What Is Web Scraping? (With Purpose and Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 29, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

With so much data available on the internet, companies want to harness the information to make better business decisions. Web scraping allows a company to learn valuable data about its customers, competition, and marketplace. Learning about data scraping can help you determine if this is a valuable process to use in your position. In this article, we discuss the definition of web scraping, identify why companies may use this strategy, and the five steps to completing the data extraction process.

What is web scraping?

Knowing the answer to "What is web scraping?" can help you understand why this is a helpful strategy for organizations to employ. Web scraping is the process of collecting data from websites using an automated program. Also known as data scraping or web data extraction, it uses HTML requests to find specific data from other web sources and copy the information into a database. Hypertext markup language or HTML is the primary code that web developers use to structure a website and its contents.

The HTML requests, also known as bots, inform the website's code what data to copy into the scraper's database. Organizations using data scraping typically have a framework for their employees to design commands for specific data extraction tasks. For example, if a company uses data scraping to collect their competitor's pricing information, they may have an HTML command to gather this data.

What do companies use data scraping for?

The financial industry was originally the first to use data extraction to aid its business decisions and services. As the technology has advanced, various companies and organizations use it because of its automation and ability to capture useful data. Several reasons that companies use data scraping include:

Price comparison

One of the most common uses for data scraping is to collect information for price comparison. A web scraper can gather information from multiple e-commerce websites and compile the data into a database for analysis and review. This purpose has several functions. First, companies that operate price comparison websites, such as travel and hotel booking sites, use this information to promote the lowest prices on the internet using specific search criteria. For example, a consumer can go to a website and search for the lowest flight tickets to Hawaii.

The scraper can identify the results and show the user the requested information. Web scraping for price comparison is also helpful for companies who track their competition's pricing. Scraping identified competitors' websites can provide real-time information, allowing the company to make educated business decisions about pricing strategies. Bloggers or article writers can use data scraping to find the best prices for products or services they review and recommend. In addition, organizations can use pricing data extraction for the following purposes:

  • Identifying dynamic pricing options that align with the market

  • Recognizing revenue optimization opportunities

  • Monitoring the marketplace for product or pricing trends

  • Assessing a retailer for brand compliance

  • Monitoring for minimum advertised price compliance of retailers

Related: What is Product Differentiation? A Complete Guide

Lead generation

Another everyday use for web scraping is to increase lead generation opportunities. Lead generation is a critical marketing activity that helps companies generate traffic to their websites, improve email marketing efforts, and increase revenue. Web scraping allows businesses to gather contact information of potential consumers, such as email addresses, from public websites. Companies can use this data to contact consumers about special offers and promotions.

Email marketing is an effective strategy to create a meaningful connection with potential customers and increase sales. Extracting email addresses from public websites may not provide a company with information that exactly matches its ideal customer profile. Still, it's a method that partners well with other lead generation strategies. To improve the quality of the data gathered, it's vital that a company identify websites that its target audience visits.

Related: Top 5 Marketing Fields To Explore For a Successful Career

Market research

Another critical function of data extraction is to assist companies with market research. Through web scraping, organizations can access the most accurate and timely information available, such as customer survey results, market statistics, and product performance metrics. Businesses can use this data to improve their product offerings and enhance their procedures for creating positive customer experiences. For example, a company can gather data from several third-party websites to identify customer responses to a competitor's new product in the marketplace.

It can use this information to decide whether to create a rival product as an option for consumers. Research and development or marketing teams can automatically create specific HTML codes to request and gather the required information. In addition, companies can use data scraping for the following reasons:

  • Collecting real-time data for analyzing market trends

  • Identifying the best point of entry for a new market product

  • Researching customer preferences and purchasing habits

  • Monitoring the competition for changes in product offerings or marketing campaigns

Related: How to Do Market Research With 6 Guided Steps (With Types)

Brand and content monitoring

Another valuable purpose of web scraping is allowing companies to monitor their brand and content online, such as posts on social media platforms and popular blogs. A top priority of many companies is building and protecting their online reputation. Monitoring customer comments, surveys, or recommendations can provide businesses with the information required to make necessary adjustments to their marketing strategies and internal procedures.

Organizations that sell products to other retailers can face many challenges, such as maintaining minimum selling prices or damaging a brand's identity. Web scraping allows for non-invasive monitoring to ensure that other retailers represent the brand accurately. In addition, companies that rely on timely news or economic reports, such as the financial or real estate industries, can harness the power of data extraction to analyze the most current information that's vital to making investment decisions.

Related: How to Become a Brand Strategist (With Eight Steps)

How to complete data web scraping

There are several critical steps if you're interested in learning how to complete web scraping. This is a simplified step-by-step process that can become as complex as you wish to make it. The complexity also depends on the number of search commands you use and the software you implement. Here are the five basic steps to complete web scraping:

1. Identify the website you want to gather data from

The first step when implementing web data extraction is to identify the websites from which you want to gather information. You may target one site or several depending on the reason for your collection. It's vital that the websites you scrap are public domains and allow you to collect the data. To determine if a site permits web scraping, you can look at the website's robot.txt file. You can find this information by typing in the website's URL address and adding "/robot.txt" at the end.

2. Make a list of the specific pages you want to gather information

Once you've determined the websites you wish to extract data from, make a list of the specific pages within the site that apply to your search. For example, if you conduct a web scrap for product pricing information, you likely want to target the products page rather than the about page. When creating your list, ensure you know the search criteria of what data you're seeking, such as prices, email addresses, or survey results.

3. Request the data of the URL pages

The next step is to request the data of the URL page addresses you identified in step two. You can complete this task in several ways. If you are searching for information on your own, you may copy and paste data directly from the web page as you see it on screen. This is inefficient and time-consuming for even modestly sized projects, but it can provide quick results for simple data.

Another option is for you or a web developer to write an HTML command to request the data automatically. This option can remain reasonably simple or have multiple search functions and terms depending on the level of complexity of the information you require. Finally, many organizations hire web scraping companies or contractors to help with the coding necessary for the process.

4. Use search functions to find the data in the HTML code

Once the web scraper command has received the HTML code of the pages you requested, a search function within the code can find the data you require. The files received initially from the scraping command are in HTML code, and the data can be in various places within this structure. Using a search function or locators can quickly extract the information, such as product pricing, email addresses, or customer demographic data. This is a tedious process if completing it manually, so you want to use search functionality to automate the process.

5. Save the data in a structured format

After you have the required data, the scraper program typically saves the information in a structured format as a CSV or JSON file. This file format allows you to access the database and manipulate the data to analyze the contents. From here, you may continue to run web scraping commands regularly or move forward with the information you have.

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