What Is Web Scraping? Definition, Uses And Techniques

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Data collection is an essential step in marketing, development and analysis. A process, such as web scraping, can help companies collect data from various websites that analysts can use to develop strategies. Learning the uses of web scraping and techniques to perform this process may improve your data collection and analysis process.

In this article, we provide the answers to frequently asked questions, such as what is web scraping, why people use it, what types of web scraping options you can choose from and whether web scraping is legal.

What Is Web Scraping?

The answer to 'What is web scraping?' is it is a data collection process that uses bots to find information on websites and copy it to a database. A web scraper is a software tool that can access data on any public website and extract and copy data from it. To do this, a web scrapper uses HTML requests, which inform the code for a website of what data to copy into the scraper's database.

Companies that use this method often have a framework and can design commands for specific scrapping tasks. For example, if the company uses web scraping to collect the product prices of its competitors, then they may have a task with the specific HTML commands for the scraper to collect pricing data.

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Why Do People Use Web Scraping?

Originally, financial analysts used web scraping to predict trends in the stock market, but this data collection process can be useful to other companies and other purposes, too. Since this is an automatic process, companies can gather data with ease and focus their time on analysing that data and using it to develop business strategies.

Here are some of the primary reasons to use web scraping:

Comparing prices

Web scrapers can collect data about product pricing from multiple sites and enter it into the database for analysis and comparison. This is a useful feature for companies who want to track competitors. With price comparison, a company can ensure that they offer customers the best price. For example, insurance agents may use price comparison to convince customers to choose their insurance package.

Third-party websites may also use this method to inform consumers of the options available for a specific product. In addition, bloggers can use web scraping for price comparisons when reviewing an item and making recommendations to their readers.

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Collecting email addresses

Web scraping can gather contact information, such as consumer email addresses, from public websites. This is valuable data, especially for marketing departments, which use email addresses to contact consumers about special offers. Email marketing is an effective technique to make sales and connect with new customers.

While the addresses that the web scraper collects may not provide targeted consumers that match the target audience, this method may be simpler than creating a sales page where consumers submit their emails to the company. To get more viable leads from scraping email addresses, companies can choose websites that they deem their target audience most likely to visit.

Related: How To Generate Leads For A Business

Collecting social media data

The intended purpose of a web scraper is to find current trends and help predict future trends. Companies can use web scrapers on social media sites to identify keywords users are posting and track subjects that are trending. Identifying trends with consumers is a tactic that marketers can use to create more effective content for consumers to interact with. Product managers or creators can also use this technique to develop products that best suit consumer needs.

Additionally, companies may collect data from social media websites to track what social media users say about the company or its competitors. This process may help them become more socially conscious or make other improvements that consumers request.

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Collecting data for research and development

Research and development teams scrape data, such as statistics, performance metrics and customer surveys, to improve products and processes. For example, a research and development team may collect the responses from a third-party site for a survey about a type of product the company is considering developing new products or services. Depending on the data the team needs, research and development employees can create specific HTML to request the data they need.

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Organising information

Some companies use web scraping to compile information from multiple websites onto one page. As an example, a website designed to find the best-rated or cheapest hotels might compile information from various accommodation websites, travel blogs or online tourist centres. Data scientists or analysts might also use this type of organisational web scraper to categorise and sort large amounts of data from disparate sources.

Monitoring the news

Web scraping can help businesses keep track of when they are mentioned in various media outlets, such as newspapers, television clips or radio shows. This type of web scraper can search online for mentions of that company's name or related words, like the names of company executives, in diverse media sources.

This can also be a good tool for organisations that use the latest news as part of their daily operations or to make key business decisions. For example, finance businesses might rely on web scrapers to help them gather information every day about market conditions or stock prices.

Related: What Are Press Releases? (With Structure And Examples)

Getting real estate listings

Many real estate agents and brokerages use web scraping every day. Web scraping can help these professionals and brokerages with a range of real estate tasks, including estimating rental yields, appraising property value and keeping track of vacancy rates. Using web scraping to perform these responsibilities and analyse various real estate statistics may improve an agent's ability to make decisions about various property listings or clients.

Is Web Scraping Legal?

Web scraping is legal as long as the website you scrap data from allows it. Some websites are private and you cannot scrap their data. By looking at a website's robot.txt file, you can determine if the site allows web scraping. To find this information, type the website's URL and add '/robot.txt'.

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What Are The Different Types Of Web Scrapers?

Here are several types of web scraping:

Self- or pre-built

Pre-built web scrapers are web scrapers created by other individuals or businesses. These web scrapers are readily available for others to download and use. It is also possible to build your own web scraper, although this option is easiest for those with advanced coding knowledge.

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User interface

User interface (UI) scrapers are a type of web scrapers that end-users can access without downloading. These web scrapers are available online and typically provide an interface that users find easy to navigate. A UI web scraper might be the best option for those with limited programming skills.

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Browser extensions

Browser extension web scrapers are apps that you can download to your existing web browser. This compatibility with your existing web browser may make it easier for some users to access their web scraper and integrate it with other browser functionalities, like messaging extensions. One potential drawback of a browser extension web scraper is that you can only use it when you are online and using that specific browser. Professionals who want to use their web scraper offline may want to research other options.

Cloud scrapers

A cloud-based web scraper runs on an off-site server provided by a third-party vendor. This type of web scraper can free up memory and storage on your computing device since the web scraper's hosted on a third-party's server instead. If you want to conduct other tasks on your computer while your web scraper operates in the background, a cloud scraper might be the right choice for you.

Related: Types Of Cloud Computing (With Definitions And Tips)

Local scrapers

In contrast to a cloud scraper, a local web scraper runs on your computer. This means that the web scraper uses your computer's memory and your personal or work internet connection to operate. Since this type of web scraper can potentially slow down other functions on your computer, it is best to use a local scraper either during hours when you are not on your computer or on a separate machine.

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