What is web scraping? An explanation of uses and techniques

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 April 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.

Information plays a central role in modern businesses, so data collection is a key element of marketing and management. Organisations use web scraping to help collect data from the web so they can analyse it and improve their business strategies. Learning about the uses of web scraping and the techniques you can use to perform the process may help improve your data collection and analysis skills. In this article, we answer the question ‘What is web scraping', discuss why people use it, explain the two methods of web scraping and introduce practical techniques.

What is web scraping?

The answer to the question ‘What is web scraping' is that it's a data collection process that uses bots to find information on websites and copies it into a database. A web scraper is a tool that can access any public website and extract data from it. To do this, a web scraper uses an HTML script to determine what data to copy from the website into the scraper's database.

Companies that use this method often use a framework and can accept commands for specific scraping tasks. For example, if a company uses web scraping to collect product prices from its competitors, it can use a script with HTML commands that specifically ask the scraper to collect pricing data.

8 reasons to use web scraping

Initially, financial analysts used web scraping to analyse the stock market and predict trends. A wide variety of businesses now use web scraping as it helps them gather valuable information about people who use a particular site. Because web scraping is an automated process, it allows companies to quickly gather data that matches their search criteria without much effort. Here are some reasons to use web scraping:

1. To conduct price analysis

Pricing strategies play a significant role in maintaining a competitive business and can determine the success of a particular product. Therefore, it can be highly beneficial for companies to analyse information about product pricing in the market. Organisations frequently use web scrapers to collect data from their competitors and industry leaders so they can track their competitors better. It also helps them develop adequate pricing strategies. In addition, it allows organisations to respond to price-related changes in the market quickly.

Third-party websites also use web scraping to inform consumers about prices for a specific product provided by multiple retailers. Customers frequently rely on these services to find the best prices. It's often beneficial for companies to analyse prices to help ensure their pricing is the most attractive option.

2. To gather market research

Market research is an integral part of business management, as it tends to influence sales. It's important to use the most relevant and accurate data during market analysis, so companies often use web scraping to quickly and easily pull enough information to perform comprehensive market analyses. In addition, web scraping provides access to large volumes of recent data that reflects market conditions.

There are several important elements of market research that web scraping can impact. Web scraping can make it possible to build a comprehensive approach to market trend analysis and pricing. Another benefit is that web scraping contributes to competitor monitoring. Also, businesses can rely on collected data to optimise the point of entry to the market.

Related: How to define your target market: examples and types

3. To collect email addresses

In many cases, consumer email addresses are available on public websites. Web scraping can collect this information and organise it in a database. Customer email addresses represent valuable data that the marketing department can use to communicate with their target audience. Email marketing is often an effective method that can attract new customers and increase sales.

Even though web scraping may not always provide the email addresses of customers who represent the target audience, this method is often more efficient than its alternatives and typically requires fewer resources. In addition, companies can adjust their search criteria to improve the process. Some companies may consider focusing on websites that are more likely to attract their target audience rather than collecting broad information to achieve their goal.

4. To collect social media data

One of web scraping's primary objectives is to determine trends and use them to improve marketing campaigns. Companies often try to predict emerging trends as accurately as possible because doing so can provide a competitive advantage. The more data that companies analyse, the more accurate the results may be. Marketing departments can use trend-related information to meet consumer demand and create effective campaigns.

Businesses can also collect social media data to collect feedback or find valuable information about their competitors. Socially conscious companies that make improvements to meet consumer requests have a higher chance of success.

Related: How to become a social media consultant in 8 steps

5. To collect financial data

When companies make financial decisions, they often consider a wide variety of factors to make an informed choice based on the most relevant data. Web scraping can provide organisations with some of this data quickly. When companies have the information they need, it can not only improve their financial decision making but can help them build strong relationships with investors and stakeholders.

Web scraping can also provide up-to-date information related to the company's field of activity by monitoring news. In addition, companies can access information regarding public opinion and introduce improvements. You can also use this data to evaluate the fundamentals of a company.

6. To analyse real estate data

Many people believe digital technology affected the real estate industry. One factor in this change is its close link with web scraping, which can collect data focused on housing prices and availability. Web scraped data can help real estate agents and individuals better understand the real estate market and make more informed decisions. It can be highly beneficial to use web scraping to evaluate property values or compare rental yields. In addition, web scraping often helps experts determine market trends and make accurate projections.

7. To perform research and development

Research and development teams can collect information, including statistics, performance indicators and customer feedback with web scraping to analyse it for further development. Web scraping provides access to data that reflects most of the aspects mentioned above. In addition, research and development employees can adjust the HTML to request specific data. Modifying the code to send out specific requests can help businesses, as they tend to improve the marketing strategy and address customers' needs.

Related: Research skills: definition and examples

8. To organise information

Third parties and educational organisations often use web scraping to gather data from multiple sources and store it in an organised way. For instance, websites collect data about a particular product available from several retailers to inform customers about prices and options. Such an approach helps people find the best offer while increasing website traffic. Web scrapers also organise data for analysts by collecting it and entering it into a database. Such databases provide lists that make it easier to access and interpret data.

Is web scraping legal?

There are no legal limitations regarding web scraping itself. There are, though, legislative regulations related to the use of digital data. For instance, it's illegal to use web scraping to gather personal data or copyrighted data, as it violates privacy and intellectual property laws.

Types of web scraping

There are two main types of web scraping a company can use. You can either do it manually or automate the process using software. Here are the differences between these two approaches and the techniques you can use when web scraping:

Manual web scraping

Manual web scraping is typically slower and less efficient than automated web scraping, so people generally avoid using it. A company may use this method when they want to collect information from a limited number of websites. This method involves copying and pasting data manually from websites into the database. This manual approach is beneficial when organising information, but it's a good idea to check that you only gather data for private use. When you collect information, it's often a good idea to rephrase it before using it or publishing it to avoid accusations of plagiarism.

Automated web scraping

Companies use automatic web scraping more commonly as it takes less time. In addition, it can reduce the cost significantly because it can capture more data in a shorter period than manual scraping. There is a wide variety of techniques that may improve web scraping skills.

Text pattern matching uses a particular expression pattern to gather relevant data. HTML parsing is another method that allows companies to read HTML coding to collect information, including links and text. Consider using vertical aggregation as a web scraping technique so you can work with large quantities of data efficiently. You can also use DOM parsing to analyse and copy the entire structure of a website.

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