Top 10 questions about web scraping — answered edition

Introduction

When I first heard about web scraping, it took me a bit to familiarize myself with the terminologies used to describe the process. But after I understood its mechanics, purpose, and even flows, my work life has become exponentially easier.

I’ll try to define the concept as I would explain it to my younger self. And let’s say I was not the sharpest pencil back then. So let’s get started:

What is web scraping?

Web scraping is the method of automatically collecting data that is publicly available on websites. The information gathered from the Internet is then processed in a structured, readable-by-human format.

If you are not impressed yet, just imagine the alternative: visit the web page -> copy -> paste -> repeat. Doesn’t it sound awful yet? How about visiting 100 web pages? Or even 1,000,000. If this doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, then you’re probably a web scraping robot yourself.

Why is web scraping so hot?

The most significant advantages of using such a compelling tool are:

  • Saves time

For illustration purposes, let’s say it takes you more time to pronounce “data” than it takes the web scraper to collect it.

  • Tons of information

Web scraping allows you to harvest data in much larger quantities than you would do manually.

  • Cost-effective

A web scraper is a tool that never needs a break and won’t have you pay for through the nose. You do the math.

  • Customizable

This technology can be modified to fit your needs by making minor alterations to it.

What is web scraping good for?

In the modern-day world, having access to information is essential for growing any business.

Of all the players, the ones that really appreciate the power of web scraping are:

  • Marketing & sales
  • Price intelligence data collection
  • Fetching product data
  • Brand protection
  • Competition research
  • Lead generation
  • Content aggregation
  • Marketing communication verification
  • Monitoring consumer sentiment
  • SEO Audit & Keyword research
  • Public Relations
  • Brand monitoring
  • Data Analytics & Data science
  • AI Machine learning
  • Strategy
  • Building a product
  • Market research
  • HR: Collecting candidate data
  • Real Estate
  • Forecasting market direction
  • Property value tracking
  • Real estate aggregators
  • Monitoring vacancy rates

Is data extraction legal?

As we already know, the world is not painted in black or white. And the question of whether web scraping is legal or not is a bit complicated.

There is no precise yes/no answer to the issue of the legality of the process. Many variables influence this answer, and some can change depending on the country’s laws and regulations.

What you can do is check the Terms of Service, where websites usually specify if they prohibit scraping their content or not.

As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to stay away from Personal Data, and Copyright protected data. Although, sometimes, it is ok to scrape the second category as long as you don’t plan to republish it or claim it as yours.

The act of web scraping itself can be perfectly legal, but what information you choose to gather and what you intend to do with it can have legal ramifications.

Can I scrape data behind a login page?

By logging in or signing up, you agree with the Terms of Service. As I mentioned before, as long as those don’t forbid web scraping, you’re good to go.

Another trick you can do is check the robots.txt file, which mentions whether a website is ok with scraping its data or not. All you have to do is simply type “robots.txt” at the end of any URL (https://www.example.com/robots.txt) and follow the rules there.

What kind of web scraping tools are there?

Bowser extensions

Just like the extensions used to get rid of those irritating ads on streaming platforms, you can use a web scraper that coexists in your browser.

Even though it can accomplish almost the same task, it usually lacks some of the anti-tracking features needed to get data from more complex websites.

APIs

An API is the most popular tool for web scraping, and it refers to the “contract” between two software products that allows them to share data on mutually agreed-upon terms.

The ease with which an API can be integrated into an application is one of its most appealing features. Basically, all you need is a set of credentials and a clear understanding of the API documentation.

Also, an API uses built-in solutions that make sure your scraper is not getting blocked.

If you want to learn more, I recommend taking a break of 7 Minutes to Decide What Web Scraping Tool Is Best for You

Can I make my own web scraper?

You certainly can! Creating your own web scraper is both entertaining and amazingly simple. Here are two simple guides for you to check out:

The Python tutorials are written by yours truly.

Can web scraping be detected?

If they want to, websites can detect web scrapers from real users by tracking browsers’ activity, examining the IP address, setting honeypots, adding CAPTCHAs, or even limiting the request rate.

Anti-detection methods go a long way, but they’re not infallible. It’s not a question of ‘if,’ but of ‘when’ you’ll be detected. Here’s what you can do, though:

How to protect the scraper from getting blocked?

Fortunately, you can use a few methods and features to counter anti-scraping strategies and avoid being blocked.

1. A strong proxy pool

Try to dodge triggering inappropriate browsing behavior by sending too many requests from the same IP. It’s recommended to use a good proxy server to hide your original IP address, which will keep your scraper anonymous.

2. Geolocation options

Some data is available only for specific countries. Therefore, you will need a proxy service that can cover that and allow you to choose any location of your preference.

3. Rotating proxies

Using rotating proxies is one of the most practical ways to prevent your scraper from being blocked. This method provides you with a consequential collection of IPs to use and avoid submitting too many requests from the same IP address.

4. Anti-fingerprinting measures

By fingerprint, I mean all the information a website can collect about your browser and computer. To bypass bot detection, you’ll need an actual fingerprint for each visitor you’re attempting to generate.

Where to start with web scraping?

All you have to do is find the best web scraper that fits your needs. Trust me; there are plenty of them on the market. Some are free and remarkably easy to use. Some are techier but can offer custom advantages, depending on your project requirements.

I recommend reading this list of 20 Tools You Won’t Want to Miss.

I hope you have a good, stress-free day, with fewer unanswered questions about web scraping!

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Raluca P.

Raluca P.

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Passionate full-stack developer with a knack for writing🖊️