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A Beginner’s Guide To Understanding Web Scraping

3 Mins read

Do you own or manage an online business? E-commerce can be a one-way ticket to wealth, success and a life of luxury. However, like any venture, there are equal parts risk and reward. Online shopping is a saturated market, and you need to make an effort to stand out from the crowd. However, if you put in the work and channel your energy into the business, and with a touch of luck, too, you can come out on top.

Several strategies to increase your revenue and sales for your online business include search engine marketing, social media advertising and search engine optimisation, or SEO. The right combination of these things and some investment into your marketing and advertising streams can get rich returns. 

However, another digital tool at your disposal can give your business a kickstart, and that is using a device called a website scraper or web scraping. This helpful article will share a beginner’s guide to understanding web scraping. So, read on to discover more.

What is Web Scraping?

The web, or the internet, is a massive entity. There are literal zettabytes of information on all the world’s computers connected to the internet, as well as remote servers and other storage facilities. A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes. That’s a whole lot of data.

Amongst that data is valuable information about your competitors, such as their prices, special offers, discount codes and engaging content. A website scraper is a digital tool that scans the internet for your competitors’ data and compiles it into a helpful, easy-to-digest report.

There is nothing illegal or unethical about such a tool, as all the data it “scrapes” is already readily available online. It speeds up a process that would take you weeks to do manually.

Why Invest in Web Scraping?

Now, of course, you don’t want to imitate your competitors, so why would you need the data a web scraper collects? Well, you can use this data to make an informed decision about your own business, your prices, your special offers and any discounts you might offer. Seeing how they stack up against the competition will give you an edge as you can either undercut your competitors or better understand them to create your own unique offerings for your customer base. 

As we mentioned above, there is nothing illegal about this, and all it does is save you time performing a task you could do manually at a much slower pace. However, you must ensure that any data you scrape is publicly available, as private data such as customer emails, addresses, dates of birth, or any other identifying information is illegal to access and can land you in hot water. 

How Does a Web Scraper Work?

A Beginner's Guide To Understanding Web Scraping

A web scraper performs a relatively simple operation but does so because of the complex coding behind its functions. 

Firstly, you input one or more target URLs (website addresses) into the tool. The scraper then loads the full web address’ code into itself. More advanced scraping tools can include elements of CSS and Javascript too.

Then, the scraper extracts all the data on the specified page or specific data requested by the user. For instance, you could specify the tool to remove all price data for a particular line of products sold on a website, such as apparel or electronics. 

Then, finally, the web scraper will download the data and output it into a spreadsheet file, such as CSV or Excel document.

What Type of Software Are Web Scrapers?

Most web scrapers come in two forms: a browser extension or a standalone software application. 

The former are app programs built into your internet browsers, such as Google Chrome or Safari. You might already have some installed, such as ad blockers or Adobe PDF extensions. They are limited to running hosted inside your browser and cannot operate without an instance of your browser open. Due to this, they have some limitations.

The other type of web scraper is standalone software that must be installed and opened on your computer to perform its duties. There are a few more steps to set these up. However, they offer advanced features when compared to browser extensions. 

What About User Friendliness?

The user interface of web scrapers can vary widely between different programs, with some being easy to use and others requiring a more complex skillset.

For instance, some will open a simple command line, which is not usable for a layperson unless you know specific commands to enter. Others will render the target website entirely, and you can click on what you want to scrape. Some even have pop-up help tips or built-in tutorials to quickly get you up and running.

A Web Scraping Summary

This helpful article has taught you a beginner’s guide to web scraping and should help you to get a web scraper up and running to give you an edge in the marketplace. Good luck and happy scraping. 

breanna

About author
Breanna, with the help and support of BeDoper's audience, provides fresh news on the tech and EdTech daily to your screen. Stay connected with Breanna on FB, Twitter, and Pinterest to spice up your feeds and productivate your time.
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