According to a 2022 white paper focusing on the financial sector, 85% of US and 74% of UK companies are expected to embrace web scraping in 2023. Overall, 80% of financial services organizations are anticipated to shift toward web data harvesting.
The study, however, highlights a few challenges that have made business owners and executives hesitant about embracing web data extraction. Even so, such businesses can overcome some challenges by optimizing their scraping operations.
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Web scraping or web data harvesting refers to the automated process of extracting data from third-party websites. It involves using software known as web scrapers, which can be created from scratch using programming languages like Python or purchased off the shelf.
In the business world, web scraping is a process of gathering vital information that can be integrated into the decision-making process, yielding better results. Generally, web scraping is used in the following instances:
- Competitor monitoring
- Price monitoring
- Product monitoring
- Search engine optimization and keyword research
- Review and reputation analysis
- Lead generation
Challenges Affecting Web Scraping
While companies are increasingly embracing web scraping in a bid to enjoy the benefits, the white paper established that some are still hesitant due to a few challenges, namely:
- Legal implications of web scraping: organizations in some jurisdictions, such as the US, perceive the legal processes to be more stringent and are, therefore, more hesitant than companies in other countries whose laws on data privacy are considered less strict.
- Complicated technology: some business owners perceive web scraping technologies to be complicated; as a result, they opt to leave these tools out of their data collection workflow.
- Budget restrictions: some organizations may not have the funds to allocate toward hiring developers or people with technical know-how on how to integrate web scraping tools. Others may perceive off-the-shelf web scrapers to be expensive.
- Lack of technical expertise: some companies may not have the technical expertise to integrate web scraping tools into their data collection and analysis pipeline.
Other challenges impacting web data extraction include:
- Honeypot traps: some websites are fraught with links that aren’t visible to humans but can be seen by bots; thus, any entity that follows this link is automatically regarded as a bot. Therefore its IP address may be flagged.
- CAPTCHA: websites often display CAPTCHA puzzles when they detect unusual activity originating from a network. These puzzles are meant to tell humans and computers apart, as the latter often finds it difficult to solve the problem.
- Sign-in and login pages: these pages hide certain data behind an authentication page, thus preventing access.
- IP blocking: web servers often ban IP addresses associated with unusual, bot-like behavior.
- Headers and User Agent (UA) requirements: headers and UAs store information such as the device model, operating system and version, the browser type and version, and time. This data helps the website create a persona of the visitor.
- Complex webpage structures: Some websites have a complex web page structure that complicates the process of data collection.
Optimizing Web Scraping Operations
The challenges can greatly impede the process of data collection. However, they can be solved by optimizing crucial steps within the web scraping workflow and selecting the right tools. In the long run, as detailed below, optimization offers numerous benefits.
How to Optimize Web Scraping Operations
You can optimize your web scraping projects by implementing the following best practices:
- Choose the right tools, such as rotating proxy servers. For instance, if you want to collect geo-targeted content from the UK, use a UK proxy;
- Procure a web scraper from a reputable service provider;
- Mirror the human browsing behavior;
- Cache already accessed pages to eliminate unwanted requests;
- Utilize CAPTCHA-solving service;
- Rotate the user agents and headers.
Benefits of Optimizing Web Scraping Operations
Web scraping optimization offers numerous benefits, including:
- It reduces the need for technical expertise as the creation and maintenance of web scraping tools can be outsourced;
- Optimization increases the chances of success by reducing, if not eliminating, IP blocks;
- It increases the speed of data collection because it eliminates hurdles such as CAPTCHA puzzles and geo-blocking. For example, a UK proxy enables you to access and collect data or content that could previously only be viewable to residents of the UK;
- Optimization promotes accuracy of the data: the right tools ensure that you collect accurate data;
- Web scraping optimization promotes cost-efficiency: choosing the right tools from the right service provider, for example, eliminates the need for an in-house development team. It’s also cheaper because the cost of maintenance is borne by the provider rather than yourself.
Every business needs to not only embrace web scraping but also optimize the process for better results. Optimization promotes cost efficiency, accuracy, and speed. It also increases the chances of success and reduces the need for an in-house team of developers.