A web scraper is a piece of software that automates the time-consuming process of extracting valuable information from third-party websites. Typically, this method involves sending a request to a particular web page, reading the HTML code, and sending it to the user.
Web scrapers are mostly used by companies, developers, or teams of professionals with or (rarely without) technical knowledge for various data processing tasks. As you may know, these are some of the most common cases in which web data plays a huge role: price and product intelligence, market research, lead generation, competitor analysis, real estate, and so on.
But besides definitions, people who can use web scraping, and use cases, there is an important topic that deserves to be addressed. What are the advantages and disadvantages of web scraping?
I am convinced that these aspects will help you correctly identify your web scraping needs, so let’s have a peek at them.
The advantages of web scraping
Web scraping is a technique that includes many positive and beneficial aspects for those who use it. So, the following are some of the main but substantial advantages that have made this method so popular among various individuals and industries:
The first and most important benefit of web scraping is developing tools that have simplified data retrieval from different websites to only a few clicks. Data could still be extracted before this approach, but it was a tedious and time-consuming process.
Imagine that someone would have to copy and paste text, images, or other data every day — what a time-consuming process! Luckily, web scraping tools nowadays make the extraction of data in large volumes both simple and quick.
Data extraction by hand is an expensive task that necessitates a large workforce and large budgets. Nonetheless, web scraping, like many other digital techniques, has solved this problem.
The different services provided on the market manage to do this in a cost-effective and budget-friendly manner. But it all depends on the amount of data needed, the functionality of the necessary extraction tools, and your objectives. To optimize costs, one of the most chosen web scraping tools is a web scraping API (in this case, I have prepared a special section in which I talk more about them with a focus on pros and cons).
When a website scraping service begins gathering data, you should be confident that you are obtaining data from various websites, not just a single page. It is possible to have a large volume of data with a small investment to help you get the best out of that data.
When it comes to maintenance, the cost is something that is often ignored when installing new services. Fortunately, web scraping technologies need little to no maintenance over time. So, in the long run, services and budgets will not undergo drastic changes in terms of maintenance.
Another feature worth mentioning is the speed with which web scraping services complete actions. Imagine that a scraping project that would typically take weeks is completed in a matter of hours. But of course, that depends on the complexity of the projects, resources, and tools used.
Web scraping services are not only speed obsessive but also accurate. It’s a fact that human error is often a factor when performing a task manually, and that can lead to more serious problems later on. As a result, accurate data extraction for any type of information is critical.
Human error is often a factor when performing a task manually, as we all know, and that can lead to more serious problems later on. But when it comes to web scraping, this cannot happen. Or it happens at least in very small proportions, which can be easily corrected.
Effective Management of Data
By storing data with automated software and programs, your company or employees will be able to spend no time copying and pasting data. So they can focus more time on creative work, for example.
Instead of this tedious work, web scraping allows you to pick and choose which data you want to collect from various websites and then use the right tools to collect it properly. Moreover, using automated software and programs to store data ensures that your information is secure.
The disadvantages of web scraping
Processing the extracted data through web scraping can be a time-consuming and energy-intensive process. This is because the information comes as HTML code and that can be difficult for some to read. Don’t worry, though, there is software that can take care of that too!.
Website Changes and Protection Policies
Because websites’ HTML structures change regularly, your crawlers will sometimes break. Whether you use web scraping software or write your own web scraping code, you’ll need to perform some maintenance periodically to ensure your data collection pipelines are clean and operational.
Moreover, it’s a good idea to invest in proxies if you want to do data scraping or crawling on multiple pages on the same website. Sendling plenty of HTTP requests from the same IP in just a few moments looks suspicious and it could get the IP banned. If you have a proxy pool, though, each request can come from a different IP.
Web scraping is not just about one way of extracting data. And here, I mean only one tool or the most appropriate method. Whether you use a visual web scraping tool, an API, or a framework, you’ll still have to learn the ropes. This can sometimes be difficult, depending on the knowledge level of each user.
Bonus section 🎉
The advantages of using a web scraping API
The ease with which an API can be integrated into a developer’s application is one of its most appealing features. Only a set of credentials and a basic understanding of the API documentation are required. After you’ve completed the first request, you can concentrate solely on the parts that interest you, which brings us to another major benefit of APIs.
A web scraping API allows you to personalize it and use its capabilities to its full potential to achieve all of your scraping goals, from API calls and geotargeting to dedicated accounts and custom scrapers.
Choosing an API for web scraping is an advantage over outsourcing a web scraping project, which can be costly. APIs aren’t the cheapest option, but they’re still not the most expensive in terms of the benefits they provide to developers. Prices vary based on the number of API calls you’ll make per month and the amount of bandwidth you’ll need. However, the return on investment is what makes a web scraping API worthwhile.
When time is your most valuable resource, a web scraping API is exactly what you need. Because you won’t have to worry about building it, downloading it, or installing it, the process will be very short. So, you just have to start scraping after you’ve completed the integration and setup steps.
The disadvantage of using a web scraping API
An API, like any other tool, has its drawbacks. Learning how to use it would be one of them. You can’t just start using an API and expect it to function properly. An API’s documentation might be a little too light, depending on its complexity. Learning how to use the API will take a long time if the documentation is lacking.
Another minor discomfort will be a security issue. APIs are mentioned in nine of OWASP’s top 10 vulnerabilities. Once a hacker has gained access to an API, all applications that use it are at risk.
What do you think?
For this story, I will leave the conclusion at your discretion. Make some final thoughts from this material if, for you, your business, or the business you work for, web scraping is advantageous or not.
Obviously, there are no perfect techniques or products. But what such information can help us with is to constantly improve ourselves and the things that we build and make the most of what the Internet has to offer.
Want to take a look at a few data extraction products and see how they work? Then I’ve got just the article for you!