Custom website scrapers help turn web content into useful data that can be analyzed for making informed business decisions. Web scraping is widely used amongst businesses in every vertical to reap a competitive advantage. Take a look at what factors to keep in mind before you think of custom developing a website scraper to have an upper hand for your unique business.
What is web scraping?
Web scraping or data scraping is the process of extracting data from any corner of the web with the help of website scrapers. A simple example - Google scraping your website pages using web spiders!
Why businesses need web scraping?
Every business in some way or the other depends on data to help them make decisions. This is a data-driven world and businesses needs to be constantly vigilant and updated with the data.
With the overwhelming data available on the internet, businesses in every industry have started ethically leveraging this data for their benefits. If businesses can extract and process the right data at the right time in an ethical and efficient manner, they can keep up and stay ahead of the competition.
With the rapid increase in data dependency, there is also a spike in the need for custom web scraping services.
Let me at this very initial stage clarify that there is no magic web scraping tool available that will extract data from each and every website on the web. Every website is different in terms of structure, navigation, coding and how they present the data. Thus, there exists no such “out of the box web scraping solution”.
But, again, this doesn’t mean that off the shelf web scraping tools don’t work, they do. But, most of the websites that are scraped are dynamic in nature. Every website is custom coded with different layout and structure. They also undergo regular structural changes to keep up with the latest trends. This makes it extremely difficult to write a series of code that can scrape multiple websites simultaneously. Here is where Custom web scraping steps in.
Web scraping might seem pretty easy - Open website, click to select data and download as CSV. But, it has a lot more going on in the background. A web scraping company custom designs website scrapers to crawl thousands of web pages, all custom coded for you so that you can set a vision for market trends, customer preferences, and competitors’ activities and then analyze the trends accordingly.
But again, web scraping is a whole new niche and there are certain things that you need to keep in mind before you hire a software development team to build a website scraper that matches your requirements! Take a look at the four most important things that you should keep in mind before developing a custom web scraper.
You’d be surprised to know how frequently websites get updated! Not all changes will affect the web scraper, but, keeping a tab on the modifications is quintessential to ensure that the quality of data is not affected.
Make sure that the software development team you hire has some automated program in place to monitor and keep a tab of the changes on the target websites. They should set alerts if they see any red flags or anomalies in the dom structure ( Missings fields, modified field names etc) of the websites. This will help prevent data loss during the whole process.
Web scraping is a niche process and to be very honest, not everyone’s cup of tea. It requires knowledge of a compelling technology stack. Also, a robust end to end infrastructure is paramount for the purpose.
An infrastructure to support the resource-intensive tasks like developing, running and maintaining web scrapers for scraping large websites at a faster scale without interruption is absolutely crucial.
Make sure your development team has the ability to constantly tweak and twine their web scraping infrastructure and scale in order to improve performance and data quality.
 Data quality
Though extracting information from the web is complex, churning that unstructured data into clean, structured information that can be further analyzed is even more challenging. And clean data is the MVP! So, make sure that your team doesn’t only make a web scraper and extract information and forget about it.
Make sure they review and test the extracted data in the utmost reliable way. Also, make sure they create an alert in case of data inconsistencies and website scraping bot errors. Data quality assurance and timely maintenance are an integral part and your development team must take responsibility and ownership for that.
 Maintenance and business integration
With off the shelf solution, the web scraping scope is limited and maintenance is a challenge. As these tools face extreme difficulty when there is a minor structure modification, they need to be maintained and adapted from time to time.
While extracting large chunks of data, you should always be in the lookup for minimizing request cycle time and maximizing performance. Your software development team must have a detailed understanding of the web scraping framework and infrastructure so that it can be auto-tuned for optimal performance.
What to do with all that data? Interact and analyze, of course!! Before that, there has to be a way an organization can effortlessly consume these structured and clean data into their own systems.
Wrapping Things Up
This is a niche field and if you are doing something in the niche area, you are bound to take on some challenges. Given the number of challenges and the requirement for end-to-end maintenance, this can be an inconvenience for the in-house development team.
So, it’s always a better plan to outsource web scraping to established custom software development companies, if you lack the experience and infrastructure that web scraping demands.
This can help save you from such headaches and the vast experience and expertise that your outsourcing team has in web scraping can help you allocate way more time to analyze the in-hand structured data to improve productivity and business gains.