Data Scraping used to be one technique that was usually deployed as a last resort when other options for data exchange between two programs or systems had failed. The process is quite simple in function – extract data from the output of a program and feed it to another program as input.
That’s what data scraping at the fundamental level was all about. These days, it’s becoming a norm and not just a last resort for data interchange.
Also known as screen scraping, the technique has been around for quite a while but grew into vast relevance within the last tech decade.
Remember, IT and tech grew like they were on steroids in the last decade and became a household thing.
Another area where data scraping found its usefulness was in the transfer of data from system to system. Thus, it became an indispensable routine when transferring data from classic systems to their contemporary counterparts.
As the need to extract data from the redundant system oldies to the new generation systems became pertinent and data scraping became invaluable.
In this article, we’ll explore all sides of the term data scraping as we unveil its crux to the fore. They’ll be explored in the subheadings below.
- What is Data Scraping?
- How Data Scraping is Done? The Various Methods
- Importance of Data Scraping
- More Benefits of Data Scraping and Use cases
- Data Scraping Tools and How to Get the Best out of them when buying
- The Ugly Side of Data Scraping
- The Future of Data Scraping
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What is Data Scraping?
Data scraping is the process of using computer software to obtain the output of data generated by another computer. This output is then used strategically to develop content for input in another platform. Usually, a computer program performs this and it’s sometimes called data-stealing which is an odd term for the process.
But it can be likened to stealing since most companies who put out data on their websites are selfish with the information. It’s there but not for public consumption and they wouldn’t want any unauthorized user having access to it or sharing it indiscriminately.
So they build firewalls around the information and protect this information from being tampered with. Their biggest undoing is data scrapping. Regardless of the security, data scraping extracts what it wants and uses as it pleases.
The most common form of data scrapping is seen in websites where data is extracted from a particular website and used as input for another. So if you munch on data on the internet daily and perhaps rewrite the information, you’re indirectly data scraping at the surface level.
But website scraping is where we’ll dwell since it’s the most common form of it and some tech quarters generally describe it as website scraping.
How Data Scraping is Done – Methods
Data scraping is done using written codes or computer programs in the form of scraper bots. The process can be simple or complex depending on the software provider. Some providers make theirs too technical for an average IT practitioner to understand. Some however make theirs very simple to use.
Now, this makes it either simple or complex. However, at the basic level website scraping is done in three simple major steps.
- For starters, the scraper bot sends a formal request to a website that it has an interest in. The request is sent in HTTP format with the tag “GET”
- When the other website responds by granting access, the scraper bot then parses the HTML document and transforms it into its unique data form.
- Now the data has been extracted and the information can be used for whatever purpose the extractor desires.
This process is automatic which is why it’s called a scraper bot system. You enjoy scraped data for as long as you want and as far as the bot is still active.
But you’ll have to update the bot from time to time to be able to circumvent stricter protocols. Websites owners are not sleeping on this and are making it more difficult.
Another method of data scraping is done using Microsoft Excel. It involves setting up a dynamic web query which in turn helps you set up a data feed from another website or website into a spreadsheet, since it’s well, Excel.
So how do you scrap data using Microsoft Excel?
After this, you should be able to find the data from the website on your spreadsheet. And the good part of this is that the process you’ve set up will continue to feed your spreadsheet with the same data from the particular website anytime it’s updated.
Is Data Scraping Legal?
Before delving right into the importance of Data extraction, there’s the need to clear one gray area about data scraping. You might want to ask – is data scraping legal? Yes, it is.
Any information out there that is reserved for public consumption can be scraped and used for analysis. So if a company puts out information for public consumption and you scrape it, then it’s legal. It’s only illegal if you take the scraping deeper and into dredging information that a company tags “confidential”. To be on the safe side, LinkedIn prescribes a few questions you should ask before engaging in data scraping.
The interplay between Old and New Technologies
Data Scraping finds its first relevance in the interplay between modern and ancient tech systems. Transferring data from an older version of a computer to a newer one is quite efficient using data scraping and optimizes time in the process.
Until the advent of data scraping, there were tons of data idling away in older systems, and the thought of extracting them simply puts you off. It’s stressful, time-consuming, and just boring.
Data scraping bridged the gap between the old and new world of technology. It made extraction simpler and the best part of it – automatic.
Also known as screen scrapers, they can be used for apps to extract data from older apps lacking export features into newer apps on a platter. This happens to be the legal side of data scraping and the only side of it that is not termed stealing.
For Small and Large Scale Businesses on the Web
Data scraping is a rewarding process for both small, medium, and large-scale businesses. For instance, businesses deploy the process to gather data seamlessly and in a faster way from other sites that are relevant to their sites as well.
And the process is dynamic since when the data is updated, it reflects on the site scraping it so both parties stay on the latest information. Data extracted or scraped can be used meaningfully in business strategies and growing a business from rock bottom to the top.
It also comes in handy for SEO and social media marketing. Data can be extracted from multiple sites to find out information about a target audience, their needs, and where they visit often.
With the information obtained, these businesses can take their products and services directly to their audience on social media. It can help businesses find the most used terms and keywords in the niche which they can deploy in creating SEO content for their own sites.
Information gathered during the data scraping process can be used to strategize business growth and expansion.
Data scraping can also help in lead generation by scraping sites with multiple contact information and using them for email marketing.
And lastly, price scraping which is one of the use cases of data scraping can help businesses to analyze prices in the market among competitors and strategize.
Benefits of Data Scraping
Data scraping is legal and benefits a lot of businesses in numerous ways. Here we look at some of the use cases of data scraping which also highlights their benefits.
Gathering Reviews – Most sites like Yelp are deploying scraping bots to scrape customer reviews from other sites. Many other sites are also in the business of using bots to scrape other websites for reviews. With all reviews aggregated, these sites can weigh the extent of their impact on the market they serve.
Content Creation – Sometimes you could be lazy or preoccupied with other tasks to create content. Scraping bots can help scrape content from other sites, rewrite and repurpose them for you. And they even do it with SEO in mind.
Lead generation – Lead generation is the live wire to every email marketing campaign of any business. If there are no leads, then there will be no marketing, and talking about conversion would only be strange.
Scraping bots will gladly squeeze out any contact information they can find in website scraping and presents you with all the contact you need. They will crawl through every directory, contact page, or social media profile to feed you with leads.
Automation on a Platter – Automation is about the best things to ever happen to the IT world. The feature finds itself useful in data scraping.
Imagine scraping data manually or having to remind the data scraping software to just do its job. PWC is into automation with both hands and feet and even confirms that intelligent automation will recoup lost efficiencies very soon.
Market Price Survey – If your business is new in a particular niche, and you have no idea how to go about pricing, don’t sweat it. Scraping bots will do the job for you. They’ll ransack similar sites for pricing options and you can be well informed.
Bridging Old and New Apps – Some applications are simply outdated. Their coding systems are archaic and you can’t simply understand how to extract information from them.
Don’t worry. The bots are designed to mediate between the old and new. Lots of tools are available to interface between the hazy old school and a new generation. You should be having your data transformed into legible formats in no distant time.
Data Scraping Tools
Data scraping doesn’t just happen spontaneously. Some tools by renowned software providers are in charge of initiating the process and the results. Some of these tools include.
Apify – Apify is a website scraping provider that offers users seamless automation in data extraction. By creating APIs for any website with data center proxies, you can scrape data from multiple sites at will. Some of its best features include;
- Geolocation tagging
- Google SERP proxies
- Intelligent IP rotation
- Integration with Airbyte, Keebola, Zapier
- Downloadable XML, CSV, HTML, EXCEL
Bright Data – Bright Data is a foremost data extractor with an easy-to-use user interface. Even a novice with IT can comfortably use the platform and extract data. Whatever data you’re looking for, you have it easy with Bright Data.
From social media data to market research, and eCom trends, the process is automated and customized in a single dashboard view. Access to valuable data is unlimited with this provider and it gets better with the features below.
- Maximum control of the data collection process in your hands.
- No prior coding experience is needed.
- Data collection easily happens in minutes and is dynamic.
- Round-the-clock customer assistance.
Scraping Bot – Named after its exact function, the Scraping-Bot is a powerful tool deployed in the scraping of data. It can scrap data from any URL and can provide APIs suited for your unique scraping needs.
It can create various APIs suited for real estate listings, pricing, lead generation, retail website scrapings, and more.
Some of its features include;
- Geolocation tagging.
- Full page HTML.
- High-quality proxies.
- JS rendering (Headless Chrome).
Import.io – This platform allows you to import multiple data from websites and export them to your applications. It’s an excellent website scraping tool that helps you import data and export it to CSV. Its integration with various applications using APIs and webhooks comes as a catch here.
Some brilliant features of this tool include;
- Data extraction schedule
- Automated web interactions
- Automated workflow
- Quick and easy interaction with web forms and logins
- Valuable insights with charts and visualizations
Data Scraper (Chrome Plugin) – This data Scraper plugs itself directly into your Chrome browser extensions. With this in place, you can handpick from a range of ready-made data to extract as they load on the web pages of your browser.
It’s great for fishing out content on social media. Especially for scraping Twitter data. With just a keyword, you can source all related content on Twitter discovering all social media accounts with the hashtag.
Awesome features of this data scraper include;
- Real-time updates to scraped data
- Generated data can be sorted and edited
- Ownership of data allowed for offline purposes
- Friendly user interface
Other notable providers in the industry include;
- Scraper API
- Content Grabber
- Nintex RPA and a host of other data scraping software providers.
Custom Data Extraction Services – Software development companies like Iterators can help your business with specific data extraction needs, and ensure automation of the entire process as well. This solution can be time and money-efficient, especially if you have a data scraping project that is advanced or wanders off the beaten track.
What To Look for When Choosing Data Scraping Tool
With tons of data scraping software providers out there, it’s easy to get lost in the options. Now that translates to ending up with something you don’t like.
But you won’t have to do that, just look out for the following when next you want to scrape.
- Data formats supported
- Customer service support
- Crawling speed
- General performance
- Dynamism and automation
- User interface and navigation
The Dark Side of Data Scraping
Now to the seemingly dubious side of things with data scraping. It has been a threat to the security of information across multiple websites.
Attackers now leverage the process to commit phishing and bypass resilient protocols to steal information not meant for them. It’s been a passage for web nefarious activities that undermine the growth efforts of numerous companies.
And while its benefits are legitimate for some businesses, others are using it to promote illegalities in the cyber world.
As with all things tech and IT, it gets worse when the wrong hands are on it. Data scraping in the hands of hackers is a monstrous exercise capable of stunting the growth of businesses. When these cybercriminals use data scraping for all the wrong purposes known, they paint it in a bad light.
Facebook was perhaps the most hit when we look at a typical example of data scraping gone wrong. Over 500 million Facebook users had their data exposed to hackers. This includes their full names, contact details, and other personal information.
The worst-case scenario in this kind of unfortunate incident is a mass phishing attack. And by the time Facebook will be done counting its losses, half the world’s population on social media would be in trouble.
But the good news is that, as hackers are getting smarter, businesses are also inching up their security game. The goal is to ensure they don’t lose out on the security war which is a war for every decent person online.
The Future of Data Scraping
The prospects of data scraping look bright from what we see at the moment. And what are we seeing at the moment? Automation, dynamism, geotagging, and even AI. In the not-so-distant future, AI will dominate every sphere of human endeavor and make life easier.
In data scraping, you could be looking at a situation where it will involve images to a deeper extent. Images online will be stripped bare and you can recognize them before you lay hold of them.
It will only make things easier for everyone who thrives on the web and more importantly, for digital marketers.
Image scraping is already waxing in prominence but the videos could follow suit.
Google is already a legal data Scraper and a renowned one at that. But we’re also looking at things scaling up for the search engine with the future in mind.
So whether you are already into data scraping or not, chances are that you can’t do without it in the near future. Hence, you could use some of the information you’re getting now at a later date as you keep them in handy.
Other areas of data scraping that are set to expand in the future are sentiment analysis, marketing research, equity research, and pricing.
It’s like a bandwagon and sooner or later, you might just have to hop in for good.
Data scraping at its core involves crawling web pages for pieces of information relevant to your business which you can extract. After extraction, this information can be put to valuable use to transform your business.
So it’s about leveraging the output data of a group of sites to facilitate your input. Beyond this primal purpose, there’s market research, lead generation, market pricing survey, social media survey, and other great features of data scraping.
However, there’s a dark side of it where it’s been used to dig up private information and unauthorized data from websites. The case of phishing and subsequent hacking is one example of the wrongful usage of data scraping. Email harvesting and contact details also find their way in the darker spectrum of data scraping.