What Is the Purpose of a Web Scraper?

This article is about what-is-the-purpose-of-a-Web-Scraper. Technological innovations have permeated virtually every sector, and data collection is no different. In fact, in data harvesting, technology promotes the accuracy of the data collected by eliminating the likelihood of human error. It also speeds up the process. This is particularly evident in web scraping, the process of extracting publicly available data from websites. Ordinarily, you can collect such data manually, but if you are working with thousands of web pages, this can take weeks, if not a few months. This is where a web scraper comes in.

What is a Web Scraper?

A web scraper is a bot or software that automatically extracts data from websites based on web scraping instructions set by the user. This tool undertakes this in a multi-step process that begins with the user keying in the start URL(s), i.e., the address of the first web page(s) to be scraped. Ideally, these initial instructions should also contain the keyword(s) that the scraper should extract from the website.

Once the web scraper receives the go-ahead to begin data collection, it sends HTTP or HTTPS requests to the web pages. It then receives responses in the form of HTML files sent by the web server. Next, the scraper will parse the unstructured data in the HTML files, converting it to a structured format that can be analyzed.

Moreover, depending on whether it is equipped with a built-in web crawler, the bot will follow the links contained in the initial batch of web pages to discover new websites and pages where data can be extracted. If it discovers new pages, it sends out HTTP and HTTPS requests and parses the data in what mimics a loop. Once the web scraper parses the data, it stores them in various formats, including JSON or CSV.

Features of a Web Scraper

The success of a web scraping operation depends on whether or not a web scraper has the following features:

  • Ability to send HTTP requests
  • Ability to scrape data from multiple pages at once
  • Data parsing capabilities
  • Integrated proxy servers
  • Built-in web crawler
  • Automation and scheduling capabilities
  • CAPTCHA solving tools
  • Auto-retry system
  • JavaScript Rendering

Ability to Send HTTP Requests

The ability to send HTTP requests forms the foundation on which web scraper operates. It is only through the GET and POST request methods that the bot can access data from websites.

Ability to Scrape Multiple Pages

A good web scraper should be able to extract data from hundreds of websites simultaneously. This feature promotes quick data extraction.

Data Parsing Capabilities

Given the data collected is supposed to be used to obtain crucial insights on such aspects as the consumers, competitors, and prices, it is important that it exists in a format that can be analyzed. For this reason, the web scraper should be able to convert the largely unstructured data stored in web pages HTML files to a structured format.

Integrated Proxy Servers

A proxy server is a tool that intercepts incoming and outgoing traffic. It assigns all outgoing requests a new IP address in the process, hiding the real identifier. Generally, proxies, including those integrated into web scrapers, are used to prevent IP blocking. In fact, such rotating proxies, which periodically change the assigned address, are preferred. They also help bypass geo-restrictions. This ensures the web scraping bot can extract data from international platforms.

Built-in Web Crawler

A crawler helps identify new web pages from which data can be extracted.

Automation and Scheduling

A good web scraper should allow you to automate the data extraction if need be. This eliminates the need for round-the-clock supervision.

CAPTCHA Solving Tools

A web scraper with built-in features such as proxies should be able to avoid CAPTCHA puzzles. But when websites present them, a good proxy should be equipped to solve them.

JavaScript Rendering

Given that most websites today use JavaScript, a good scraper should be able to extract data from such sites.

Auto-Retry System

A web scraping tool should have an auto-retry function that resends HTTP requests following failed scraping attempts.

Uses of a Web Scraper

A web scraper is used in the following instances:

  • Market research, including competitor analysis as well as price and product monitoring
  • Ad verification
  • Academic research
  • SEO monitoring and keyword research
  • Lead generation
  • Review monitoring
  • Reputation monitoring
  • Data extraction for investment purposes, including risk assessment, market sentiment analysis, and equity research
  • Job aggregation, i.e., collecting data on job openings from websites career pages in order to then include it in a job aggregation website
  • Travel fare aggregation, i.e., collecting data on travel fares from different airlines
  • Training machine learning models and artificial intelligence systems

Conclusion

Web scrapers are useful tools in the current digital age (take a look at a web scraper by Oxylabs). Not only do they promote accurate data extraction, but they also speed up the process, especially if you want to collect data from thousands of websites. These tools can be deployed in a number of use cases, including lead generation, market research, SEO monitoring, training machine learning models, and more.

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