What is Web Scraping – a Beginner’s Guide

Web Scraping

What is web scraping and how does it work?

Imagine you want to collect a large amount of data from the internet. This could be anything from price comparisons to aggregating content to general research, or even the weather. You could manually go through hundreds of websites to copy and paste any of this, of course, but it could take a really long time.

This is where web scraping, a digital method of extracting information from websites, comes in. Web scraping automates the data collection and translation, and quickly and efficiently gets everything you need downloaded into an immediately usable document. It could save you considerable time (and your sanity!).

Sounds good, right! So how does it work?

In a nutshell, the step-by-step process of web scraping is:

  1. Planning: Decide the data parameters, the target websites, and the project scale
  2. Setting up: Writing the code, implementing error handling, and automation
  3. Sending requests and receiving responses: The web scraping tool asks the website for information, and the website sends back the content in raw form
  4. Extraction and parsing: The necessary information on the website is located and extracted in raw form, then parsed into a readable format
  5. Utilization: The extracted data is then ready for use

For more information about how web scraping works, take a look at our dedicated article here.

Web scraping uses digital tools to automate the collection of this information. The data that’s collected is then translated from raw code into a readable format. This process of translation is called ‘data parsing’.

The information on a website is preserved and presented using a blend of various essential technologies:

  • HTML (Hypertext Markup Language): the foundation which organizes the text and navigation on the page
  • CSS (Cascading Style Sheets): determines the visual aspects of the site, including layout, colors, and fonts
  • JavaScript: introduces interactivity and dynamic content, enabling websites to respond to user actions in real-time
  • Multimedia elements like images (.jpg, .png), videos, and animations: enhance visual appeal and user engagement.

Web scraping employs digital tools to automate the gathering of this information. The collected data is then transformed from raw code into a readable format, a process referred to as ‘data parsing.’

The format you get your data back in is usually CSV or JSON, so that they can easily be sent between computers. A CSV file and a JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) are plain text, that can easily be opened in a spreadsheet or notepad on a computer.

Datamam, the global specialist data extraction company, works closely with customers to get exactly the data they need through developing and implementing bespoke web scraping solutions.

Sandro Shubladze, Founder & CEO of Datamam, says: “The potential applications for web scraping are huge. With the ocean of information that is available to us, we often overlook just how much data is at our fingertips.”

“But don’t forget that concentrating on the actual application of the data is just as important. It’s important not to lose yourself in the sheer volume of insights. Too much information could make it even harder to make decisions.”

 

What is Web Scraping

What is web scraping used for?

Information and data collected via web scraping websites can be garnered for almost any kind of business or individual use case. For example, an estate agent might want to collect data about the current property prices in their region, to give them the latest and most accurate information to share with their clients. Alternatively, an employee might be looking for a new job and collecting information about competitive salaries in their sector.

An overview of some of the most common use cases for web scraping are:

  1. Automating manual tasks, and research: no more manual data collection. It reduces the risk of human error, whilst freeing up huge amounts of time that employees can use for more productive tasks. The web scraping process includes translation and cleaning, so that the data can be ready for use very quickly.
  2. Brand monitoring: helps businesses looking to monitor industry news, trends, and innovations by extracting data from news websites and blogs. Web scraping can monitor news channels for brand mentions to benchmark against competitors, and can even monitor for counterfeit and fake products.
  3. Price tracking: allows a business to compare the prices of its competitors, giving them the information and tools to adjust their own pricing strategies to stay competitive. It can quickly give a rounded view of a multitude of other companies, from product prices to promotions.
  4. Sentiment analysis: Scraping reviews, comments, and mentions allows companies to analyze customer sentiment from what they post across various platforms, including social media.
  5. Market research: efficiently provides in-depth insights to give market researchers an understanding of consumer behaviors, trends, and market dynamics, which they can then render into meaningful insights for their clients.

Sandro Shubladze says: “The potential uses of web scraping websites are huge, and stretch across almost all industries. When used properly, it can be an extremely powerful tool to help organizations stay informed and make fast, data-driven decisions.”

“The types of information it can provide is widespread – from contributing to pricing strategies to anti-counterfeiting. Because the landscape is so boundless, it is important for organizations looking to web scrape to take their time to think about exactly what they need. This is where a professional web scraping specialist can come in to make sure the data that returns is at its most useful and relevant.”

What types of web scrapers are there?

There are different types of web scrapers that can be deployed, and the choice depends on the size, scalability and complexity of the project, the website structures, type of data needed, and the purposes of the project.

Here’s an overview of the common types of web scraping:

  1. A browser web scraper acts as a bridge between the browser and a website, undertaking the scraping process within a web browser. This type of scraper mimics human interactions with websites, and is particularly used for projects dealing with JavaScript.
  2. A cloud web scraper operates remotely on a server rather than a local machine, and the scraped data is stored in the cloud. Users can access the results through a web interface or API.
  3. A custom web scraper is a tailored script or program created bespoke for companies to extract the data they need from websites. A great solution if you do not have the time, expertise, or resources to develop your own web scraping software. Companies such as Datamam provide web scraping as a service, developing the scrapers specifically for each client.

Each type of web scraper has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, a browser web scraper may work well if the website uses JavaScript. For scraping tasks that need more scalability, a cloud scraper could be more suitable.

While in-browser or cloud solutions may do the job for smaller projects, they can be time-consuming to set up and the quality of the data they produce will need additional cleaning before it will be fit for use. Working with a professional provider to develop and implement a custom web scraper for your specific needs removes this issue.

“While browser web scrapers and cloud web scrapers can be useful for smaller or less in-depth projects, companies looking to delve deeper and get truly useful insights should really consider the custom route,” says Sandro Shubladze. “It takes an initial investment, but a tailored solution can be designed bespoke to an organization’s data needs.”

“This investment is guaranteed to be valuable, with clients seeing tangible results that will allow them to make important business decisions rooted in data. The data will be accurate, relevant and targeted, and the project will run efficiently with potential for scalability.”

Is web scraping legal?

Whether it is ethical and legal or not depends on the intentions of the web scraper. Understanding the difference between responsible and harmful web scraping is crucial.

The legality of scraping websites depends on the purpose of scraping, the data being collected, respect for website terms of service, and compliance with relevant laws. One of the ways to ensure the data you are looking to extract is available to you legally is to ask for permission from a website as part of the process.

Some forms of web scraping may be purposely harmful or illegal, or raise ethical questions. This is known as malicious web scraping.

A malicious web scraper might be looking to extract personal information, extract data that violates copyright laws, or engage in anti-competitive practices. This can result in reputational or even financial damage for victims, especially if it involves the malicious manipulating or misrepresenting data.

Not all harmful web scraping is malicious. Someone with the best intentions may not be familiar with the law and find that they are unknowingly collecting personal data, for example. Whatever the motive, however, violating privacy laws could result in legal implications.

The best way to make sure your web scraping is legal and ethical is to work with a professional. Companies such as Datamam can work closely with you to make sure you get the data you need from the web, without getting into any sticky legal or ethical situations. 

Says Sandro Shubladze, “Web scraping is legal, but it is very important to take ethics into account. Respect for the website’s resources and intentions is crucial, and taking a responsible approach makes this valuable practice much more sustainable.”

“Responsible web scraping means adhering to terms of service and seeking permission when necessary. Web scraping is a hugely powerful tool that has myriad value and benefits for all, but it should be done the right way.”

Is it possible to stop web scrapers?

Unless a website’s information is secured behind a login, it’s not possible to completely prevent your data being scraped. However, there are steps an organization can take to defend themselves from malicious players online.

Companies can put in place multi-layered security strategies to prevent harmful bots more or less effectively, some of which include:

  1. IP Detection tools to scan IP addresses, identify and block malicious activities
  2. CAPTCHA puzzles to distinguish human users from bots
  3. User Profile Analysis examines and detects irregularities in account creation
  4. User Cookies track user interactions over time, identifying bots with no consistent cookie history
  5. User Digital Fingerprinting to analyze browser characteristics and device information, spotting inconsistencies
  6. Honeypots like invisible links can identify bots
  7. Robots.txt directives advise bots on where they are able and unable to crawl, differentiating the malicious from the well-intentioned
  8. Filtering requests, to ensure the legitimacy of website users

Organizations can use a mix of these strategies for their websites to form their anti-scrape security mechanism, through identifying bots and disrupting the scraping process.

Companies such as Datamam are pushing ahead in the fight against negative web scraping, through a commitment to high ethical standards. Working with its clients, Datamam aims to uphold the integrity and security of online platforms.

Sandro adds: “There is a huge difference between useful web scraping and malicious scraping of private information. The latter is not just illegal; it’s also unethical.”

“The online landscape changes very quickly, with malicious players forever evolving new tactics. Educating our clients about responsible data use is an essential steps to safeguard against them falling into the trap of irresponsible data extraction.”

“At Datamam we have a strong commitment to ethical and responsible web scraping practices.”

Get a custom web scraper built for you

Working with a professional web scraping provider can make your project more efficient and targeted, and the extracted data more accurate and high-quality. It also allows any project to be scalable, and therefore more adaptable to evolving business needs.

Rather than selling standardized web scraping tools, Datamam works closely with clients to build and deploy custom software and applications. This allows for a bespoke service that can present time-sensitive data in an organized, easy-to-use format.

While there may be upfront costs in developing a custom scraper, in the long run it can be more cost-effective as it can give an organization the exact data it needs for its unique requirements first time.

If you are interested in hearing more about the custom web scraping route, experts at Datamam are happy to help. Contact us today to find out more

“Datamam works with executives from companies all around the globe who need to extract, organize and analyze data more effectively and at scale. Our clients have many needs: sourcing competitive pricing, auditing merchants’ directories, and monitoring consumer sentiment,” says Sandro Shubladze.

“Unlike labor-intensive manual searches, our custom software and applications save clients time and let them understand the competitive environment at scale.”

“Whereas our competitors rely heavily on automated intake and their customers’ ability to navigate web scraping software, Datamam offers white-glove consultancy.  Our researchers and account executives work with our clients to identify their needs and build custom software and applications based on their unique needs.”

“In terms of legality and ethics, custom scrapers provide better control over security measures, ensuring that sensitive data is handled appropriately and securely. Professionals can ensure responsible use, and consideration of the legal and ethical considerations.”

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<a href="https://datamam.com/author/sandroshubladzedatamam-com/" target="_self">Sandro Shubladze</a>

Sandro Shubladze

Building a World Inspired By Data

My professional focus is on leveraging data to enhance business operations and community services. I see data as more than numbers; it's a tool that, when used wisely, can lead to significant improvements in various sectors. My aim is to take complex data concepts and turn them into practical, understandable, and actionable insights. At Datamam, we're committed to demystifying data, showcasing its value in straightforward, non-technical terms. It's all about unlocking the potential of data to make decisions and drive progress.