Since you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the benefits of data scraping and how its automated technique lets you gather lots of data without having to do all the manual work yourself.
But how does data scraping work exactly? And is it difficult, or can anyone learn how to scrape data?
Maybe it’s just because you’re curious. Or maybe you want to see if you can use data scraping for your business (or side hustle) as well.
Either way, by the end of this short article, you’ll have a better understanding of what data scraping is, how the scraping process actually works, and how you can get in on the action.
Ready to find out?
What is data scraping?
Let’s walk you through the basics first. So what is data scraping?
Also referred to as data harvesting or web scraping, data scraping is the process of gathering data from a webpage and storing it in a local database or file (like a spreadsheet).
Note that although you can do such data gathering yourself – by just visiting a page and copying its data into a spreadsheet – the term data scraping generally refers to the automated process of doing this.
More specifically, when talking about data scraping, people typically refer to the automated form of data extraction that is done with the help of robots.
So how does this all work?
How does data scraping work?
There are actually several ways you can scrape data from a website. As mentioned, you can simply do it yourself by manually visiting a page and copy-pasting it all into a format of your choosing. But that’s probably not the answer you were hoping for.
A semi-automated version of data scraping works through Microsoft Excel’s web query function. This allows you to import data from web pages into Excel without having to actually manually copy-pasting it.
This is quite easy to learn yourself, especially if you know your way around Excel already. You can find more information about this at Microsoft’s support section. But, this is probably still not the answer you were after.
If you want to scrape data from dozens (if not hundreds) of different sites and pages all at once, the Excel function quickly becomes too labor-intensive. Instead, you want an actual web scraper.
How does automated data scraping work?
Automated data scraping relies on robots (called web crawlers) that visit web pages for you and copy the data into a database or spreadsheet of your choosing.
This works in a few basic steps:
1. You determine which URL or set of URLs you want your bot to crawl and feed this into the bot
2. The bot sends a GET request to each page to access the data and fetch (download) the content
3. The data is either parsed, reformatted, or extracted as raw data
4. The extracted data is copied into a database or spreadsheet for you to use as you please
5. This, in essence, is how a web scraper works. But before you assume building a web scraper yourself is easy, think again.
The problem with building your own data scraper
Although you can build your own data scraper from scratch, there will be some hurdles along the way that you should be aware of.
First, you need to know how to write code yourself, and even if you do already, you will need to invest time into learning how to exactly create your own web crawler (for example, by taking a course like this).
Second, most website owners don’t want you to scrape their data. So to prevent you from accessing it, they will actively try to stop your bot. Some preventative measures they might put in place include request-rate limitations, IP blocking, CAPTCHAs to prove humanity, and User-Agent testing.
To circumvent all this, you need to not only constantly keep your bot up to date with the latest prevention methods, but you’ll also have to invest in buying proxies to allow you to rotate IP-addresses.
Third, all of this means you have to constantly maintain your bot. And if you want to scale it, you’ll have to spend even more time doing so. This means your easy-to-build bot quickly becomes a detailed project taking up hours of your precious time.
Data scraping software
Alternatively, you can let pre-created tools and data scraping software do the work for you.
There are hundreds of tools out there to try, from free Chrome extension plugins (like Webscraper.io) to paid software that allows you to scrape nearly anything you want (like Octoparse). If
There are also a lot of scrapers that are aimed at one specific use. For example, you can get special Amazon scrapers or Google scrapers – check here – depending on the needs of your business.
Although some of these tools require a fee, they do tend to pay off in the long run. Sophisticated data scraping software handles all the issues described above for you. From IP rotation to even passing reCAPTCHA tests.
And once you start adding up the hours and money it takes to build your own detailed data scraper, you’ll quickly realize that the monthly fee is more than worth it.