Web scraping, also known as data scraping, data collection or screen scraping, is the process of collecting data from the internet - using specialized programs - to convert to a structured format for business purposes.
Typically the data collected can be used to help grow your business in some form, although it could be used for malicious purposes - for example spam. Despite having a somewhat bad reputation in some places, web scraping is legal and there are countless legitimate uses for data collection.
Below I'll describe how data collection is performed, the types of data you could collect, how it could benefit your company and how you can ethically scrape and use data for yourself.
Data Scraping is done through the use of a program called a scraper. The program will crawl a website by sending requests (technically known as a GET or POST request), processing web-pages and following URLs. The program is able to parse HTML, JSON or other forms of data including data types collected from API endpoints. Basically, a scraper is a program that converts web pages and entire sites such as directories into a structured data format. The program will organize, clean and convert this data into an output format - often a spreadsheet.
You can think of a scraper as a 'robot browser' capable of reading websites and turning them into a structured format.
Anything on a website can be collected and turned into a field within your dataset. For example, you may wish to collect pricing information from your competitors website - if the price exists on that website, it can be collected. Alternatively, you may wish to collect business lead data from a public directory - again, if the data exists on your target website, it can be collected.
The output format is up to you: generally, people want a basic spreadsheet. For more complex objects the output could be JSON or XML, or even a custom API.
Scraping data from websites can give your business a competitive advantage: gaining real time business intelligence which you can use to trigger pricing updates or use for similar tactics.
Many of our clients require weekly or daily updates of pricing information from their competitors websites. This includes eCommerce; travel; real estate; airline; hotel; part suppliers and more industries.
Other benefits and use cases include lead generation and other business intelligence such as finding where your products are being sold, user sentiment data generated from review data, preventing cyber abuse such as domain theft and more.
To benefit from scraping data, your company can start in a number of ways. If you have an in house technical team, you can download one of many affordable scraper programs and try to set them up yourself.
Alternatively, you could learn to code and try to write a scraper for yourself.
The simplest option is to outsource your web scraping requirement to a company.
At www.DaaS.sh, we provide a fully managed service - meaning you simply contact us with a scraping requirement, and we provide you with the data - often just a couple of days later.
If you want a successful and profitable business, you should definitely consider using web scraping to provide your company with an advantage.
Written by Ollie Cox