What is Web Scraping?



If you’re looking to scale your digital marketing, you must jump on that web scraping train.

Let’s take a look at what web scraping is, how to get into it, and why it is a necessity for your business.

Not sure what that is? No worries, we got you.

web Scraping challenge

So What’s Web Scraping, Exactly?




In a nutshell, data scraping is an automated process used to gather publicly accessible data for marketing and research purposes. You can run projects using proxies to extract what you need. After you use a software, you get the information needed extracted into a separate file. I’d say the whole process is meant for people who like to work smart, not hard.

Scraping with smartproxy




What is Web Scraping Used for?


Web scraping can be used for various purposes. In the end, it’s all about automation helping you to make your market and e-commerce research as simple as possible.

Most common use cases for web scraping are:

  • Review scraping: a great way to keep an eye on what your competitors are good (and bad!) at in order to improve your own services and products. In addition, it’s a great way to find out what your exact customers’ needs and pains are.
  • E-mail address gathering: used by companies to generate leads and and send bulk marketing emails.
  • Competitor site scraping: used by marketers to see how their competitors are marketing their products and services, what’s proving to be successful and what’s not.
  • Price comparison: anything from product pricing on Amazon to flight costs on different airline sites.
  • Linkedin scraping: used by various recruiters to gather potential employee information.
  • Social media content: scraping different social and news sites to see what’s trending so appropriate content could be produced.
  • Research: most research companies scrape government websites and other big data sites to gather statistics.




How Does Web Scraping Work?


No matter what tool you decide to use, you’ll end up having a script for your project, whether it be it be for collecting prices for different flights or gathering reviews on Amazon. When you launch the project, it looks through your target website and clicks on relevant information. Once the relevant data is gathered, it is exported and parsed in relevant format (e.g. JSON, Excel).




Popular Tools


There are many different tools and softwares for web scraping. No matter how advanced your coding skills are (or even if they’re non-existent), there’s a tool for you. And if you’d rather avoid the hassle, you can hire a data broker to do the job for you (yep, it’s a real career).

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular tools for web scraping.

  • ParseHub: ParseHub is your gateway into scraping. There’s no need to know any coding – just launch a project, click on the information that needs to be collected and let ParseHub do the rest. The data collected then can be exported in JSON or Excel.
  • Octoparse: Another powerful tool that doesn’t need any coding and is simple to use. Similar to ParseHub, Octoparse also operates on click-and-scrape method. It allows you to scrape log-in/fill-in forms, render JavaScript and more. Also it lets you build up to 10 web crawlers for free. Results? Priceless.
  • Scrapy: This one goes to Python developers. Scrapy has been a free open-source Python library for years, and it still remains the best tool for new applications. Don’t feel intimidated – there are plenty of tutorials and videos out there for you to get a grip on Scrapy.
  • Beautiful Soup: Another one for Python lovers. This one though doesn’t have that many complexities as Scrapy does. It offers an easy way to parse HTML with a user-friendly interface. Beautiful Soup to Python developers is the same as Cheerio to NodeJS.
  • Cheerio: If Python isn’t your thing, you might want to try Cheerio. Perfect for NodeJS developers with a get-to-the-point approach to parse HTML. Super fast, super reliable, and the most popular HTML library out there written in NodeJS.
  • Puppeteer: One more open source tool for those who prefer NodeJS. It’s an API fully supported by the Google Chrome team and is quickly replacing Selenium and PhantomJS.




Is Web Scraping Legal?


If people don’t understand something, they’re likely to get it twisted. Same goes with automation, botting and web scraping. In essence, web scraping is just the collection of publicly accessible factual data.

This has been recently ruled in US court when LinkedIn tried to claim that such information gathering violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. However, the case was put to rest when the court ruled that collecting already publicly accessible data cannot be considered hacking. Nevertheless, the legality of scraping depends on the target’s Terms of Use, the data you are scraping, and country. It’s always a good idea to consult your lawyer before scraping any target.




Data Misuse


What happens with the data later on, however, that’s a whole different story. It’s true that it’s not all sunshines and rainbows. Some people collect data for the wrong purposes such as e-mail spams and scams. How do you think those I am a Nigerian prince and I want to give you money emails end up in your inbox? Most likely, they get sent in a batch to email addresses collected from all over the web.

So I don’t think Is web scraping legal? is the right question here, but who can get their hands on that information in the end. And even further – who puts their information all over the internet? Social media descriptions, the same LinkedIn accounts with our full names and employment histories… We can’t blame someone else getting to the information that we willingly put out. That’s the magic trap of internet.

To get back to why you’re here – yes, scraping is legal, and no, it’s not rocket science. One thing’s for sure: if you want your business to skyrocket, you need to get into web scraping. And maybe try to be more conscious about where you put your email address.




Frequently asked questions about Web Scraping


Is web scraping legal?

When you are web scraping publicly accessible factual data, it is legal. Always read and follow your target’s Terms of Use and robots.txt file. Always consult your lawyer before scraping a target.

Is scraping Amazon legal?

Even though Amazon doesn’t preach it, it is legal. Prices, reviews and what-not are all available to everyone anyway.

What is the best web scraping tool?

There are many different tools out there. Which one you want to use depends on what your preferred scraping methods are. If you’re a beginner, we’d recommend going with ParseHub or Octoparse, if you prefer Python – try Scrapy or Beautiful Soup. And if you’re more of a NodeJS kinda guy, look into Cheerio and Puppeteer.