Web scraping, explained
Billions of visitors explore the web daily and not all of them are human. Many are virtual robots, programmed by code, that crawl the internet and obtain information about all the websites in existence, including their site pages and the data they may contain.
That’s how you get search results when you use a search engine. Search engines use these bots to record or index the text of websites, using measurements in their algorithms to deliver a list of pages each time you conduct a search.
Search engines aren’t the only businesses engaged in this practice. Some companies extract publicly available data for their own purposes that include obtaining intelligence for pricing and product strategies, and information analysis.
Web scraping is a billion-dollar business
Many large multi-billion dollar businesses use web scraping daily as a core component of their operations. Some base their entire business model on it, and almost every industry uses web scraping to analyze both internal and external operations.
Companies like Yahoo!, Bing and Google are among the original web scraping businesses. As mentioned earlier, they use bots to crawl the web and index all the content in order to serve users with the most relevant results.
The power of search engines lies in their algorithms. By analyzing keywords, backlinks (external links pointing to web pages), and other factors contributing to authority, search engines can rank websites and display the most relevant links to users in the search engine results pages.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Platforms
The details about how search engine algorithms work are primarily kept a secret. This has given rise to SEO services like Moz, SEMRush and Ahrefs that use web scraping to reverse engineer the process of how pages are ranked. These techniques may not reveal the exact details of the algorithm, but they do allow these companies to provide services that help businesses improve their overall ranking.
Online marketplaces are search engines that aggregate product and service listings from e-commerce operations. These include websites like Skyscanner or trivago, along with other services like Google Shopping.
The power of online marketplaces is massive because they can aggregate thousands of stores in one place with the power to deliver the lowest prices. They use the same methodology as search engines to crawl the web to rank products and services that are then delivered to users according to their search specifications.
Can your business use web scraping?
The answer, in most cases, is yes. If your business is in the e-commerce space, web scraping is quickly becoming an essential component of a marketing strategy. Companies have two main paths they can take to leverage web scraping that include:
In-house web scraping
In-house web scraping takes the entire process and internalizes it within your company. It requires a team of developers that can write customized data extraction scripts to power the bots that crawl the web.
Taking web scraping in-house can be resource-intensive and expensive, however there are many benefits that include precision customization capabilities and increased troubleshooting speed.
Web scraping can be complex, and programmers can run into many roadblocks during the process. One of the main issues is having your IP address blocked by the target website’s server. This is because web scraping places many requests on the server, and this can sometimes be confused with a DDoS (distributed denial of service attack).
Proxies are an essential part of the web scraping process
Proxies can distribute requests and prevent server issues. They act as third-party intermediaries that allow users to route their requests through an internal server and remain anonymous. Several types include data center and residential proxies, and the choice between them depends on the web scraping purpose and target website.
Outsourced web scraping
There are many ready-to-use tools available on the market that allow businesses to obtain data easily so they can allocate more resources to analysis. These solutions help enterprises extract high quality data and leverage world-class infrastructure while saving money in the process.
Billion-dollar businesses got to where they are today by leading the industry in technological innovation. That’s because data continues to increase in importance and literally “fuels” the digital age. Smaller companies now have the opportunity to leverage the same technology that provides the critical data needed to thrive on today’s competitive business landscape.
About the Author
Andrius Palionis is VP of Enterprise Solutions at Oxylabs.
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