OCTOBER 6, 2021
9 min read
Hasn’t big data become a buzzword? Today there’s probably no industry where data harvesting isn’t used to gain a competitive advantage and generate profit. No one would argue that research is more associated with science, yet it’s not always the case with data extraction. Since conducting such research manually within even a small industry would take forever, data scientists usually refer to web-scraping and APIs to acquire more relevant information about the target market. In this context, science is business. That’s where the API and web scraping services pay dividends.
Among all tools for business in the modern world, website data extraction proves one of the most powerful. As another widespread umbrella term, business intelligence (BI) encompasses phenomena touching upon data harvesting, mining, and storing. BI has already turned business into science. According to the prognosis, the BI and analytics software market size are expected to hit $17.6bn in 2024. In turn, the revenue of the big data analytics market is also projected to increase from $15bn in 2019 to $68bn by 2025. What these figures reveal is that global businesses are placing bets on data extraction and analytics, heavily investing in new software solutions that accelerate these processes. At stake are ethics, reputation, and profit.
So what is web scraping, and why is it so important to borrow essential information from competitors? Basically, web scraping refers to the process whereby a web crawler, bot, or any other specifically programmed software traverses websites to extract raw data from them with the purpose of its further use or analysis. Undoubtedly, you can conduct web scraping manually, but it requires some technical skills, knowledge, and tons of free time. That’s why businesses employ automated web scrapers, simultaneously attempting to optimise this process as much as possible. Let’s get into details!
What Is Data Extraction? — This and Other IT Tools for Business
Nowadays, there exist multiple marketing tools for business, including Google Analytics, Canva, HubSpot, and many more. But web scraping sets the groundwork for all of them. Not literally, of course, yet there would be no large-scale e-commerce without data exchange. Technically, data extraction helps companies retrieve, collect, analyse, and store various data types acquired from websites or other sources. Most widespread IT tools help business owners:
- manage tasks (Trello, Jira);
- conduct social and email marketing campaigns (Aweber);
- organise documentation (Dropbox, Google Drive);
- obtain e-signatures (DocuSign);
- search for customers (SalesForce, Hubspot).
However, many of these procedures would be unnecessary without data extraction because it facilitates learning the market and competitors, let alone developing growth models as well as forecasting. To organise things in theory, data extraction tools are usually distinguished between batch processing, cloud-based, and open-source options.
Batch Processing Tools
Product owners apply this method whenever there’s a need to transfer data to some other server or location but stumble upon certain challenges in the form of legacy data, or the information required is obsolete. In similar cases, batch processing serves as the most optimised solution utilised to extract data within closed environments. One of the most acknowledged tools in this area is Apache Hadoop that makes use of MapReduce to process big data.
These constitute the most widely practiced approaches to data extraction, inasmuch as they minimise the necessity of programming your harvesting logic, not to mention security issues. To practise this method, you don’t have to get involved in coding itself, nor must you adjust hundreds of manual configurations. Notably, the most recognised cloud-based data extraction tools are Mozenda, Web Scraper, ScrapingBee, and Import.io.
This type of data extraction tools is preferred for low-budget organisations that want to replicate or extract certain data. The best-known such tools are Octoparse, Textricator, Parsehub, and ScrapeStorm, all of which are free.
Legal and Ethical Implications Surrounding Data Harvesting
Now let’s talk about the legality of web scraping. If data harvesting implies extracting valuable information from someone else’s website, a reasonable question to ask is to what extent and in what circumstances a similar practice remains legal. Historically speaking, in the beginning was gold, then was oil, and now it’s data. For the industry not to come apart at the seams, it’s essential that all players follow the rules.
Explicit permission is what controls these processes. The multitude of websites is equipped with protective means like IP bans, verification protocols, highly shielded dedicated APIs, etc. A crucial thing to pay attention to is terms of service agreements. By agreeing to these, site visitors allow their personal data to be exchanged or transferred without their further permission.
So while scraping for marketing purposes, it’s of utmost importance that you extract only publicly available information. To do this legally, you need proxies because these function as intermediaries between a web server and your web scraping software. Remember to adjust a reasonable amount of inquiries and data requests to ensure that your target website doesn’t label this activity as a DDoS attack. You definitely don’t want to crash someone else’s website, don’t you?
Here’re a few basic tips to remain within the legal area in your web scraping ambitions:
- Don’t extract too much data per sec from any website;
- Get familiar with privacy policies;
- Stay away from unwarranted marketing campaigns with data you harvest;
- Follow Robot Exclusion Standards (robots.txt file);
- Avoid any illegal actions with extracted data.
In What Cases Data Extraction Comes in Handy?
- in the pursuit of focusing more on complicated and creative tasks, while ML algorithms do their job;
- as the basis for launching promotional campaigns relying on newly acquired information;
- to know your competitors better;
- to ensure a more unique brand identity as well as establish an optimal pricing policy;
- to quickly gather relevant information regarding the latest trends in your industry;
- if data extraction is your chance to customise decision-making, services, and products.
Web Scraping vs. API: Is There Any Need to Choose?
It’s time for a ground-breaking revelation. You don’t need to choose between web scraping and API. You merely use web scraping when a website you need to harvest data from doesn’t provide an API. What is an API, after all? Standing for the Application Programming Interface, it acts as an intermediary protocol specifying rules and processes required for two software applications to communicate with each other. Present-day API tools help companies ensure smooth integration and build reliable digital systems. Therefore, both web scraping and API allow access to different data available on web pages. The only difference is that the former copies data from sites that deliver results for you to analyse the obtained information, while the latter gives access only to specific data. APIs enable websites to exchange data according to agreements. Although not all sites feature a web API, most of them do, so it’s a good option for long-term and coherently established forms of data extraction between businesses.
Most Useful Web Scraping Tools for Your Digital Activity
What are the advantages and disadvantages of employing API as a web scraping tool? Suppose you need to regularly extract a particular amount of data from the same website. You’re unlikely to come across any restrictions if you’re using an API. Acquiring data from a product supplier or a business partner with the use of this method is more secure. However, when it comes to gathering gigabytes of data from different sources, it’s preferable to address other web scraping software tools. Just don’t forget to utilise proxies as these will save you from IP address blocks. It’s unlikely that you want to receive a ban or get stuck in an endless CAPTCHA loop.
In addition, you may prefer web scraping over an API if you’re willing to avoid limitations, monitor real-time data fluctuations, customise web crawling tools, or acquire data anonymously. At any rate, you don’t require any permission for web scraping, nor need third-party involvement. To sum up, the top 3 most useful web scraping tools for your business are:
It’s a free web crawling tool that can be used as a desktop application. By employing this software solution, you can scrape and download JSON files, CSV, and images. Besides, ParseHub has a feature of scheduled information collection and offers cloud-based data storage. Unlike many other scraping services, this one is free. But if you want a broader spectrum of features, you can select a $149 or $499 month subscription.
Why Should You Engage in Data Acquisition?
From basic questions like how to use an API, we’re now heading towards more complex issues. What about conceptual-model-based data extraction from multiple-record web pages? Simply put, not all data on the Internet is structured, which often entails complexities when you set out to scrape a million web pages. The conceptual approach mentioned above was studied already in 1999, thereby proving the historical relevance of this issue.
The conceptual-model-based data extraction serves as a helpful tool utilised to extract and structure data automatically. Even if you’re not a data scientist, this information may be of value since it’s always better to know all the pitfalls and solutions by their name to delegate responsibilities reasonably. In a nutshell, here’s a shortlist of data acquisition benefits for your business:
- It minimises human error while enhancing accuracy;
- It facilitates cost reduction;
- It increases visibility and awareness within your market area;
- It stimulates employee performance by delegating unnecessary tasks to automated algorithms that harvest data for real people;
- It simply saves time and effort.
When Web Scraping Crosses the Line
When you harvest data to work with weather reports, financial statements, competitors’ prices, or travel information, the odds are low that you’re going to face an ethical implication. But if you deal with customers’ private information… BTW, did you know that Facebook scraped their users’ personal information without consent in 2017 while elaborating on a Suicide Prevention tool? Well, don’t do that. If you’re not a healthcare or non-profit organisation with specific government-issued permissions to conduct a similar activity, always carry out web scraping in accordance with privacy policies.
Just remember: stick to consent, anonymity, and transparency while harvesting data. Also, be mindful of robots.txt files as well as don’t bombard third-party websites with too many requests. If you prefer to scrape only particular sites, try to negotiate with their owners. If they’ve got APIs, there’d be no trouble with data extraction.
Utilising Data Extraction for Business Performance Boost
In case you’re still confused concerning web scraping and APIs, we’d be pleased to assist. Contact our app development company if you seek professional consulting in the area of fintech services.
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