“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating.” To gain access to the best pieces of information, you’re first going to need to collect some data. Web scraping, data mining and web crawling are effective methods that allow you to easily compile and store information from websites on the internet.
In this piece we will investigate what is web scraping, the benefits and disadvantages of web scraping and some of the beneficial use cases for scraping data.
What is web scraping?
Web scraping refers to creating or using a computer software to extract data from entire websites or a few web pages. Also when you perform web scraping, you can either download the entire web page or key aspects such as the <title> tag or article body content for further analysis.
What are the benefits of web scraping for business?
Robust web scrapers allow you to automatically extract data from websites, this allows you or your co-workers to save time that would’ve have otherwise been spent on mundane data collection tasks. It also means that you can collect data at greater volume than a single human could ever hope to achieve.
Business Intelligence & Insights
Web scraping data from the internet allows you to search for competitor prices, monitor their marketing activity and to swiftly market research your industry online. By downloading, cleaning and analysing data at significant volume, you’ll be able to build a better picture of your market, your competitor’s activity which in turn will lead to better business decision making.
Unique and rich datasets
The internet provides you with a rich amount of text, image, video and numerical data and currently contains at least 6.05 billion pages. Depending upon what your objective is, you can find relevant websites, setup website crawlers and then make your own custom dataset for analysis.
For example, let’s pretend you’re interested in UK football and want to understand the sports market in depth.
You could setup webscapers to gather the following information:
- Video Content: To download all of the football games from YouTube or Facebook.com.
- Football Statistics: You could download your desired team’s historical match statistics.
- Betting Odds: You could collect the betting odds for football matches from bookmaker’s such as Bet365 or from player betting exchanges such as Betfair or Smarkets.
Create applications for tools that don’t have a public developer API
By web scraping data, you will never need to rely on the website releasing a public application programming interface (API) to access the data which they show on their webpages. There are several benefits to web scraping in comparison to accessing a public API:
- You can access and collect any data that is available on their website.
- You are not limited to a specific number of queries.
- You don’t have to sign up for an API key or need to abide by their rules.
Effective Data Management
Instead of copying and pasting data from the internet, you can choose what data you would like to collect from a range of websites, then you can accurately collect it with web scraping. For more advanced web scraping / crawling techniques your data will be stored within a cloud database, and will likely be running on a daily basis.
Storing data with automatic software and programs means that your company, operations or employees can spend less time copying and pasting information and more time on creative work.
What are the disadvantages?
You will need to learn programming, use web scraping software or to pay a developer
If you are looking to collect and organise a vast amount of information from the internet, you will find that existing web scraping software is limited in functionality. Although the software can be good for extracting several elements from a web page, as soon as you need to crawl multiple websites they are less effective.
Websites regularly change their structure and crawlers require maintenance
As websites regularly change their HTML structure, sometimes your crawlers will break. Whether you’re using web scraping software or you’re writing the web scraping code, there is a certain amount of maintenance that needs to be regularly performed to keep your data collection pipelines clean and operational.
For every website that you write a custom encoding script, adds on a certain amount of technical debt. If lots of websites that you’re collecting data from suddenly decide to redesign their websites, you will need to invest in fixing your crawlers.
If you want to conduct data mining/crawling for one website, it would be wise to invest in proxies. The reason for this is that if you want to crawl a large website, in order to send enough daily HTTP requests by using a proxy you’ll limit the chance that your IP will be banned.
Remember that when you’re web scraping someone’s website you will be using their server’s resources, so its always best practice to:
- Be respectful and avoid plagiarising their content.
- Set gentle rate limits on how many daily HTTP requests you will make to their website.
- Use proxies to mitigate that your crawling efforts are discovered.
How Can I Use Web Scraping?
There are plenty of reasons for harnessing the power of web scraping to improve your online business.
1. Pricing strategy optimization
By monitoring all of your competitors’ prices, you can optimise your existing prices and offers to outcompete their current offering. In order to create a competitive pricing plan, the pricing data for several millions of products will need to be collected via web scraping and product prices will need to dynamically change to meet the fluctuating market demand.
2. Brand Monitoring
Every brand wants to have a clean and positive online sentiment to improve the chances that customers will choose to purchase their solution instead of their competitors.
You can use web scraping to monitor forums, reviews on e-commerce websites and social media channels for mentions of your brand name to better understand the current voice of your customer.
This provides you with the opportunity to quickly identify and triage any negative comments to mitigate any damage to brand awareness or affinity.
3. To Measure Your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Activities
You can easily monitor your SEO efforts by web scraping Google search engine results pages to monitor important keywords. Additionally you can track which competitors are ranking for a range of keywords.
Finally by web scraping the top 10 results you can analyze the HTML pages to understand what are the main driving factors for optimising your piece of content to appear on the first page of Google (word length, number of headings etc.).
4. Web Scraping Products and Price for Comparison Websites
By web scraping multiple websites, you can easily aggregate product prices from an abundance of websites which can then be bundled into a price comparison service.
By combining product data from various sources, you can help customers to find the cheapest place for their item and its possible to monetise this type of service with affiliate marketing.
5. To Collect & Analyse Public Opinion
Downloading large amounts of comments from websites such as Reddit or popular blogs can help you to understand popular opinion at great scale and depth. With the help of natural language processing tools you can easily perform sentiment analysis on topics or extract the most commonly occuring words.
6. Building a Machine Learning Dataset
Web scraping data from eBay, YouTube, reddit or another website allows you to create an actionable machine learning data set that would otherwise have been completely inaccessible by a public API. Unique and specific data acquisition is important for data scientists so that they can extract relevant and predictive features for predicting a specific outcome with their machine learning models.
7. Competitor Research
Web scraping is a great tool for performing competitor research, several examples include scraping the reviews from every product of a competitors website and then analysing the sentiment of every product. This can help your company to find products where customers are expressing a positive sentiment for the product (a good review/rating score, positive text).
You can also improve your content research efforts by setting up custom RSS feed web scrapers so that you’re alerted whenever a competitor uploads new content to their website.
8. Lead Generation
Lead generation companies use web scraping to collect email addresses which are then validated and sold to other companies such as marketing agencies or marketing consultants.
9. Automated Content Curation
You can scrape news websites and apply a customer analysis or curation technique with the goal often being to provide better targeted news or content for your audience.
Web data extraction yields you rich insights on the job and salary markets, enabling you to better recruit top talent candidates for your business in comparison to your competitors. Also web scraping allows you to understand the current skill market and therefore you can hire marketers and developers who are actively gaining ‘future-proof’ skills.
11. Easily Identify Market Demand – Demand Analysis
Perceiving your market’s current and future demand is a vital component for creating a successful product. By extracting large amounts of data, you can rapidly identify consumer trends, needs and market trends. In this use case web scraping allows you to pivot any product to the continuing needs of your end consumer.
Hopefully now you have a thorough understanding of the benefits, disadvantages and the use cases for web scraping. In all honesty I absolutely adore web scraping and think the possibilities and applications of it are boundless.
You simply just have to remember that Google by nature is a web scraping and information retrieval company.
The reason question is, how will you use web scraping to create unique and novel business value?