make this goal a reality.
When you scrape for data, you would usually collect intelligence from your competitors’ sites. The process typically entails using spiders that will go to work and fetch HTML documents from relevant websites and extract the required content. This extraction follows business logic and stores the data in a specific format.
If you’re starting a new business or you want to grow an existing one, regardless of the niche or sector, web scraping is the best way to collect data. Practising it helps you gain valuable insights and also information about products or services.
Even though web scraping is not a new concept, it continues to deliver results for many business owners. It can be employed in various situations in business to stay ahead of the game. The business use cases of web scraping are as follows:
- Competitive Analysis
- Collection of Product/Pricing Information
- Marketing and Promotion Effort Monitoring
- Data on competitors’ Strengths and Weakness
- Market Research
- The Honeypot Syndrome
- Lack of Proxy Services and Rotating IPs
- Neglecting Site Guidance in the Robots.txt File
- Small Businesses
- Editor’s Choice of Weapon
- Advantages of Outsourcing Web scraping
Successful businesses keep an eye on the competition and use it to improve processes and gauge their results. It may be a difficult task to access an organization’s future strategies and sales figures.
However, there are always some public data to keep an eye on and leverage—pricing trends, strategies used to acquire new clients, resources deployment, to name a few.
Collection of Product/Pricing Information
Web scraping tools can collect how much competing products sell for in various websites and locale. This data will also reveal when your competitor gives discounts and promotions.
Marketing and Promotion Effort Monitoring
Web scraping can help you find out your competitors’ strategies, which you can use to your advantage and outperform them in the long-run.
Data on competitors’ Strengths and Weakness
Facts from data sheets, public sources, and user reviews can help you distinguish your product from others. That gives you an undying competitive advantage.
A business owner that wants to take his business to the next level will always conduct market research, which will ultimately be a crucial part of shaping their overall strategy.
For instance, when practising web scraping for market research purposes, you can gather information regarding opportunities and put together an extensive list of competitors—both direct and indirect ones. It could also give you the potential customer base using the buyer personas.
Or, for example, take a real estate firm that may leverage scraped sales, auction, and pricing data to stay in tune with market trends, as it happens in real-time.
Search engine scraping is all about harvesting descriptions, URLs, and other types of information from Google, Yahoo, and Bing. It is only for the search engines— and a type of screen scraping when it comes to the extraction of data.
When you scrape search engines, you’re in a way trying to improve your ranking on the SERPs. Webmasters and SEO companies use this method to rank higher than their competitors. SEO experts will use scraped keywords to monitor their competitors’ positions and target potential customers across the globe.
It is not a welcomed practised in the industry—because it’s tricky.
Search engines do not want people to engineer this idea. They went far as referring to applications in such practice as “Black Hat SEO.” They also revealed some that they perceive as being accurate.
There are vast arrays of approaches that are valid—but you’ll have to be careful when you scrape continuously off different pages. If Google detects your activity, you’ll be bombarded with captcha severally. And you can imagine how frustrating that can be. So, what is the best way to stay in line? Get your proxies and use them for this activity.
Automating processes like web scraping to collect data saves a lot of time and effort. There is no need to go the whole hog to complete regular tasks. Instead, you can direct your energy to business development tasks. And who wouldn’t opt for a simpler and efficient way to do things?
If your business is not leveraging web scraping, you’re already leaving so much money on the table. Whatever your sector—e-commerce, healthcare, real estate, etc.—you can use it to move to the frontlines, make more profit, and create opportunities on demand.
Scraping for small businesses offers them so many advantages by creating an application that delivers services based on data mining like the ones we described above.
But some challenges come with having an in-house web scraper. Enterprises that have gone that route have tales to tell—or call it words of advice. So you need to be extra vigilant for you to be successful in this mission.
Here are the possible challenges to expect when you go solo with your web extraction adventure:
The Honeypot Syndrome
Honey pots are links buried within web pages which cannot be seen by the human eyes. If you’re an incautious web scraper, the trap will “swallow” you. As soon as the links are within reach, the site monitoring software goes to work, and the web scraper may be in big trouble.
But who says you can’t detect them? They follow a specific pattern, having the “no follow” tags—or sometimes they may have the same color as the background page.
Lack of Proxy Services and Rotating IPs
Whenever a website receives a request, it is usually associated with an IP address. If such IP carries multiple offers, it triggers the web monitoring software to weld its big stick.
You can be smart each time you send a request, and such action will derail web monitors. Going by this process, you will have a pool of IP addresses that you can choose while making requests.
Neglecting Site Guidance in the Robots.txt File
Web scraping is not new to owners of heavily-trafficked websites—they know it is part of the business. Even well-known search engines employ a specific web scraping process for populating their search results. It is acceptable by some sites. However, you have to play by their rules.
The use of a robots.txt file is an industry-standard practice, which brings to the fore the parameters for acceptable levels of web scraping. Some of these parameters are the permitted request rate limits, disallowed pages, and so on. The robots.txt file resides in the website’s root directory.
For more advanced robot.txt files, permissions may differ by the web scraper. For instance, robots.txt file can allow professionals that scrape off DuckDuckGo and Google to have their own way of performing such activity.
However, smaller potential competitors may struggle to make headway—restrictions will most likely hit them hard.
For this reason, web scripts will have to feature advance robots.txt scanning. That will provide you with an idea of the permissible behaviour for a specific scraper. To this end, you can create parameters to stay off the line of sight of website operators.
You can opt for a better approach to web scraping, and that is by outsourcing it to companies with a well-defined niche market with robust technical core competencies.
It is a big decision to outsource your web scraping project. With a third-party vendor in the picture, it is understandable to be jittery—your big data project may suffer some setback. The fear cannot be swept under the carpet and regarded as pointless.
The truth is that the insights you gather from data are as good as the data itself. You must, therefore, be careful while outsourcing your web scraping project to any provider.
There are so many things you should consider before outsourcing, as it comes with a lot of benefits when you do it right.
The following information will avail you the need to outsource your data scraping requirements:
- If you think web scraping is a natural process, then you might have to think twice. It needs a high level of technical skills and an array of tech-savvy resources, both human and technological.
- You’ll have to complement it with a robust infrastructure that can lend support to tasks considered as resource-intensive and associated with web scraping.
- The fact is that not all organizations have the financial muscles to pull up an in-house crawling setup. Hiring technical labor to handle it might not be a bad idea for your business.
Startups do not have the budget to initiate expensive web scraping procedures. If you’re a new business and data is not a significant issue for you at the moment, it is advisable to acquire your data using an API. Or better still, a DIY web scraping tool. It might be a better option for you and your business.
But the problem with this option is that it is minimal and may hinder your business growth, especially if the data is the core of your activities. In most cases, they’re available to partners and have expensive subscription fees.
The startup will benefit if the data requirement is on a large scale and not recurring.
For small businesses, expect higher requirements as regards setting up and maintaining an in-house crawling system. It will be pretty expensive for a small business establishment. It will be totally out of place to hire, train, and manage a team of engineers—the cost implication will be very high.
Aside from that, there will be an infrastructure that could support data in volume. Again, the organization could be distracted in its core business activity; hence, outsourcing will be a better choice.
Small businesses will benefit more when they outsource, as the cost is lower than having an in-house crawling system. You can decide to calculate your ROI on web crawling as you embark on this journey.
Large enterprises have the financial muscle to pull the required strings—they can outsource their data extraction project. Or, they can set up an in-house system and hire the right set of talents to handle it.
But what about saving costs? If you can process your data extraction project and have the resources at your disposal, it may seem like a good idea. However, an enterprise will benefit in more ways than one by outsourcing their projects.
Editor’s Choice of Weapon
Currently, out there in the market, there are plenty of web scrapers to choose from in the hope of meeting your specific business’ needs. However, be wary, as many of them are not as robust as advertised nor as flexible as they should be to adjust to specific requirements. Classic marketing, isn’t it?
That said, by far the most powerful data extraction tool out there at the moment is Oxylabs’ Real-Time Crawler, which is backed by a sophisticated infrastructure, and guarantees 100% success rate when it comes to data extraction. I highly recommend checking out this web crawler if you do indeed think about resourcing a tool for your web scraping projects.
Advantages of Outsourcing Web scraping
The years of experience of a Dedicated Data as a Service company speaks volumes. They have experimented quite a lot in this business to perfect their service delivery.
They have a perfect understanding of the nuances of data mining and can boast of the right set of solutions for various websites.
The following is a rundown of the benefits of outsourcing a web data extraction project to a service provider:
- The data is ready to use
- No interruption in the data flow
- You don’t need to bother about maintenance problems
- A wide range of options for data delivery
No business—big or small—would want to have an in-house crawling system as opposed to outsourcing it, except if you have the muscle to pull it off. Be that as it may, the cutting cost will be paramount to any business that is serious about making a profit.
Web scraping is not new, and businesses are leveraging its potential. If you’re finding it difficult to embrace what it offers, wait until your close competitors upstage you. Then your eyes will pop open to the realities of what exactly web data extraction can provide to businesses.