Automating data collection is a hot topic. According to a report by The Economist, data is one of the most valuable resources of today’s digital era. From helping you generate new leads to allowing you to make well-informed decisions, properly curated data can empower your company in a lot of ways.
But this brings us to an important question – can data collection be automated? Undoubtedly, collecting data manually is not only incredibly time-consuming but inaccurate as well. Thankfully, the complete data collection process can be automated, and this can be done with a process called web scraping.
What is Web Scraping, Anyway?
Call it data extraction, web harvesting, or web scraping, it is a process of collecting data with the help of a bot – a script configured to perform an automated task. This bot analyzes HTML code of target web pages and looks for a specified set of data. It then extracts the information it is instructed to get and feeds it to a database for analysis.
This might sound simple to you, but believe us, when collected properly, enormous amounts of data can bring about a revolution. It can be used to arrive at game-changing conclusions, and fuel your marketing strategies.
That said, how can one move ahead with the process of web scraping? While smaller websites are undoubtedly easier to scrape, the real struggle starts when you want to scrape bigger websites with full-fledged security.
Things to Keep in Mind While Scraping Data
Keep it slow
Do not rush things. Instead, keep it slow and avoid bombarding the target website with a large number of parallel requests. This is because most reputed websites are equipped with proper algorithms that are capable of detecting web scraping.
Too many parallel requests from a single IP address can be recognized as a Denial of Service Attack, and you might end up getting your IP address blocked immediately.
However, if you inevitably need to scrape large amounts of data from high-level targets, the usual way to go about this is to use proxies for web scraping and Oxylabs offers some of the best solutions on the market. They can help you bypass detection systems and make your data collection process much more efficient.
Divide your process into two or more phases
You don’t want to get recognized, and you don’t want to get blocked. Do you? It is recommended to split your scraping process into more than two phases.
You can scrape a huge portal in two phases, for instance. Use the first phase for extracting links to the important pages, and then the next phase for collecting data from these pages.
Cache the selected pages
It is always a good practice to cache the already downloaded data. This way, you won’t be putting any extra load on the website in an event when you need to start scraping again, or when you need to scrape that page again.
Keep track of the URLs that have already been scraped
Keep your web scraping process systematic and well-organized. Maintain a repository of all the URLs that have already been scraped. This will come to your rescue when your scraper crashes after completing 70% of the job. It wouldn’t be much fun to waste your bandwidth, efforts, and time in repeating the entire process again.
Alternatively, you can also choose to combine this list of URLs with the cache for fast and efficient scraping.
Extract only as much as you need
While it is often tempting to gather all the information available, it is highly recommended to take only as much as is required. You can instruct your bot by defining a clear navigation scheme to scrape only the required pages. This will save you bandwidth, time, and storage!
Check for native API
Various websites allow programmers to fetch the data using their APIs and supporting documents. Check if the website has a native API. If yes, it is highly recommended to make use of their API and their data policy to extract data.
Keep it honest and authentic
Above all, it is recommended to stay honest and authentic while scraping data. Ethical data scraping is when you scrape with a header containing your email and name so that the website knows it is you. Further, don’t use data for illegal uses, and stay honest with your motives.
The Wrap Up
Undoubtedly, web scraping is useful. It can help you in understanding your customers, getting an edge over your competitors, and finding reliable partners. Whether you are a new startup or a well-established company, web scraping can definitely provide tons of benefits to you.