Businesses need data to understand market trends, customer preferences, and their competitor’s strategies. Web scraping is an efficient extraction of data from various sources that businesses leverage to attain their business goals.
Web scraping is not just information gathering but a business development tactic for prospecting and market analysis. Businesses use web scraping to extract information from competitors’ publicly available data. However, web scraping faces challenges set by cybersecurity laws of different countries and website owners to ensure the privacy of their information.
A web scraper extracts data from the fixed HTML elements from the web pages. It knows the exact source to gather data and makes use of bots to collect it. You may use the dataset for comparison, verification, and analysis based on your business’s needs and goals.
Data is an integral part of research to collect real-time information and identify behavioral patterns. Scraping tools, browser plug-ins, desktop applications, and built-in libraries are tools to collect data for research. The web scrapers read the HTML/XHTML tags to interpret these and follow the instructions on how to collect the data they contain.
Ecommerce companies must analyze their market performance to maintain a competitive edge. Scrapers collect data such as price, reviews, offers, discounts, inventories, and new product releases, which are pivotal for setting a price.
Brand monitoring is not just about customer reviews and feedback, it also protects your brand from illegal users. There is a risk that someone might copy your ideas and create duplicate products and services, so you must search the internet for counterfeits and track false propaganda that hampers the reputation of your business.
Apart from legal issues, web scraping tools face technical challenges that either block or limit the process, such as:
A robots.txt file is in the source files of the websites for managing the activities of a web crawler or a scraper. It provides or denies access for a crawler or a scraper to access the URL and content on the website. The robots.txt tells the search engine crawlers which URLs the crawlers can access on their website to avoid choking it.
A scraper bot checks the robots.txt file on the website to find whether the content is crawlable or not. This file contains information about the crawl limit to the bot to avoid congestion. The website blocks a crawler by describing it in the robots.txt file. Still, the webpage would appear in search results but without a description, which makes image files, video files, PDFs, and other non-HTML files inaccessible.
In this situation, the scraper bot cannot scrape the URLs or the content which are blacked by the robots.txt file. A scraper bot cannot collect data automatically but can contact the website owner and request permission with the apt reason to collect data from their website.
IP blocking is when the network service blocks the scraper bot’s IP or the entire subnet when the proxy spends too much time scraping a website. The website identifies a crawling bot if the request is from the same IP address frequently. It is a clear footprint that you are automating the HTTP/HTTPS requests to scrape the data.
The website owners can detect from their binary log files and block that IP address from accessing its data. Each website might have a different rule in allowing or blocking a website to scrape data. For example, a website might have a threshold of allowing 100 requests from the same IP address per hour.
There are IP bans based on the geographic location as certain countries forbid access to their websites from a different country. This could be because a government, business, or organization wants to have restrictions on accessing their websites. These restrictions are a preventive measure to avoid hacking and phishing attacks and cyber laws in one country might not be compatible with others.
CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) is a type of website security measure that separates humans from bots by displaying images or logical problems that humans find easy to solve but scraper bots don’t.
They prevent bots from creating fake accounts and spamming the registration webpage. It also prevents ticket inflation to limit scrapers from purchasing a large number of tickets for resale and false registration for free events.
CAPTCHA also prevents bots from making false comments, spamming message boards, contact forms, or review sites. CAPTCHA poses a risk to web scraping by identifying the bots and denying them access.
However, there are many CAPTCHA solvers that you may implement into bots to ensure continuous scrapes and solve the CAPTCHA to bypass the test and allow the bot access.
Though there are many technologies to overcome CAPTCHA blocks and gather data without hindrance, these slow down the scraping process.
A honeypot is any resource such as software, network, servers, routers, or any high-valued applications that represent themselves on the internet as a vulnerable system that attackers target.
Any computer on the network can run the honeypot application. Its purpose is to deliberately display itself as compromisable in the network for the attackers to exploit them.
The honeypot system appears legitimate with applications and data to make attackers believe that it’s a real computer on the network and they make your bots fall into the trap they set.
The traps are links that the scrapers see but they are not visible to humans. When the honeypot application traps the bot, the website hosting the application learns from the bot’s code about how its code scrapes its website. From there, it builds a stronger firewall to prevent such scraper bots from accessing their websites in the future.
The site owners design web pages on their business needs and user requirements. Each website has its own way of designing pages and moreover, they periodically update their content to include new features and improve user experience.
This leads to frequent structural changes in the website which is a challenge for the scraper. The website owner designs web pages using HTML tags. The HTML tags and the web elements are taken into account while designing the web scraping tools. It is difficult to scrape using the same tool when the structure of the webpage changes or updates. A new scraper proxy configuration is required for scraping an updated webpage.
Certain websites require you to log in and the scraper bot must pass on the required credentials to get access in order to scrape the website. Depending on the security measures the website implements, the login can be easy or hard. The login page is a simple HTML form to prompt for the username or email and the password.
After the bot fills out the form, an HTTP POST request containing the form data is sent to a URL directed by the website. From there, the server processes the data and checks the credentials, and redirects to the homepage.
After you send your login credentials, the browser adds a cookie value to several requests that run on other sites. That way, the website knows that you are the same person who just logged in earlier.
However, the login requirement is not a difficulty, but rather one of the stages of data collection. So when collecting data from websites, you must make sure that cookies are sent with the requests.
Businesses run on data and need real-time data for price comparison, inventory tracking, credit scores, etc. This is vital data and a bot must gather them fast as possible leading to huge capital gains for a business.
The scraper must have high availability to monitor the website for the changing data and to scrape them. The scraper proxy provider designs the scraper to handle large amounts of data up to terabytes and also to tackle the low response time of a website.
Data is everywhere and the challenge is that there is no specific format for collecting, maintaining, and retrieving it. The scraper bot must extract data from websites, mobile apps, and other devices as HTML tags or in a PDF format.
Data sources include social data, machine data, and transactional data. Social data comes from social media websites such as likes, comments, shares, reviews, uploads, and follows. This data gives an insight into customer behavior and attitudes and when combined with marketing strategies reaches the customer easily.
Bots scrape machine data from equipment, sensors, and weblogs that track user behavior. This data subset tends to rise exponentially as the output from real-time devices such as medical equipment, security cameras, and satellites.
Transactional data relates to daily purchases, invoices, storage, and deliveries. This data is crucial for business as it tells more about the customer buying habit and gives you chances to make smart decisions.
Some web pages may take a longer time to load or might not load at all. In such a situation, you must refresh the page. However, a website may load content slowly or may not load at all when receiving a large number of access requests. In such a situation, you must wait for the site to recover. However, the scraper will not know how to handle such a situation and data collection may be interrupted.
Whether you are a new business or a growing one, data is most valuable. The data you require is spread over the web but is not always accessible. Scraping is the best way to gather abundant data for business purposes.
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