Need to gather data in order to make a decision? Looked around and tried everything? Still didn’t manage to get your hands on the required data? Let me guess. There’s data on a website and there’s no option to download and copy paste failed you!! FOMO? Worry not, we got you covered.
The art of data scraping was omnipresent. The only difference is that, data scraping used to be a manual process earlier. Manual data scraping is definitely obsolete now as its tedious and time consuming and prone to human errors. Also, some websites has thousands of web pages now which makes it impossible to manually scrape by custom web scrapers. Thus automation! But, why is data scraping so essential for a business?
Whether you are in ecommerce, retail, sales, marketing, travel, hospitality, research, education etc, survival of the fittest is the motto everywhere. There exists cut-throat competition and you have to come up with different and innovative ideas everyday, and there is a trap here ; Come up with these ideas faster than your competitors.
With the help of data scraping, this somehow seems a little easier as you have access to a lot of information, customer preferences and also competitor strategies, making it easier for executives to take crucial decisions with a glance at the structured data, once it has been analyzed. But, developing a web scraper is not as easy as it is for me to write about it. There are considerable amount of roadblocks in this path and it’s always better to have a clear vision of the challenges before one proceeds with data scraping.
Let us walk through a few things that can seem challenging when it comes to data scraping.
-:: Challenges in data scraping ::-
Websites are free to choose whether they will allow web scrapers bots or not on their websites for data scraping purpose. There are websites that actually do not allow automated web scraping. This is mainly because, at most times these bots scrape data with the intention of gaining competitive advantage and drain the server resources of the website they are scraping from, thus adversely affecting site performance.
The main purpose of captchas are to separate humans from bots by displaying logical problems that humans find easy to solve but making it difficult on the bots. So, their basic job is to keep spam away. In presence of captcha, basic scraping scripts will tend to fail, but with new advancements, there are generally measures to subsist these captchas, in an ethical manner.
Frequent structural changes
In order to keep up with the advancements in UI/UX and to add more features, websites undergo regular structural changes. The web scrapers are specifically written with respect to the code elements of the webpage at the point of setup, so, frequent changes complicates the codes, giving scrapers some sort of a hard time. Though every structural change will not affect the web scraper setup, but as any sort of change may result in data loss, it is recommended to keep a tab on the changes.
If a web scraper bot sends multiple parallel requests per second or unnaturally high no of requests, there’s a good chance that you will cross the thin line of ethical and unethical scrapping and get flagged and ultimately banned. If the web scraper is smart and has sufficient resources, they can carefully handle these kind of counter measures and make sure they stay at the right side of the law and still achieve what they want.
Real time data scraping
Real time data scraping can be of paramount importance to businesses as it supports immediate decision making. With the always fluctuating stock prices to the ever changing product prices in eCommerce, this can lead to huge capital gains for a business. But deciding what’s important and what’s not in real time is a challenge. Also, acquiring large data sets in real time is an overhead too. These real time web scrapers use a Rest API to monitor all dynamic data available in the public domain and scrape data in “nearly real time” ; but attaining the “holy grail” still remains a challenge.
There is a thin line between data collection and causing damage to the web by careless data scraping. As web scraping is a such an insightful tool and with the immense effect it has on businesses, web scraping should be done with responsibility. With a little respect we can keep a good thing going. Take a look at the best practices list for web scraping that we compiled.
 Respect the Robots.txt
A robots.txt file has all the information stored on the pages that a web scraper can crawl and pages that they cannot. Be sure to check the robots.txt file before you start with the scraping. If they have blocked bots altogether, its best to leave the site alone as its unethical to scrape the site in that scenario.
 Take care of the servers
It is very important to think about the acceptable frequency of requests and number of requests sent to the host server. Web servers are not flawless. They will crash if the load they can take is exceeded. Sending too many requests too soon can results in server failure and that creates a bad user experience for visitors on the website. While data scraping, keep a reasonable amount of gap between requests and try and keep the number of parallel requests in control.
 Don’t scrape during peak hours
Take it as a moral responsibility to scrape websites during non-peak periods, so that, visitors’ user experience is hampered in no way. This has a catch for the scraping business too : it will significantly improve the scraping speed.
 Use a headless browser
What is it? The Google blog says: “ It’s a way to run the Chrome browser in a headless environment. Essentially, running Chrome without chrome! “. These web browsers don’t have a GUI, but are executed via a command-line interface or using network communication. One definite advantage of using headless browsers is that they are faster than real browsers. Also, while using a headless browser, you don’t need to load a site fully, headless browser can just load the HTML portion and scrape, resulting into amore lightweight, resource saving and time saving scraping.
 Beware of Honey Pot Traps
There are pages inside some websites that a human will never click on but a web scraper bot that is clicking on every link might. These are specifically designed for web scrapers and once the honey pot links are clicked, it’s highly likely that you will get banned from that site for ever.
Skip the challenges and get to your data
One of the major reasons for ethical web scraping is that data is not readily available for analysis. Data driven analysis, insights and strategies play a huge part in enterprise building and is paramount to organizational success. Either the website doesn’t have APIs or they have a strict rate limit that will get exceeded quickly.
A custom built web scraping software will automatically extract data from multiple pages of any website according to your specific business requirements. But, due to the ever-evolving nature of the websites and the fact that websites don’t follow typical structures and rules, there is no way a one-size fits all web scraper can carefully handle the challenges to web-scraping a particular site.
Also, when the scraping needs to be done at scale, the difficulty increases by many folds.
Here at BinaryFolks, we cautiously avoid backdated technologies and practices that misses the modern handling of data (Like, Vue js , React js based websites, AJAX, etc.. Instead we use modern and cutting edge techniques (like, headless browser method ( Selenium, Phantomjs etc. ), scrappy etc. making it easy to ethically scrape very sophisticated and modern websites pretty easily. Require help in web scraping ? Take a look at our web scraping work here.