For many digital businesses, web scraping is a vital way to gather useful information and help them stand out against the competition. By using web scraping techniques, they gain insights they otherwise could only guess at. For others, web scraping helps them aggregate vast amounts of data on their own site while barely breaking a sweat.
The possible applications of web scraping are near endless, and businesses everywhere are reaping the benefits. So how can you get in on the action?
In this short article, we’re going to take you through the basics of web scraping. We’ll have a look at what web scraping is, how it works, and how different types of businesses can all use it to up their game. Let’s find out!
The technical side of web scraping
Web scraping (also called harvesting or data scraping) is the practice of gathering and copying information from a page on a website.
It starts with a bot (or web crawler) visiting a URL. It then fetches this page (downloading it), after which the extraction of data begins. The extracted data will then be parsed.
Data parsing is the method of taking a string of data and converting it into another type of data. For example, the bot might scrape data in plain HTML, which then gets parsed into a more easily readable type of data format.
Once parsed, the data is often copied into a local database or spreadsheet. And that is the format you can then manually analyze further in any way you like.
This is the basic web scraping process. However, most people will scrape the web through special web scraping tools. Such sophisticated web scraping tools let you process, analyze, and handle the data in countless ways, completely customizable in line with your business needs.
Nowadays, a lot of businesses prefer to buy data retrieval tools from third party service providers instead of building one of their own. There are plenty of tools available out there for nearly every use case, with the most popular ones being Google search API’s.
But what might those business needs look like? In other words, how does web scraping benefit businesses?
The business side of web scraping
Competitive Pricing Intelligence
Say you sell mailboxes and want to know how your competitors price their products. You could manually visit each competitor’s website and gather that information yourself. But your competitors change the prices of their mailboxes at least once a week.
So to keep up with the competition, you need to check all prices at least once a week, potentially more if you want to stay ahead. Especially when you have dozens (if not hundreds) of clients this manual checking becomes way too labor-intensive.
Web scraping tools not only let you automate this competitor price gathering process, but they can analyze them for you and update your prices for you in real time as well. That means your prices are always as competitive as can be, without you having to lift a finger.
Gone are the days of endlessly searching for potential clients and their contact details! Web scraping tools let you gather contact information from vast amounts of potential customers and clients.
This works particularly well for B2B companies because their target audience, other businesses, will likely have their contact details somewhere publicly available on the web.
Scraping real estate listings
You know how real estate sites always very conveniently have all the latest listings from all over the web displayed on their site? They have web scraping to thank for that.
A real estate agency can use a web scraper tool to scrape MLS listings, which they can then display on their own website. People often assume that the real estate agency is somehow responsible for a listing on their site while, in fact, they’ve often just scraped it from somewhere else.
With so many retailers offering the same products for slightly different prices it can be difficult to find the best bang for your buck. Luckily, we now have comparison sites to solve this problem for us. And these all rely on data harvesting by web scraping tools.
Social listening & opinion mining
Most things you place on social media are publicly available, which means web scrapers can access them as well. And this can be useful for businesses.
Take this study for example, in which they explain how social media platforms were scraped to find out what the public perception was of self-driving cars. They scraped all data of people talking or posting about self-driving cars on social media and performed a sentiment analysis of this data to discover trends in the general perception.
Conclusion: The importance of web scraping
In many industries across the web, you cannot join the race anymore without a web scraper tool at your disposal. From retail to real estate to something as niche as searching for grey literature, web scraping vast amounts of data and repurposing it for your business needs has become standard practice.
We hope this short article has helped you realize the potential of web scraping, and inspired you to try it out for your business as well. Happy scraping!