Web scraping : an in-depth overview

Competitor Analysis

Jane is a sales rep at Intermarket Inc. She is preparing for the greatest pitch of her career – a new innovation by her company that could change the future of businesses the world over. She needs the prices of her company’s competition who have been building similar solutions. The fastest way she can get prices is if she can use web scraping. 

She has tried to get pricing manually by opening competitor sites but it’s quite consuming. She also tried some web scraping software but it was not beginner friendly. Some software gave her irrelevant results. She needs to prepare for the presentation, not spend a considerable amount of her time scraping for prices. 

She talks to her supervisor Anne about the issue at hand. After a short brainstorming session, they agree that talking to a software development company might be a great option. Some of the questions they have in mind are: 

  • What does web scraping mean?
  • How does it work?
  • Is it legal?

So Anne calls the software company:

Competitor Analysis
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

If you are in the same situation as Jane and Anne, we are going to take you on a journey where we explore web scraping. We hope to answer some of the questions that you have.

What is web scraping?

It can simply be defined as downloading or extracting website data with a view to analyze and use in a project, task or process. It is important to note that this data extraction is an automated process that is done by software. Even if humans are able to extract data from sites too, they would not be able to do it with the speed and efficiency that software can.

It is also referred to as web harvesting, or web data extraction.

In order to understand web scraping a little better, let us differentiate it from a few similar concepts:

Web scraping vs data scraping

Both of these processes involve extracting data. The only difference between data and web scraping is the source of the data. While web scraping involves getting data from the web, data scraping involves extracting user output from a computer program.

Web scraping vs screen scraping

The difference between web scraping and screen scraping is in the types of data extracted. In screen scraping, screen data is extracted from an old or obsolete application (called a legacy application) and transferred to another application. This is usually done for better UI (user experience) since the old application may be incompatible with newer technologies, therefore, may not render well on newer OSes (Operating Systems) or devices.

What is web scraping used for?

There are several ways that you can use the data that you extract from websites. Let’s explore some:

Sentiment analysis

Let’s say that you have introduced a new product or service in your company. Scraping can help you get an overarching feel of how your intended customers feel about it. You can use data from social media platforms, for example to analyze your customers’ views on your product/service.

Lead generation

Lead Generation
Lead generation

Businesses need revenue to keep growing. This is why generating leads and talking to prospective customers is essential. Lead generation can however be very time consuming. An easy way out is outbound lead generation, where the same communication is sent out to a many people who fit your target audience description. This is not quite targeted and usually does not generate high quality leads.

Web scraping comes in to make lead generation more precise and less time consuming. You can generate leads in a matter of minutes. You are also able to narrow down your leads, as you get to choose where to source leads from, resulting in higher quality leads.

Competitor monitoring

You need to stay abreast of what your competition is up to. This way, you are able to see what you are doing right, and opportunities that could take advantage of (since you could be better placed than they are due to your unique set of circumstances for example). 

Web scraping can help you gather data about the products that your competition is offering, their pricing, and their marketing strategy. You can then use it to adjust your pricing, for example, or provide a value added service that could result in more revenue.

How web scraping works

The following image summarizes the web scraping process:

Web Scraping Process
The Web Scraping Process
Image source: https://prowebscraper.com/blog/what-is-web-scraping/

In a nutshell, the process involves sending a scraping request to the website(s) from which you want to extract data. Once the request is approved, the software extracts particular data from the site(s). It could be prices or product reviews for example. The next step is then downloading the data and storing it in the desired format, for example, csv, or excel. The data can then be stored on your computer, or even a database. 

Is web scraping legal?

The question about whether scraping of data on the web is legal or even ethical, is a common one, and is by all means a legit concern. 

In fact, we began a conversation about it on a Facebook group as shown by the screenshot below, just to get a feel of how different people view it:

Is Web Scraping Legal
Is Web Scraping Legal/Ethical

As we garnered from the conversation, and from our experience with our clients, it is important to put into consideration whether a particular site has stated that they do not want their data to be scrapped. Some use a robots.txt file which defines the content that should not be indexed. 

It is ethical to respect such restrictions. 

It is also advisable to seek legal advice as there might be jurisdictions where scraping may be illegal, and chart a way forward.

In conclusion

Whether you are looking to do some competitor analysis, generate leads, or gain insights about how your customers feel about your product, service or brand in general, web scraping is the most effective way to go about extracting this data. 

If you are looking for a reliable software company to help you with your web scraping python project, then look no further. We will build you a solution that will help you get the data that you need with short turnaround time. We also go out of our way to do our work ethically and legally. Contact us today!